Eliza Griswold Uncovers the Human Cost of Fracking

By NYPL Staff
April 28, 2019

Listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Podcasts

Journalist, Eliza Griswold just won a Pulitzer Prize and a Bernstein Award for her recent book, Amity and Prosperity: One Family and the Fracturing of America. Even at its most basic level, the book is a fascinating story about the energy boom's relationship to the natural land. But it's also a moving portrait of a family—a resolute mother trying to care for her two children, sickened by the fracking fallout. Griswold sat down with NYPL's Gwen Glazer to talk about the making of this story, immersion journalism, and where things stand in rural America today. 

Click here to find out how to subscribe and listen to the Library Talks podcast.

 

FULL TRANSCRIPT

 

[ Music ]

>> You're listening to "Library Talks," from the New York Public Library. I'm your host, Aidan Flax-Clark.

[ Music ]

So last week on the show, we had an interview with Shane Bauer, who wrote the book "American Prison," which won this year's Helen Bernstein Book Award for Excellence in Journalism, and this week, we're going to talk about another finalist for that award. The book is "Amity and Prosperity," and it was written by Eliza Griswold. And I actually have someone here to talk with me about that book, and that person is Gwen Glazer, from "The Librarian is In." Hi, Gwen.

>> Hi, Aidan. Thanks for having me.

>> So why are you here?

>> I am here because I was lucky enough to interview Eliza Griswold about this incredible book, which did not win the Bernstein Prize, but did win the Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

>> Not bad.

>> Not bad. You know, not too shabby [laughter].

>> So you, in addition to co-hosting "The Librarian is In," are also the recommendations librarian at New York Public Library. So recommend this book to me. Why did you love it?

>> Oh, it's so -- it's tough to do an elevator pitch about this book, but I think I can try.

>> Okay.

>> So the thing that really spoke to me about this book is that it actually feels like a very different kind of journalism, which you'll hear -- later in the interview, Eliza talks about it as immersive journalism, which is -- she wasn't embedded, in the sense that Shane Bauer was embedded, where she, like, went into something and got a job. But she spent seven years reporting this book, really sort of living this story, getting to know all of the huge, gigantic cast of characters that it has. Amity and Prosperity are these two towns in southwestern Pennsylvania where the fracking industry came in and -- I don't even know how to say it exactly, but really sort of -- they were on the front lines of the initial drilling that was done by some of these fracking companies. I was really passionate about the book, because it feels so intensely personal, and so intensely meaningful to her, while at the same time, not feeling like, quote unquote, "activism journalist." Like, she wasn't really trying to prove a point with this book, I don't think, but she manages to prove an incredible point.

>> I agree, and I loved this book as much as you did. And I can't wait to hear your interview, so should we get to it?

>> Let's get to it.

>> All right, here's Gwen with Eliza Griswold.

>> Eliza, thank you so much for joining us.

>> Thank you for having me.

>> We wanted to start by reading the prologue. Could you set it up for us, actually?

>> Sure. So this is a note that Stacy wrote and nailed to the front door of her house after she was extraordinarily frustrated, and had really lost anything over a multi-year fight with an oil and gas company. And because she'd had to abandon her farmhouse, people kept breaking into it, and so she left this note for the robbers.

>> And this is on November 3rd, 2013. "To the ignorant mother -- who keep breaking into my house -- it's bad enough that my children and I have been homeless for two-and-a-half years, but now I have to deal with this. Your greediness has cost me over $35,000 in damages, and the bank has put a forced insurance of $5000 on my mortgage. So as of January 1st, my mortgage payment goes up to $500 a month. I hope you feel good about what you have done, and I hope you know that the contamination in this house causes cancer. So keep coming back, you -- losers. I hope you rot with cancer, and when you're spending all your scrap money, I hope you think about what you are taking away from my children." So I really wanted to start with this, partly because I sort of wanted you to explain who this person is, who's talking. Stacy Haney -- how did she first become involved in the fracking industry, and your story?

