Watching Government: 914th and last

Dec. 18, 2000
This column will be absent from the pages of your Jan. 1 Oil & Gas Journal.

This column will be absent from the pages of your Jan. 1 Oil & Gas Journal.

I have left the Washington bureau to become managing editor of OGJ Online in Houston. Watching Government will be suspended for a while.

When I began writing columns in 1983, I numbered them sequentially to store them in the computer. Over the years, I have watched the total grow. This final one is No. 914.

From the beginning, the Oil & Gas Journal management gave me carte blanche to write anything I wished in the column regarding government policy-so long as I left the heavy editorializing for the editorial page.

It's a credit to this magazine's unwavering journalistic principles that, over the years, I was never instructed what-or what not-to write on any subject. And never did the magazine decline to publish what I had written.

The burden

Other than a government policy theme, the other thing the 914 columns had in common was that all of them had to fit in two thirds of a page.

That always made Watching Government my most difficult writing job of the week. Not only did I have to choose a subject, gather facts, and compose the column, but also I usually had to cut my writing to fit the space-while trying not to omit pertinent details.

That was always hard, and the difficulty was usually compounded by deadline pressure. But the constant discipline of trimming the fat from my own stories probably improved me as a writer.

The column was always a nagging concern in the back of my mind (analogous, perhaps, to having a teenage driver in the family). Sending a finished column brought relief, but within 24 hr, I began fretting about the next one.

I finally wrote an "evergreen" column to keep for emergencies. I was never forced to use it, and it brought some peace of mind. But even after that, there were many times when I awoke in the night to find my mind occupied with the column. Fittingly, I began the first draft of this one in a Dallas hotel room at 4 a.m.

The reward

After a while, I came to appreciate Watching Government as a complement to my Washington reporting duties.

It was the perfect vehicle for reporting information that I had gleaned from my association with congressmen, administrators, and lobbyists but could not attribute directly to them.

It could be used for a short interview or to outline an emerging issue. Or it could add "color" to pure news stories, like the column describing the charged atmosphere in the hearing room when a House committee voted for natural gas decontrol over the reluctance of its chairman.

I was surprised when the magazine's readers began approaching me familiarly at public meetings. Having seen my photograph and read my articles for several years, they felt they knew me personally. Frequently they told me that they enjoyed "my" column.

But I never felt it was "mine." I was only maintaining a tradition that the magazine had begun some 35 years before my byline appeared.

In a few months, the Oil & Gas Journal will publish some other journalist's No. 1 Watching Government. It will bear a fresh photograph and a fresh perspective.