Appalachian Basin

Bradford County Residents: Promised Land “Cringe-Worthy”

The Wyalusing Rocket-Courier has engaged in some real journalism in reporting on the reception of Promised Land in the natural gas regions of Pennsylvania.  It completely bested Bloomberg News in presenting a balanced take on the movie, reporting not only the views of natural gas opponents but also those locals who thought the movie was “cringe-worthy.”

We have been pointing up here on these pages, and at The Real Promised Land, one simple fact about the movie – it fails, miserably so, to reflect the real views of real people from the real “promised land.’  Now comes Rick Hiduk, News Editor of the Wyalusing Rocket-Courier in the heart of the Northern Tier area of Pennsylvania where natural gas development is taking place to say the same thing.  Hiduk, in an article entitled “Gas Movie Doesn’t Deliver as ‘Promised,’” reports local saying the movie is “cringe-worthy.”

This is most interesting.  We had been contacted late last week by Bloomberg News about Promised Land, the dud movie that can’t even attract as many Facebook followers as our Real Promised Land site.  Their reporter said he wanted to get the local perspective on the movie, rather than just an industry perspective; to see how real folks in a natural gas region would react to the movie.  He said he was going to Tunkhannock the next day to watch it and wondered if we could line him up with some people locally to talk.  We hurriedly called around, found a landowner and a representative of a local business organization who would do so, and gave their contact information to the reporter.

The result?  Well, as one of my associates noted, “he contacted none of them and turned his website over to a cornucopia of activists suing natural gas companies to discuss how great Promised Land is.”  Yeah, that’s about right.  Three quotes from folks who are supposedly reflective of the community hold a lot more weight than an industry comment, especially when those folks, who all just happen to have been involved in lawsuits against oil and gas companies, say the same thing.  The “Matt Damon Film Cheers Pennsylvanians Who Say Fracking Pollutes” headline gives away the whole game.  The Bloomberg wasn’t “balanced” as the reporter tried suggesting to me.  No, it was a rallying piece for natural gas opponents, presenting them as poor locals up against a big bad industry trying to spin their misery as good luck.

The Rocket-Courier, though, got it right.  It know its readers.  It knows the truth about the real promised land.  It did what Bloomberg News refused to do.  It talked to members of the community without letting itself being turned into a bullhorn for litigants.

Here’s some of what the Rocket-Courier had to say. You’ll have to subscribe to read the whole thing, something we heartily recommend, by the way.  The following are selected excerpts:

The movie “Promised Land,” currently being shown at Tunkhannock’s Dietrich Theater, fails to accurately reflect the natural gas industry’s effects on rural communities, according to local movie fans.The premier this past weekend of “Promised Land,” a film star ring and partially written by actor Matt Damon that was intended to demonstrate the weight of controversial practices by the natural gas industry on struggling rural communities, did not make a big impression on those who have dealt with gas-related issues in the Marcellus shale on a regular basis and was panned by many others as largely fictitious entertainment.

“For those of us who have been living amongst this, the movie was not very reflective of what we’ve actually gone through,” said Emily Krafjack, who has returned to her role as Marcellus shale community volunteer after a brief stint in a more of ficial but similar capacity in Wyoming County. “If I didn’t know anything about it, this would have been a scary movie. People beyond the shale will be scared for sure.”

The beauty of the countryside surrounding “McKinley” and the presumably good- hearted simple folk who dwelled therein appeared to be the protagonist of film. The bad guys, in the end, appeared to be just about anybody from outside of town.

“I thought it was cringe- worthy. I thought, ‘This is so embarrassing,’” said Hildy Morgan, local film critic and for mer executive director of the Dietrich Theater in Tunkhannock, where “Promised Land” made its regional debut on Jan. 4 and attracted strong crowds through Sunday evening.

Its long-term popularity with locals, she suggested, was questionable due to what she and others saw as an unrealistic portrayal of both the gas company representatives and the local citizens who either embraced or rebuffed them.

“Either the farmers were desperately poor, desperately dull, greedy, or they didn’t care,” Morgan said of the characters played by non-headlining actors. She said that it was rather clear that those involved in writing and producing the film spent little time in places where gas drilling has become the norm or interviewing the people who have dealt with the business of gas exploration firsthand. “It was an insulting film. It talked down to all of us. They just should have come here and talked to everyone.”

The characters in the movie express environmental concerns, which sound familiar from the onset, but the lack of any real science behind the explanations of fracking and possible contamination of groundwater supplies was deemed almost humorous by moviegoers, most of who have had years now to better understand what is really happening around them and where the greatest potential for dangers actually lay. The environmentalist, played by John Krasinski, dumps a plastic baggy full of toxic chemicals onto a colorful model of a farm in front of school children then ignites it with a lighter, effectively alarming the youths and their teacher.

“They didn’t know what they were talking about, and they missed the point,” Morgan remarked.

If there is any lesson to be learned from “Promised Land,” Morgan suggested, “It lets you know what someone in the city who has never been in the country thinks about it. The gas industry really consumes everyone around here. It has changed thousands of lives. I feel it deserved a fairer shake in that movie.”

The article also included comments from local residents opposed to natural gas development, who were none too impressed.  The Rocket-Courier, by doing so, demonstrated it was possible to offer a true balanced perspective on the movie.  It’s a shame Bloomberg News editors, who reportedly shaped the story, didn’t take some lessons in journalism from this paper before the news organ wrote its own story.

safe_image.phpThey might have also taken a look at how WNEP handled the story in its very balanced piece.  WNEP’s reporter drove to Dimock to speak with random residents about their feelings on Promised Land.  As a result, they produced an objective piece of journalism that reflects the true feelings of a random sample of the community. Bloomberg, on the other hand, was apparently fed names by an organization critical of natural gas development and as a result the article they printed doesn’t include a single quote from a member of the community who hasn’t been involved in litigation with an oil and gas company.

Tells you something doesn’t it?  Fortunately, local organizations such as the Rocket-Courier and WNEP did get it right.  They interviewed some of the same people but balanced those stories with others locally who held quite different opinions and managed to convey a good overall perspective on the film while Bloomberg News spun what came off as an agenda-driven story.   Real journalism lives in Northeastern Pennsylvania.

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