>> So Stacy is a single mom, and she has two kids. And she lives in Washington County, Pennsylvania, which is about an hour southwest of Pittsburgh, and it really is where Appalachia begins. And she has grown up in this town of Amity and the nearby town of Prosperity since she was a child, but really for most of the past century, her family has been from this place. They are deeply, deeply rooted in the community, and she has really -- she grew up in poverty, like many of the children in Amity at that time. And particularly -- this is a place where the steel boom was big, so given the legacy of natural resources that go back for more than a century in this place -- her dad was a steelworker for decades. And then, he also is a Vietnam combat vet, as many of their neighbors are, and then when he came back from Vietnam, he returned to the steel mills. And when Stacy was in third grade, he lost his job, and the steel mills shuttered. And for the first time in history, the women in Amity left the houses to go to work, and her mom was one of them. Many of them became housekeepers, and Stacy and her sister grew up really working pretty actively to put food on the table for the family. And Stacy was determined most of her life that she would not be in that position, and her kids would not be either. She was really adamant about earning her way into the middle class, and she thought that was pretty possible as a nurse. Because this is an area -- the post-industrial collapse in Pittsburgh and in much of the Rust Belt gave way to a rise of meds and eds, hospitals and universities, and with that new generation came new jobs as nurses. So Stacy and many of the women she knows -- most of the women I met in the course of the reporting are nurses in southwestern Pennsylvania. So Stacy was sure that, as a nurse, she could really safeguard her place in the middle class. And when the oil and gas industry came to town in the early 2000s, there were lots of stories that she heard, you know, in the break room at the local hospital where she works about people striking it rich -- farmers striking it rich by signing up really lucrative land leases for the oil and gas rights to their land. And Stacy got really excited about this, and she went -- she drove up and down her road, getting her neighbors to go in on a lease together, because she understood that the more land that was associated with a lease, the more money people would make. She was also, though, extraordinarily aware -- or she was very nervous about the impact on her water, in part because she'd grown up without drinking water, and that was -- that was something that -- she was really proud of the well water at her farm. And she included in this lease a clause that was designed to protect their drinking water. Yeah.

>> Can you actually talk a little bit about fracking, what it is, how it affects water?

>> Fracking is -- it's a technological innovation over the past several decades that has allowed drillers to extract oil and gas from pockets -- ancient pockets of fossil fuel a mile or two and millions and millions of years back into the Earth's history. So they're stored in rock, and we've known they're there for a very long time. But the way in which we're now able to get them is by drilling not only a couple of miles down into the Earth, but then out horizontally. So what happens is, water, and sand, and chemicals under extraordinary pressure actually fracture -- actually crack rock, and then, once that rock is cracked, we free these ancient bubbles of gas. And they come up to the surface with much of the -- much of the waste associated, but some is left in the Earth.

>> Mm-hmm, okay. And so, originally, when the company -- it's called Range, right?

>> Mm-hmm.

>> When Range was going out to these different families, and when Stacy Haney was sort of collecting her neighbors to talk to them, did they think that it was dangerous? Did they have a hint, do you think, that it was dangerous?

>> You know, no, they didn't have a sense of the risks at all associated with fracking. They did, however, have a long history with extractive industry, and one of the reasons that Stacy signed early, and many of her neighbors did as well, is because they had a long experience with coal mining. And in this -- in the neighboring town of Prosperity -- Prosperity has been -- the word is actually undermined, that much of the water under Prosperity is gone because of a kind of industrial coal mining that has come through. And what happens in -- it's called long-wall mining, and long-wall mining doesn't just take a bit of coal under your house. It takes everything under your house. So by definition, your house is going to, you know, sink into the Earth, and your aquifer is likely to be damaged. So these guys know very, very well what coal mining entails, and they know that there's coal under Amity. And they were afraid that, if they didn't sign these gas leases, that the coal company would come into Amity, too.

>> And so, once it started, can you sort of describe what happened next?

>> Sure. I mean, the thing -- I think one of the frequent, you know, misunderstandings about fracking is -- you know, we see it as this sort of isolated -- it happens deep into the Earth, and it contaminates the aquifer, and that definitely has elements of truth to it. But it also allows companies to distance themselves from responsibility, because fracking only takes place for a couple of weeks in the life cycle of a well. And really, the problems that started to occur for the Haneys began as early as -- they were as simple as truck traffic. So the trucks -- about 200 trucks a day, 200 diesel trucks were rattling past these people's house, 35 feet away from their house, you know, spewing diesel and particulate matter that attached to the dust from the road. And, likely, that is what began to compromise Harley, the 14-year-old boy who gets very sick in the course of the book -- to compromise his immune system.

>> Mm-hmm. I thought that was so fascinating, just as kind of a side note, when you were talking about that as one of the hidden costs of fracking, that it seems like it's this thing that comes in and goes out quickly. But this -- they didn't repair the roads. The state of the roads isn't going to go back to the way that it was pre-fracking.

>> Yeah. It's -- you know, it's complicated, because I really spent a lot of time -- over seven years of reporting making sure that I was speaking to both sides, and making sure I was speaking to farmers who actually were thrilled that fracking had come to town. And that, because fracking had come to town, one farmer in particular, Ray Day [assumed spelling], was able to -- his mom was able to die at home in their farmhouse, because the money from fracking allowed him to build a bathroom on the first floor of his home. And so, she didn't have to leave. So if Ray were sitting across from you, he would tell you, "While that's true -- the roads were damaged -- the companies also did -- they did put blacktop down on the road to keep the dust down." And so, in places, the roads are better, but what he might not say, because he might not know, is that in order to keep dust down, the waste from fracking was spread on these roads. And one of the reasons -- and sometimes, townships -- not Stacy's township, but other townships use that waste, because it's so heavy in salt, as a deicer on roads. In Stacy's case, along her road, the waste that was dumped may have been one of the problems that first began to sicken the animals, and possibly to really -- really sicken a puppy named Cummins, who is how they began -- the families began to put together what might've gone wrong at this site, and what might be making them sick.

