Not long ago we criticized ABC News for publishing on its Web site a piece of work that was presented like a standard news story but featured “the minimal reporting and uninspired, overblown writing one might expect from a bad blog.”
Noting that news organizations were producing more of these sorts of grade B stories to “expand” their online content, we opined that they unintentionally served only to denigrate the ABC News brand.
A fresh, eye-catching example of the divergence in quality between one news organization’s online and offline product was a highly excited column posted Thursday on CNNMoney.com by Fortune’s Andy Serwer.
With Big Oil and their billions in quarterly profits again the favorite punching bag of politicians on Capitol Hill, Serwer took a contrarian’s position.
“I’d like to speak in defense of oil companies,” Serwer began his “Street Life” column, calmly enough. But in truth he was fed up: “I’m SO tired of all this whining! I’m talking about gas prices.”
So tired, in fact, that he resorted to some whining himself as he described the numerous obstacles those poor, poor oil companies must overcome before their work bears glorious fruit.
In descriptive language even cash-strapped common folk could understand, Serwer said oil companies must first “scour the freaking globe, going to the most gosh-forsaken dangerous places on Earth to find the stuff. Then they pump it. Then they ship the stuff in huge, complicated ships halfway across the world. Then in giant, expensive plants they refine the stuff through amazingly complicated processes and turn it in into gasoline.”
“Then they distribute it to rural Nebraska and Vermont and all over the USA,” Serwer continued, just in case you forgot those states also consume oil. “The price is less than a gallon of bottled water,” he added (you can practically drink it!), “and it’s gone up less than inflation, and we take it for granted and we’ve squandered it with our Suburbans and Tahoes and Navigators.”
So arrived the most rational part of Serwer’s argument: “And now it’s gone up a bit and we sound like a bunch of weepy little chipmunks! Yes the oil companies are making TONS of money … but $3.00 a gallon gas? Deal with it!!!!!!!”
Of course, the price of oil has gone up not “a bit” but actually 40 percent over the past 12 months, as Serwer himself later pointed out. (We also think hectoring people as “a bunch of weepy little chipmunks” is not the best way to get results. But that’s just us.)
So how should those teary, furry Americans take it to The Man? By becoming part of The Man! “[B]uy energy stocks, it’s the best revenge!” advised Serwer, offering readers two good buys.
One was ConocoPhillips, which uses a “Pretty damn amazing” piece of machinery, “so-called drill-ship[s]” — “A drill ship uses satellite navigation to stay as still as possible and then actually drills for oil in deep water” — which “just shows the amazing ends that oil companies will go to, to get crude.” Both ConocoPhillips’ profits and stock are growing at very satisfactory clips, and Serwer was “loving it … buy to offset money you lose at the pump!”
The other was Kinder Morgan, the natural gas pipeline company, whose stock has climbed significantly and in whom Serwer saw “more good things ahead.” “Talk about revenge!” he exclaimed. “Not only do you make out and beat the energy companies at their own game, but the base of this company is an old Enron outfit! How sweet is that?”
We’ll spare you a line-by-line analysis of the rest of the column, though suffice it to say that while BP’s just-reported first-quarter profits did fall 15 percent, it still cleared $5.6 billion for those three months — and that the “Loose Change” digressions Serwer concluded with were oblique if not incomprehensible.
Any way you cut it, this comes across as an embarrassing parody of bad blog copy — beginning with the piece’s subhead: “Give energy companies some credit and it (sic) you don’t like the price of gas … buy their stock.”