10:07 AM 0 comments

Guest Post: BP Oil Spill #8

Brett Eagle
Nate Muniz
Johnny Trevizo

The tragedy of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill is unique in a sense that it was a man-made disaster, and possibly the first where so many forms of communication and media were available to BP. Through commercials and the internet, BP tried several ways to “save-face,” or so we thought. We thought it would be interesting to analyze the way in which BP framed their commercials, so we came up with the following research question:

Looking at commercials produced by BP, how did they frame the spill?

To answer this question it is necessary to know: what is framing? Well according to William Gamson, a professor of sociology, “A frame is the central unifying idea of a package, the organizing principle holding together all other elements. The frame sets a dominant perspective that will determine how a media text is interpreted. It serves as an organizing scheme, helping the efficient processing of media content.”

Initially, we had only planned on examining the commercials that aired nationally on television, and collect data from these videos. However, we noticed that BP had a Youtube Channel (youtube.com/bp) focused only on the spill, so we also examined a few of these commercial videos that were produced after the well was fixed. Both a qualitative and quantitative analysis was conducted in order to collect relevant data. The qualitative analysis consisted of watching several commercials, all the same length (1 min.) that were produced by BP. The tone and style of each of these videos was then identified and recorded. Watching these videos allowed us to create a list of keywords (corresponding to both audio and visual (images) present in the commercial) that would be searched for in the nationally aired commercials. The keywords were broken down into 3 categories for images present in the commercial and 7 categories for audio (narrative). The three image categories were: BP self promotion, nature & recreation, and environmental effort. The seven audio categories were: economy, responsibility, BP self promotion, personal interest, disaster related, solution, and technology. These keywords/terms were what we noticed in the other videos as well as words that we expected to appear. The categories were then further broken down into sub-categories that were used as keywords.

For the quantitative analysis, we examined six commercials (all the same length, 1 min.) that aired on national television. Each commercial was watched once without audio, i.e. muted (in order to collect data on the images), and then again with audio. A tally mark was added to the sub-category if it was said or displayed in the image on screen. Words/images that reflected the intent of the sub-category were also marked, i.e. the commercial didn’t have to match exactly the keyword. In some instances, a sound bite/image was added to multiple sub-categories if necessary. This data collection process was completed for each commercial. After watching all of the commercials, the number of marks was summed up for each category. (A quantitative analysis would have been conducted for the videos watched during the qualitative analysis, however, all of the commercials were extremely specific and focused, i.e. two restaurant owners talking about the seafood available at their restaurant. These commercials appeared to be focused for local audiences, while the other commercials were national and discussed the broader scheme of the situation.)

Our hypothesis was that we expected BP to stay away from taking blame, focus on what they’ve done to cleanup the spill area, and to avoid talking about solutions to the oil leak. So were we right? The pie charts below illustrate the results:

From these results, we noticed that BP tried to keep their brand clean by never showing any pictures of how dirty the Gulf had become. They also were very focused on the cleanup efforts they had implemented on the beaches and in the ocean, as well as the number of claims they had paid to businesses. BP completely stayed away from mentioning a solution to the problem in commercials that were produced both before and after the well was fixed. They also stated several times how they were “Making It Right,” but never really explained what that means. BP did take responsibility through paying claims and cleaning the Gulf, but never specifically stated that the spill was their fault.

The seven Youtube videos we watched focused on specific people from the area. Most explained that the beaches, animals, and Gulf of Mexico, were cleaned up. They were also committed to welcoming tourists back to the area, and that the seafood from the Gulf was now safe to eat.

For the most part, our results confirm what we expected to happen. BP never spoke of a solution and only spoke of their cleanup efforts. In a sense they did take responsibility by mentioning that they were paying claims and “Making It Right.”

Obviously this analysis of data is very subjective, in a sense that we only selected the six commercials to take data from and we chose which images and terms to include in the analysis. If we had to do this again and we had infinite time, we would have watched all of the videos on BP’s Youtube page to make a complete analysis of the frames that BP used. 
1:34 PM 0 comments

Guest Post: BP Oil Spill #7

John Bristow
Aaron Cowles
David Smith

The BP oil spill was a major disaster that brought about many changes some permanent and some temporary. In the field of science communication we set out to examine how the model of science communication has the model of science communication in BP’s press releases changed as a result of the spill. We wanted to know what changes occurred and how permanent the changes were. 
                  We started process with a literature review of the different kinds of science communications focusing on the deficit and engagement models. After a basic analysis of the BP press releases these categories were broken down into even finer detailed assessments of the release’s perceived nature.  The deficit model of science communication hammered the reader with fact after fact with no opinion or bias, but left the receiver disconnected from the stories. The engagement model reached out to the receiver to draw them in and make them feel more connected with the decisions being made in the gulf coast. For deficit based communication it was determined that releases fell predominately into either company based reports or educational information. Engagement was much more diverse with its own branch of an educational approach as well as an expert knowledge and dialog interactions. 
                  To begin our analysis, we defined three separate periods regarding the spill: before the spill, during the spill, and the period after the well was capped.  We randomly chose 15 releases within each of these three periods for a total of 45 releases to be analyzed.  We used the random selection approach in hopes of avoiding any human bias that could have developed from reaction to press release titles.  We also threw out any articles concerning internal affairs such as promotions and hirings.
We found that although the dominant model used by BP drastically changed from what we called deficit in the “before” period to engagement in the “during” period, the change was not long lived.  In fact, in the period immediately after the well was capped, the model switched rather quickly back to what we interpreted as the deficit model.  The graph below illustrates our qualitative analysis of how the model changed throughout the three periods.