>> Yeah. Yeah, that's right. Will you talk a little bit more about the animals, too? That's a very -- that's a very affecting part of the book.

>> Yeah. I mean, well, if you grew up in Lancaster County, you know -- I mean, for Stacy and her neighbors, the animals are as integral parts of their families as the children are. I mean, these animals -- the stories of Bob the donkey, and, you know, Sprite and Pepsi, the rabbits -- I mean, these guys --

>> Boots the goat.

>> -- Boots the goat. These guys really live alongside the families, especially in Stacy's case. Her -- the animals -- I learned so much about the animals in the course of reporting, you know. And one of the things that happens, that really begins to help them put to -- piece together that -- because they are undergoing these mysterious illnesses, and they don't put together -- actually, I think maybe for a frustratingly long time, for a reader, they don't put together the fact that they are sick. Their sicknesses are likely related to this site that's, you know, next door to their house, atop a hill. And you're reading it -- I mean, you're reading it. It's just hard to believe -- how can they not see this link? But they don't want to see the link, and people have been living alongside industry forever. And so, the -- what starts to happen is, their animals get sick first, and that's -- that's quite common, that animals' immune systems, you know, especially when it comes to metals in water, and other -- and ethylene glycol, antifreeze -- are sensitive. And so, they lose first one dog. Then they lose puppies. Then they lose horses. Then they lose Boots the goat, and the families together -- it's Stacy and her neighbor, Beth Boyles [assumed spelling] who are actually talking at the county fair, who say, "You know what? Could it be --" they don't say it then. They talk about the animals dying, and they go away. And both individually start to think about -- could it be whatever is making these animals sick could also be sickening our children?

>> Mm-hmm. When was the point that you came into the story? Was that -- you weren't there for that conversation, obviously, when --

>> I wasn't there for that -- that conversation, and a lot of reporting entailed reconstructed scene, which took -- you know, which is -- which is really fun to do, and not easy.

>> -- I'm so curious about how you did that.

>> Yeah. I mean, how -- you know, how we reconstruct scenes as, you know, investigative journalists is to talk to all parties involved, rely on any kind of written notes there are. I mean, that could be everything. In this case -- so I was reconstructing scenes from a county fair, which is good fun, right, and what you do from a county fair is -- well, what -- what's online still about the pedal pull, which is the John Deere baby tractor -- toy John Deere tractors, right? What can you still put together? Who won grand champion goat? What's the difference between a grand champion breeding goat and a grand champion boar or meat goat? And all these details are accumulated. There's so much record these days we have in every way. Text messages between these women, conversations they remembered, photographs -- any and every record, and of course, for much of the book -- because much of the book involves some pretty contentious legal cases and legal battles. And so, for that, I had really hundreds of thousands of pages of legal documents, of deposition, of court cases, of transcript, all of them public documents that I could use in order to reconstruct an entire fight, especially when many of the principals within the company itself were not willing to talk to me. But I had their depositions, so I knew where they'd gone to high school. I knew their role in the county fair. I knew -- I knew more about them, in some cases, than I knew about characters who I'd interviewed myself.

>> Mm-hmm. Oh, that's so interesting. How did you find Stacy?

>> I found Stacy -- you know, I first -- this book, weirdly enough, began in northern Nigeria when a bridge collapsed. Many years ago, for my first book, I was reporting on -- I was reporting in northern Nigeria, and there was a flood, and a bridge collapse. And I was doing what we do as journalists. I had to get across a river, so I was riding on this old, empty oil barrel. And it was a couple of weeks after the bridge in Minneapolis had collapsed, I-35W, and 13 people had been killed. And there was something about the parallel between the two bridges that made me really start thinking about infrastructure in America. And I came home, and I wanted to start writing about America's collective poverty, our failure to safeguard and build what we need as lifeline systems, whether it's roads, or locks, and levees, and dams. And in the course of reporting that in southwestern Pennsylvania, I came to know a biologist with the Army Corps of Engineers, and one day in March of 2011, she was headed out -- she was headed down to West Virginia from Pittsburgh. She was going to meet people who lived in communities affected by this new oil and gas -- basically these new companies, and she wanted to know if I wanted to go along. And so, I went along to the Morgantown Airport, because people have nowhere to meet in public space. So they'd taken over the airport for the day, and I heard Stacy Haney speak for the first time she ever spoke in public.

