How one woman hurdled journalism’s gender barrier to help shape the future of Big Oil.
Off the Record Research reporter Rubino once worked for Wanda Jablonski (1920–1992), the subject of this case study in how knowledgeable journalism can shape events. Born in Slovakia, Jablonski came to America at age five, when her father Eugen was hired by a Standard Oil affiliate. They arrived in Texas in the heyday of U.S. oil exploration; young Wanda was immersed in the excitement, and the technical jargon, of the petroleum boom. The family also lived in England and Egypt while Eugen pursued a peripatetic oil career. Wanda returned to the United States to get a bachelor of arts degree from Cornell and began graduate studies in public law and government at Columbia, but quit in 1943. She tried to get a job at the Council on Foreign Relations, but was turned down because she couldn’t type. Chance took her to the stodgy but respected New York Journal of Commerce as a messenger. Her career took off when the regular petroleum reporter left and Jablonski was given a string of temporary assignments to write articles on the oil business, initially using the byline W.M. Jablonski to disguise her gender. After she moved to Petroleum Week in 1955, however, she won the right to use her full name; her ability to pry inside information from the secretive major oil companies had made her columns an industry must-read. Later, the affinity she developed with national leaders and oil ministers throughout the Middle East made Petroleum Intelligence Weekly, the publication she founded in 1961, “the bible of the international oil world.” She often chided U.S. CEOs on their arrogance and insensitivity in international dealings, and to the extent that she saw it all coming, Jablonski deserved her nickname as “OPEC’s midwife.”
Intimate but also sweeping, capturing the myopia of both business and government as America’s addiction to foreign oil set in over four decades.