We realize that there were a few problems with the methods we used to analyze the question.  Firstly, it would have been nice to have more data, and analysis of more releases would have given a more accurate picture of the change that was occurring.  Secondly, we found that it was rather difficult to group the articles as solely deficit or engagement which stemmed from the fact that not many press releases are actually intended to engage the audience.  Rather we should not have tried to analyze the model of science communication based on the two basic models, but probably should have focused on separating the deficit model, which is what most of the articles truly should have been categorized as, into more specific categories.
11:26 AM 1 comments

CJR on Fukushima

I'm writing this brief post from a National Science Foundation workshop on environmental, reproductive, and genomic justice, so things will be short.  But I wanted to call your attention to an excellent Columbia Journalism Review interview with the journalist who has been doing most of the reporting on the Fukushima incident for the New York Times.  His comments are revealing and, in my opinion, spot on.  Here's an excerpt:

If you want to get cold and analytical about it, we need electricity so we can have clean drinking water, sewage processing, fresh food in the refrigerator, sixty-eight degrees on a cold winter night, and seventy-two degrees on a hot August afternoon. All of those things have benefits, and all of them are going to have a cost somewhere. One of them is risk and sometimes death. Look at the people who died in San Bruno [California] when the natural gas pipeline there ruptured. These are the costs of extracting, converting, and delivering energy, but we don’t really look at it statistically. We don’t think in terms of deaths per megawatt hour. Nuclear power accidents are simply sexier than coal mine accidents.
10:30 AM 0 comments

Guest Post: BP Oil Spill #6

From Bre Austin

After such a large oil spill there is a battle within the media to present both the science of what is happening and to communicate to the average man on the street.  This is particularly true within newspapers such as the New York Times since they must capture their readers interest and make them want to continue reading the future articles.  The fine line of the balance between the two raised the following question regarding the BP oil spill and how the communication line was balanced.

“How science communication compared to man on the street communication within the New York Times in the weeks following the spill.”

The hypothesis formed for this study was that man on the street communication would heavily outweigh science communication within the articles published.In order to examine this question several articles from the New York Times were examined in the two weeks following the spill.  A total of ten articles were analyzed in order to keep the scope of the project manageable and were chosen by selecting every third article from a list of the articles listed from the oldest to most recent.  This was done to get a variety of different topics following the spill.

Within the articles there were 9 main points of interest including remote controlled robots, missing workers, safety concerns, oil spill rates, marine life and coast, capping attempts, money, the blowout preventer and the industry and economy. These main topics were determined after reading through all of the articles to find the main common focuses of the articles. 

After the topics were determined they were categorized as either science communication or man on the street.  The science communication categories included the robots and remote controlled devices, the blowout preventer, capping attempts and options, oil spill rates and scientifically backed information on marine life and coast. The man on the street categories were missing workers and injuries, safety concerns, marine life and the coast, the industry and economy impacts, and the cost of the cleanup, BP’s cost of Liability and the financial impact on BP.

The ten articles were then reread and a point given to each category when the article mentioned one of the topics.  More than one point was not given per article.  At the end the totals were then summed up and the results based off of the total percentages.
The conclusions found were that there was actually more science communication found within the topics of the articles than there was man on the street communication.  Science communication had a total of 26 marks where man on the street communication had 22 marks, only an 8.33 % difference.  Seeing as it was a small sample of articles there is a chance this may have evened out more over the scope of all the articles written.  This was very surprising conclusion given the values newspapers tend to value.  At the same time though this makes some sense because people were demanding answers and wanting solutions, which can really only be done through science communication.

The overall conclusions proved the hypothesis that there would be very little science communication and a large amount of man on the street communication. One setback in the methods used was the number of articles analyzed; if a future study were to be performed more articles would be examined to ensure the accuracy of the results.  Weighting of the categories was another drawback. Even if a topic was given only a small portion of the text it was given a point and even if a topic covered the majority of an article it was still only given a point.  This could have caused an unfair tilt towards the amount of science communication or man on the street communication present. If a larger study had been performed this may have averaged out.

The results found during this study were surprising to me at least, I had definitely imagined that the New York Times would have played much more the man on the street, but they did a good job communicating the science of the oil spill.