>> Okay, and I remember that meeting from the book.

>> Yeah. Yeah, I mean, she was super nervous, because at that time, all she knew -- she knew that she and her kids had benzene, and toluene, and other gas-related chemicals in their bodies from testing she'd been able to do as a nurse.

>> Was that the airborne testing, or was that from the water?

>> That was testing of their bodies. That was blood and urine testing, yeah, which she had only been able to figure out because she worked at a hospital. And the head of the lab helped her, and she had good insurance. Without any of that, someone would've been hopelessly lost, and unable to even begin to detect what was going on, but Stacy's extraordinarily resourceful and careful. And she's really a numbers and fact-driven person, so she had established what she could related to medical tests associated with people who were sick from oil and gas exposure. So she had those tests. She was extremely nervous to speak out, mostly because at that time the company was supplying her water. And she was afraid if she spoke out against them they would stop supplying her water, and she would have to abandon the farm, which is, of course, what ends up happening anyway.

>> What happened when you approached her?

>> You know, I first -- I approached her before I knew who she was, because she was sitting a couple of rows ahead of me in this airport before she started talking. And she was there with her 11-year-old daughter, Paige, and Paige was in her pajamas. And all I saw was a mom and a daughter kind of grousing at each other. Paige was hungry, and Stacy was saying, "You should've eaten breakfast." And Paige was saying, "Well, my stomach hurt," which is --

>> Oh, wow.

>> -- ends up likely being related to exposure to arsine gas, which happens when they showered. Because there was airborne gas in the house. But so, Paige is complaining about being hungry, and I leaned forward and offered one of the, like, earnest, whole-grain, gross bark bars that I carry around. And Paige, you know --

>> Was like, gross.

>> -- deep wisdom, was like, gross [laughter]. And, you know -- and then her mom got up to speak, and it ended up that the -- that that was Stacy Haney.

>> Mm-hmm, wow. What did she say when you told her that you were a journalist, and that you were interested in using her -- using her story as part of a book?

>> Well, I didn't know any of that. I mean -- so Stacy is, to this day, incredibly -- she doesn't like journalists. She doesn't like outsiders, and she's incredibly private person. So when I went up to her after the meeting, I had the advantage of -- I didn't have to write any daily anything, you know. I thought I was -- I was working at the time for the "New York Times Magazine," when I was doing bigger stories like that. And so, I -- I said, "Listen, you know, I'd like to come out and meet you. I don't have to write anything if you don't want me to. I just want to see where you live, and maybe we could talk further." And she was okay with that. I think she liked the idea that -- that if it didn't go well, she could say no, and then I went out the next day and met her son, Harley, who was home sick, and saw where they lived, and saw that they were surrounded by gas wells on this little dirt road. And it was like an industrial site. I mean, it was really quite striking, and then I began to follow the family over time.

>> Did you sort of gradually earn her trust over time? Was it something that took a while, and what about the other people that you spoke with? Was it -- was it sort of hard to gain access to them?

>> I don't know. I mean, you know, Stacy and her neighbors -- I have to say, watching them walk through this with such integrity, two-sided -- like, watching them walk through these tangles with the company with extraordinary integrity. And watching them deal with me, a reporter -- and, you know, Stacy in particular -- her neighbors, the Boyles, are just lovely people, and very funny in all kinds of ways. They're just terrific characters, but with Stacy, you know, she really didn't want -- I mean, this was expensive for her, because she -- she works three jobs. And so, talking to me -- she felt talking to me was part of her duty as a citizen to make sure that this didn't happen to other families, but other than that, you know, there was very little benefit for her. And she was extraordinarily diligent in what she told me, and how she recorded it. So the level of detail in the book is really in large part due to the careful notes that she took over time.

>> That part of the book is so affecting, too, about her polka-dot journal. I feel like that detail stuck with me for so long, because you can just imagine someone in this situation who was sort of plopped there, and not expecting it, you know, right -- from right off the bat, it's so impressive that she even negotiated the clean water in the first place with no lawyer.

>> Yeah.

>> Like, that's amazing.

>> That's right.

>> It's really -- yeah, she's -- she's an incredible focus of this book, and I feel like she really kind of, like, draws your eye to the right place, I feel like --

>> Yeah.

>> -- in this story.

>> No, I mean, I think now, you know, this word -- when we talk about climate, we talk about climate justice, and yes, that means the person in Louisiana, or the person in Bangladesh for sure. But environmental justice has -- and environmental injustice has a long history here in America. We talk about it elsewhere in the world sometimes as the resource curse. Why is it that places richest in natural resources are some of the poorest in the world? And we usually look at that in Nigeria, Chad, places that, you know, multi-national oil companies have come into and extracted things, but the truth is, that story applies in America as well, and nowhere moreso than Appalachia, and places -- towns within it, like Amity and Prosperity.

