Romenesko Misc.
Matthew Brown was on the banks of the Yellowstone 10 miles upstream over the holiday weekend when a friend at the Billings Gazette called to tell him about the leak. "Brown wanted to lay his eyes on the river near the spill and talk to affected residents. So he talked his way past some company employees who were blocking public roads, and then later skirted barricades, writes AP senior managing editor Mike Oreskes.

With his experience in covering the San Bruno, Calif., pipeline explosion and the Gulf oil spill, Brown knew where to look to find out if the pipe had any safety issues.

He was the only outside reporter there, and he persistently questioned Exxon’s assurances that the damage was contained. His coverage was cited by everyone from the Billings Gazette to The New York Times.

Brown wins this week's AP "Beat of the Week" $500 prize.


Colleagues,

As oil spills go, it seemed minuscule at first: An estimated 1,000 barrels of oil from a ruptured Exxon Mobil pipeline leaked into the Yellowstone River. That was far from the 206 million that had spewed from the blown-out BP well into the Gulf of Mexico, but Montana Correspondent Matt Brown, a reporter who knows his territory, sensed a big story.

His plans for the Fourth of July weekend would have to be changed. He would be around the water, all right, just not for canoeing and water-skiing, and his reporting not only led websites and newspapers but wins the Beat of the Week.

Brown was actually on the banks of the Yellowstone 10 miles upstream when a reporter friend at the Billings Gazette called to tell him about the leak.

The initial report said there had been a spill but offered no details -- not even an estimate of how big it was.

It was enough, though, to get Brown's attention.

Brown is an experienced environmental reporter and a member of the West investigative team. He knew that the Yellowstone in remote eastern Montana was one of the state's historic waterways, a place known for its fishing and used to irrigate thousands of acres of farmland. Plus, the world's largest oil company, with its history of the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, was involved.

Brown wanted to lay his eyes on the river near the spill and talk to affected residents. So he talked his way past some company employees who were blocking public roads, and then later skirted barricades.

With his experience in covering the San Bruno, Calif., pipeline explosion and the Gulf oil spill, Brown knew where to look to find out if the pipe had any safety issues.

He was the only outside reporter there, and he persistently questioned Exxon’s assurances that the damage was contained.

His coverage was cited by everyone from the Billings Gazette to The New York Times. Among the beats:

-- The company's estimate on the number of gallons spilled.

-- The governor's criticism of Exxon Mobil's claims that the spill was limited to 10 miles. The company later revised its estimate upwards.

-- The pipeline had seven safety citations.

-- The company took twice as long, an hour, to close the ruptured pipeline as it had said.

While breaking all these stories, Brown also took pictures.

For following his reporter's instinct and going above and beyond to show the real effects of what might have been dismissed as a relatively minor accident, Brown wins this week's $500 prize.

Mike Oreskes
Senior Managing Editor