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By Costa Maragos Posted: October 1, 2017 8:00 a.m.

These School of Journalism students were part of a team that produced the hard-hitting documentary Crude Power.  (l-r) Janelle Blakley, Madina Azizi, Katie Doke Sawatzky, and Kyrsten Stringer.
These School of Journalism students were part of a team that produced the hard-hitting documentary Crude Power. (l-r) Janelle Blakley, Madina Azizi, Katie Doke Sawatzky, and Kyrsten Stringer. Photo by Trevor Hopkin - U of R Photography

In the news business, it can take years before a journalist has the opportunity to take part in a major investigative project.

Janelle Blakley, a master's student in the U of R's School of Journalism, has already been there and done that. Blakely is part of a team involved in what’s described as “an unprecedented investigation” into the oil industry’s influence in Saskatchewan.

The School has collaborated with a number of Canadian universities, media organizations and funding agencies to produce Crude Power. A by-product of the project is a one-hour documentary to be shown Wednesday, October 4 from 7 pm to 9 pm at the Research and Innovation Auditorium (RI 119).  


“Being a part of this project was really amazing,” says Blakley who served as producer of the documentary. She also shot and edited one of the four episodes featured in the documentary.

“Just to see universities across Canada come together and put all of their efforts into this one project, this one issue in Saskatchewan has really been something. Getting the experience working with people; working with data (and) getting out there into the field and telling really important stories.”

According to the program synopsis, the student-produced investigative program “shines a light on the oil industries substantial influence on government policy and reveals who benefits and who is hurt.”

The project was based on a tip from Dr. Emily Eaton, Associate Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies and author of Fault Lines: Life and Landscape in Saskatchewan's Oil Economy. 

The subsequent investigation carried out under the series title The Price of Oil, has revealed “significant breaches in responsibility on the part of both industry and the Saskatchewan provincial government.”

This project involves national collaboration with students and researchers at the University of Regina, UBC, Ryerson, and Concordia along with the Toronto Star, Global Television, and the National Observer.

Support came from the Michener Awards Foundation and the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives - Corporate Mapping Project.

The series producer is Patti Sonntag who led the project out of Concordia University as Canada’s 2016 Michener Fellow, awarded to her to lead a team on an investigation into resource extraction companies. Sonntag is managing editor in the News Services division of the New York Times.

The news agencies will be releasing their own stories on this investigation, but it was the groundwork by the U of R’s School of Journalism that made the difference.

Patti Sonntag
Patti Sonntag, (centre), shown here with J-School students on campus earlier this year. Sonntag is managing editor in the News Services division of the New York Times.

According to Sonntag, “University of Regina students fanned out across Saskatchewan to report, shoot video and look for sources.”

Thirteen U of R journalism students worked on the project and travelled to areas of the province including Lloydminster, Oxbow, and the James Cree First Nation.

“The Crude Power project means a lot to the School of journalism on a few fronts. My colleague Dr. Patricia Elliot and I placed an almost unrealistic journalistic challenge in front of our first-year students and they responded at a level beyond our expectations," says Trevor Grant, a lecturer at the School of Journalism.

"The students basically went deep into the project in early January and didn’t emerge until mid-April. They gave everything to this project. At the end of it all though, the students’ investigation revealed information never uncovered by the media before, or at least not published. This means a lot.”

Now the public has the opportunity to see the results of this hard-hitting investigative report.

Event:      Crude Power 
Date:        Wednesday, October 4
Time:        7 pm followed by a Question & Answer
Location:  Research and Innovation Centre at the U of R (RI 119)

The panelists are:
Dr. Emily Eaton – Department of Geography
Wally Burns – Chief of the James Smith Cree Nation
Norm Sacuta – Petroleum Technology Research Centre
Katie Doke Sawatzky – School of Journalism