>> Mm-hmm. Do you feel that there are lessons that environmentalists and people who are working on environmental justice can take from this book, and from this story in general?

>> I think so. I mean, there were lessons that I learned that might be applicable. I mean, one of the lessons -- you know, one of the farmers who unfortunately died in the course of the reporting -- unrelated to anything in the book -- you know, when I first showed up on his land, he --

>> Which farmer is this?

>> -- this -- this is Bill Hartley [assumed spelling]. When he asked me where I was from, I knew New York City was a terrible answer [laughter], but I thought Philadelphia, where I grew up, might be a better one, right [laughter]?

>> Mm-hmm [laughter].

>> And I was like, oh, I live in New York City, but I'm from Philadelphia, and he was like, well, that's two strikes against you, right?

>> Oh, no [laughter].

>> So I think what -- what I learned in the course of reporting this was that the grievances in rural communities are rooted in fact. They aren't rooted in -- you know, it's not, oh, why, do they hate us here in our liberal bubbles? Sure, there's an element of that, but they're rooted in a long history of disenfranchisement, often at the hands of the federal government, that is alien to us. So one of the examples is this -- there's a pig farmer in the book, Jason Clarke [assumed spelling], and Jason would always talk about, "Oh, the federal government hypocrites that, and hypocrites that." And I just said, "How can -- make sense of that to me. Like, why do you see the government as rapacious, and against you?" And he said, "Well, let me explain it like this. Because of farm regulation, every time a vet comes out to give my pig a shot, that's $100, because I got to have a vet come. The government mandates that. But I can drive up the road 10 miles, and go to Med Express, and get an Oxy prescription, and no one's going to care. And what kind of government regulates my pigs more heavily than it regulates me?" And the way that regulation has played out in farmer -- for farmers in America, especially in this area, is profoundly alienating. As is the idea that people who live in places where -- you know, as Jason would say, and did say many time, "You're a hypocrite, because you don't know where your meat or your milk comes from, and you don't want to know. And you harvest your resources from us, and yet you put the onus on us. Oh, you naïve, know-nothing, why did you sign that get-rich-quick scheme?" And for Stacy in particular, signing that lease -- she saw it as a patriotic duty, for a couple of reasons. She saw that if she signed this gas lease, she would help keep boys like her dad -- because her dad was a veteran, a military veteran -- she would keep boys out of foreign entanglements -- women too, but she was thinking about young men -- keep them out of foreign entanglements over oil. She would help bring industry back to a devastated area, so that people like her dad of the next generation would be able to have jobs, and she was told that all this natural gas would remain in America, and America would become that great, you know, rah-rah term, energy independent. And so, I think often -- my talking points, or the way that I -- you know, I was actually recently speaking to a Green New Deal with somebody in the Sunshine Movement about this, about how do you approach local communities who are extraordinarily hostile of the presence of outsiders, right? How do you do that? And my first answer would be through local organizations, and I cannot -- and you know this firsthand. But the importance of being from a place cannot be overstated, and in each of the communities that I've worked in over time, there are tiny pockets of people who have firsthand experience -- water loss, or land loss related to resource extraction, and are really fighting to change the story, and fight for a just transition.

>> Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I thought it was so interesting, the way that it tied back to service in the military, also, but that pig farmer, right, he was -- wasn't he also a veteran?

>> He was not a veteran, but --

>> Oh, he wasn't? Okay.

>> -- but he did feel that coal mining in particular and other resource extraction is like being in the military.

>> Right, right, and I think it's so -- it's so often oversimplified. I -- because I have been also thinking about the music teacher --

>> Yeah.

>> -- who was an Obama supporter --

>> Yeah.

>> -- and people thought he was crazy. And he was one of the few, but that it's so easy for many of us to oversimplify the way that the political narrative plays out --

>> Yeah.

>> -- that everyone is in this camp, and everyone is in this camp. Can you talk a little bit more about -- I don't know -- that oversimplification somehow?

>> Oh, sure. I mean, you know, this terrible word -- this is the heart of Trump country, right? And I -- I use that word tongue-in-cheek, because, you know, I was out there for years before Trump was a political facet, a facet of our political imagination. What was revealing to me was that, after the election, you know, reporters would come in for a day, or an afternoon, and sit down at Popcorn Willy's [assumed spelling], like, the local diner, and find a, quote unquote, "Trump supporter," and do, you know, a drop-in interview. And almost every time -- you know, because the people in this book had -- did vote for Trump, and for various reasons, and -- you know, many of Stacy's family members voted for Trump, and I knew they had much more complex identities than were revealed on the news. So I think it was -- it was like just rendering people two-dimensional in a way that angered them all the more, but also, there were many who were pretty gleeful about it, right? Because it was like, ha, ha, they're getting it wrong, you know? And that's a problem.

>> Yeah. I think that this book does a really good job of shading the nuance of that.

>> I really, really worked on that, because I just -- I'm so tired of -- who isn't tired of our polarized world?

>> Yeah, mm-hmm.

>> But also, unless we understand the sophisticated identities each of us hold, that we have no chance at speaking to one another respectfully. So over time, I think if there's one experience that came out of this, for me, it was learning to speak to people more respectfully in America. I'm pretty good at that in Afghanistan, or Nigeria, or Somalia, where I've done it for a long time, but the assumptions that I had about my fellow Americans were deeply, deeply challenged in the course of this reporting. And the timing was that they were challenged a couple of years before the rest of us were scrambling to get to know who is on each side of this divide, and so I feel like I did get some good lessons in how do we do this better. History is a great joiner. Everybody loves to talk about history, and Amity and Prosperity have this ridiculously-rich history of being part of this Whiskey Rebellion, you know, the first rising-up against the federal tax. I mean, when you drive down the street of the nearby town of Washington, and you look in the window of one whiskey distiller, you see Alexander Hamilton's portrait upside-down. Like, they hate Alexander Hamilton [laughter].

>> Oh, wow [laughter].

>> Because he was, like, the federal bad guy who passed this tax, right? And so, people in Washington, Pennsylvania still hate him. They march down Main Street every year as these Whiskey Rebels who stood up to the federal government, and that history is so richly romantic, but it's also so revelatory about the polarities that still exist today.

>> Mm-hmm. How -- this might be an impossible question to answer, but how do you teach that to your students? How do you teach it to future journalists, to sort of not give into that oversimplification, and to actually really get to know people, particularly in a journalism market like the one that we're in now, when local papers aren't doing well and there's sort of a downturn in the whole field?

>> I think the answer is partly in method. The method that I teach is -- the method that I practice is -- I just call it immersion journalism, most of the time. I mean, this was many years of, you know, sitting at people's kitchen table, and -- for so long until they forgot I was there. That isn't what I do every day, you know. When I write for "The New Yorker" now, I'm really reporting things much more quickly, or everybody would -- wouldn't be possible. I -- you know, weirdly, part of that skill comes out of being a foreign correspondent, comes out of covering wars for many years. Because that job, especially after 9/11 when I came of age as a journalist, was to sit down and talk to people whose worldviews were wildly, radically different, and ended up so different that people were willing to kill one another over them. And there was something about learning to follow other people's thinking in the course of listening that really directly applies to listening across the divide now.

>> That's so interesting. Do you think that that kind of immersion journalism is something that is going to be sustainable in the future?

>> It is so expensive, right? It is so expensive, and it's -- and -- I mean, it's expensive in every way, not just monetarily, which it is. But everybody involved makes tremendous sacrifices -- mostly the subjects of the book, certainly my family. You know, zipping up and down, you know, the Pennsylvania Turnpike with a two-year-old in the backseat, or, like -- in the middle of a snowstorm, our canceled flight, and taking him in his car seat to the Harrisburg farm show that -- so that Stacy could come pick us up --

>> Oh, my God.

>> -- I mean, some of that is the making of an individual, right? Like, those stories will serve him well for the rest of his life in a particular way, but they also involve everybody stretching. So I think it will be possible to do it, because I think that's a human -- that's a human choice, rather than -- you know, you can always sleep on somebody's floor and eat Ramen, you know. It's possible, right? And I think it will continue to be a form in that way. I also see that we have this appetite -- this growing aptitude -- appetite for long-form narrative, and that long-form narrative is partly fed by immersion. I'll tell you what I think is not -- have much of a future is the hot take. I think that that -- you know, the idea of people weighing in in the moment -- it -- I think we're getting to the end of that, and real reporting is going to be more and more valued.

>> Mm-hmm, mm-hmm. I was a political journalist at the height of, like, fair and balanced --

>> Yeah.

>> -- of the idea that if you spoke to five people who believed one thing, you had to try to find five people who believed the other.

>> Okay, so let's talk about that.

>> Yeah, let's talk about that.

>> Okay.

>> Because it was -- that's troubled me for a long time.

>> Okay, so whither fair and balanced -- how do we, in such a polarized political economy and landscape -- how do we try to get to something that isn't just an opinion piece, right?

>> Mm-hmm, yeah.

>> Or character -- caricature of -- of one side? Okay, so I think one of the things that I talk to my students about is that this -- their idea of objectivity, which is nebulous at best, doesn't really exist. What if we throw out the word objective, and we use the word fair, right? And let's lose balanced, because what exactly does that mean? So when I need to go out and cover two sides, as I'm doing right now, I need to make sure that I've made a good-faith effort to speak to both sides -- not because I'm going to render them as equivalents, or false equivalents on a page, but because I need to understand what each would really say, right? And that is a basic -- that has to do with integrity and fairness, and that is extraordinarily teachable. That is extraordinarily teachable. I write more about people than I do about numbers, or fact in a certain way. You know, when I say, "Well, do -- can I back this up with the numbers on a page?" Yes, but that's not going to reveal -- a lot of what I am writing about is character and tone, and so I need to make sure that I'm doing that accurately. You know, there are things I actually cut today from a piece that were pretty outrageous, that a politician had said, and I thought, "Oh, my goodness, this is -- a reader is going to raise eyebrows." And yet, it wasn't really relevant, nor was it fair to the politician in a particular way. So I cut it, even though it makes good copy, as we'd say.

>> Mm-hmm. That -- do you think that that people-centered journalism is sort of coming up in the world? And I'll confess that I hope the answer is yes, because I feel like books like this that do center on the people, and that focus more on the narrative and the characters involved, rather than, "Here are the facts. Here's 10 chapters where I explain to you in scientific detail exactly what fracking is --" do you think that that kind of, like, people-centered journalism is coming up in the world? Because I can say from a very biased perspective -- I've been on this Bernstein committee for three years now, and [laughter] it's a very -- it's a lot. I've read a lot of long-form nonfiction. But even just in that span of time, the number of books that we get -- and the qualifications for the award are very narrow. It has to be a working journalist. It has -- there's a lot of -- there's a lot of things that shape it, so there's no, like, memoir. We're cutting out a lot of stuff that is also very people-centered, but just the books that have qualified for the award -- I feel like we are seeing at least double the amount now that we were a couple years ago.

>> Well, I mean, most -- I mean, I'm thinking of some of my fellow finalists who -- I actually teach their books.

>> Oh, really?

>> I mean, the list this year is pretty stunning.

>> It's pretty stunning.

>> You know --

>> It was really hard.

>> -- yeah. I mean, I'm thinking in particular of Rania Abouzeid, who's a friend, and --

>> Mm-hmm. Oh, really?

>> -- oh, yeah.

>> Her book is unbelievable.

>> It's unbelievable.

>> This -- we're talking about "No Turning Back," which is a book about Syria. It's totally incredible.

>> It's -- it is so --it's startling, in every way. And the fact that she didn't even know that she was going to write it in the course of that reporting --

>> Mm-hmm.

>> -- and the other thing I love about Rania talking about where that book comes from is that she started writing it as a book when the UN stopped keeping figures -- death -- the death toll.

>> Yes, that's right.

>> Right? Just amazing. So --

>> And it's such a perfect example of this books that centers people.

>> -- yeah, absolutely. It absolutely centers people, and, you know -- yeah, both of us -- and I'm sure the other finalists, too -- well, I don't know. But both of us have been writing those books for many years, and reporting those books for many years. So to look at the past couple years, I'm not sure one could say -- do you know what I mean?

>> Right, right. Might be coincidence.

>> Right, but there's certain modern masters -- and not to, like, get too deep into gender with it, because there are many immersion journalists -- I'm thinking in particular of David Finkel. And certainly Ted Conover, who really pioneered a lot of it with "Newjack" and other books -- I think there is a woman approach to the storytelling that centers on humans in a particular way. I mean, certainly you look at Kate Boe [assumed spelling], you know -- I mean, that -- there are tons of people who do this this way.

>> Why do you -- can you talk more about that?

>> Sure.

>> Why do you think it's a woman-centered thing? I actually had a question written down about that, and couldn't figure out how to phrase it in a way that didn't sound sexist, but I completely agree. There's something that feels very feminist and very woman-focused about this, and I'm curious.

>> Well, I mean, if you look at this book, right -- if you look at this situation, you're looking at -- who stood up to these companies? Women.

>> Yes.

>> Right? And now, they were women who didn't tend to be making a ton of money from the companies, because they're certainly women who didn't -- who endorse fracking. But I think it gets down to their -- the relational aspect of being a mom, you know, and probably care for the animals as well -- that these were women who were watching the lives that they'd nurtured at risk. And that made it -- that rendered them so angry that they couldn't not speak up.

>> Mm-hmm. That gave them power, too.

>> Oh, it gave them -- I mean, that -- that prologue -- I mean, Stacy, you know -- she's a pretty good girl. She doesn't just F-bomb up and down the street, you know, but the level of righteous frustration and rage engendered action. And it's not just Stacy and her neighbor, Beth. Probably the most effective character, or the most effective human in this book is Kendra Smith [assumed spelling]. So we have John and Kendra Smith, who are these attorneys, right? They're not liberal handwringers. Kendra is a corporate attorney who deals with -- she's a defense attorney for railroads, who deals with exposure, mostly to asbestos, usually telling people to screw off that are making false claims, right? And so, she took the other side, because she was so indignant not only that a company would lie to people, as it seems in many ways that the company did, but because of the abject failure of the government to protect citizens' health. Time and again, they came down on the side of industry, and Kendra was so outraged by that that she couldn't help but, when she dug into the case, not take it on. And again, why did he -- that -- this case has cost the Smiths, gosh, hundreds of thousands of dollars in hours, and they worked -- they -- I've never seen people work -- I work pretty hard, you know. These guys worked ceaselessly, right? I mean, I would go interview them by the -- they play soccer. They'd coach soccer for their kids. They coached three teams at a time, and I'd go out with -- and sit in one of those, like, folding stadium chairs with a notebook, and be like -- and then this, and then -- and they'd be like -- but they did it. Again, they did it, because they thought they were serving something greater than themselves. And I think being in the presence of people whose -- are giving their lives or their work to something greater than themselves is the most humbling and life-giving -- even in a story of such despair, as this is in so many ways, it's hopeful to see human strength reveal itself in this way.

>> Absolutely. Can you sort of bring us up to date on the rest of the characters?

>> Sure.

>> What is Stacy doing now?

>> Well, Stacy is married. Stacy and Chris [assumed spelling] got married --

>> Oh, that's great.

>> -- which is hugely exciting, yeah. It's awesome. And Harley is working for the pipeline company.

>> Wow.

>> So Harley -- that's the job that he has found. You know, in Boston last year, when the -- there was that big explosion, and crews came in from all over the country to repair a length of natural gas pipeline, methane pipeline outside of Boston. Harley went to repair pipeline, to carry, you know, Marcellus gas north. That is what it means to be a, you know, 20-something guy in Appalachia these days if you want a job. You know, Paige is finishing community college. She may or may not -- she's still working at the Prosperity General Store, and we will see -- we will see what life brings for Paige. But they're -- they're fair -- they're faring fairly well on the day-to-day.

>> Has their health recovered?

>> You know, day-to-day, they're pretty healthy, but they are -- they get sick all the time. So, you know, they're walking around -- no one has contracted, to date, that we know of, any kind of horrific cancer yet. They do carry that cancer insurance still, in case the day comes where they're diagnosed with something. There is a cancer cluster related to leukemia, and probably having -- not related to oil and gas, but to other extractive industry in Washington County that the CDC is currently investigating. There are -- it's come out in "The Pittsburgh Post Gazette," the local paper that's done excellent reporting on this case, that, in fact, the attorney general has launched an investigation into environmental crimes related to what happened in the book.

>> Okay. And what about the state regulations? Because that is a part we haven't talked about very much.

>> Regulations haven't changed, not very much at all. The attorney general's investigation really may bring some change to bear, and it's impossible to know -- it's impossible to know what the timeline will be, what the scope of the investigation is. But Josh Shapiro, who is the attorney general who -- who basically made public the Catholic Church scandal in Pennsylvania, right, is now looking into the oil and gas industry. And it could be that -- that his investigation spans the state regulators as well. I mean, one of the challenges in the book, too, was to make sure that it was clear that the state regulators themselves, while they had responsibilities certainly for their actions -- they function in a system of abject public poverty. They are so woefully underfunded, there's no way they could do their jobs. So if that is something that we, as a people, want to change, then that's something that we, as a people, have to make clear really at the ballot box, that needs to change, that we need to better fund environmental regulation and protection in -- everywhere, but especially in Pennsylvania, with this long and fraught history with extractive industry.

>> Mm-hmm, wow. Okay, was there anything else that you wanted to talk about that we didn't touch on?

>> No, I just want to say thank you. It's a privilege to get to talk about this work, and I know that Stacy, if she were here, would want to say thank you, too, because that's usually what she asks me to say.

>> Oh, wow. Thank you so much. Thank you for writing this book. It's a really incredible, important book. I hope that everyone goes out and reads it. Again, it's "Amity and Prosperity, One Family and the Fracturing of America." So thank you so much for coming. The book is available at NYPL branches, and also on our app, Simply E. I really encourage everybody to go read it. Thanks again.

>> Thank you.

>> Okay, so that was Gwen Glazer, co-host of "The Librarian is In" podcast, and New York Public Library's recommendations librarian, speaking with Eliza Griswold, whose book is "Amity and Prosperity, One Family and the Fracturing of America." The book was a finalist for the library's Bernstein Award, and it also won this year's Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction. "Library Talks" is produced by Schuyler Swenson, with editorial support from Richert Schnorr and myself, and our theme music was composed by Allison Leyton-Brown.