9:52 AM 0 comments

Guest Post: BP Oil Spill #5

From Briana, Schuler, Nick, and Dion

Posed with the question of addressing science communication in
accordance with the BP oil spill of 2010, we decided to analyze how
the location of a newspaper effected the reporting on the oil spill
approximately one month after the disaster.  This seemed a worthy
endeavor to look into considering science communication, and its
involvement with the media.  After all, news holds the power to effect
public perception, and it is well known that with intentional framing
news can be presented in a number of ways.  If the news that was being
presented varied by location, that could in turn mean that the
regional perception of the news story would vary as well.

It was not much of a stretch to hypothesize that the quantity and
quality of science communication that was taking place concerning the
oil spill was decreasing as the distance from the epicenter of the
disaster increased.  We figured that the community near the epicenter
would be the ones who would most desire to know what was happening
with the situation and therefore receive the better science
communication, or news in this case.  We also figured that the amount
of people interested in the disaster would decrease as the distance
from the disaster increased resulting in less reporting on the

After addressing the question, constraints were put on the subject of
the matter.  The quantitative data would be collected in the time
range from May 20th to May 31st and involve three newspapers, of
local, regional, and national stature.  The qualitative data analyzed
would be based on article comparison among the different newspapers.
The comparison would be based upon the level of technical detail
included, the tone of the article, and the general feeling of how
science communication was presented within it.  The newspapers used
were the Louisiana-Times Picayune, the New York Times, and the Denver
Post.  It was believed that these three papers would represent a taste
of how the news was reported by varying location.

In researching this particular question, we decided to look at how
another disaster in the United States was covered by different
newspapers across the country. We were able to find the thesis
statement of a graduate student who decided to write on the subject
for their Master's degree that addressed a similar issue.  The study
was concerned with Hurricane Katrina and looked at newspapers at the
national, regional, and local levels.

The student found 263 articles under the constraints set that talked
about the hurricane in the newspapers. Of those 263, a majority came
from the national newspapers, but she mentioned that while the local
newspapers did not have as many articles as the others, their articles
tended to be more in-depth and longer, as well as having larger
photographs depicting the destruction and distress after the

The newspapers also differed in what they covered. The national
newspapers tended to talk more about issues associated with the
government and Washington, D.C., while the regional and local
newspapers focused more on the destruction from the hurricane and
rebuilding efforts in New Orleans and Mississippi. The conclusions
drawn from this research were that the local and regional newspapers
took cues from the anticipated needs and demands from their readers as
opposed to national needs, and the closer that the newspaper is to the
center of destruction, the more it assumed the role of spokesman for
the voiceless thousands affected by the disaster.

The quantitative methodology resulted in interesting results.  The
amount of the articles found concerning the topic fell right in line
with our projected hypothesis.  The regional Picayune published 181
articles concerning the topic followed by the New York Times’ total of
73.  An exact number could not be found when addressing the question
for the Denver Post.  In the archives of the newspaper, AP articles
are not formally included, and there were only ten staff publications
concerning the issue.  Due to its lack of publication, it was hard to
address the quantitative involvement of the Post, yet based on the
amount published by the local staff writers, it was probably less than
the amount from the Times.

The articles were then organized into contextual categories to get an
idea of the science communication being presented.  The articles were
arranged into categories consisting of: environmental impact/effect,
industry and business impact/effect, personal story, technically
based, politically based, or a situational update.  The results can be
seen in the figures below.  It was reasonable to conclude that the
national paper held a clearly politically favored frame to the
situation, as was found similar in the literary review.  The majority
of the articles published involved political discussion and the total
content presented avoided an even representation of the news that was
out there.  The Picayune by contrast had a much better representation
of all the detailed news that was available.  Each category had more
stories to represent the overall impact of the disaster.

The article comparison involved one article from each newspaper on the
subject of the top-kill failure.  These articles were presented May
29th, right after the attempt at plugging the well with a top-kill
failed.  As was expected, the analysis of the three articles resulted
in the findings that the newspaper closest to the epicenter had the
best technical detail, a neutral tone and had little political
content.  The New York Times had a moderate level of technical detail,
a negative tone, and moderate political content.  The Denver Post
produced little technical content, a positive tone, and little
political content.  Examples of the writing styles can be seen in the
following figures from the three newspapers.

Denver Post
New York Times
Next Step
“Right now we are evaluating a back-up plan.”-Salazar
“Suttles said, ’cutting off the broken riser to leave a clean cut pipe surface at the top of the blowout preventer and installing a new cap fitted with a flexible ring atop the package. The cap will be connected to the surface by a new riser with a drilling pipe inside it…’”
“The new strategy is to smoothly cut the riser from which the oil is leaking and then place a cap over it.”

Denver Post
New York Times
Relief Wells
“The ultimate answer for blocking the flow of oil remains the same, drilling two relief wells to intersect the failed well and pumping down cement to permanently close it… a first relief well has reached a depth of 12,000 feet below the surface but has another 6,000 feet to go through difficult layers of rock before it will be in a place where cement can be squeezed into the original well.”
“ ‘We will continue to pursue any and all responsible means of stopping this leak until the completion of the two relief wells currently being drilled.’”-Obama

Based on the information collected, it was reasonable to conclude that
science communication is effected by location.  The material that was
being presented was clearly being written for different audiences.
Close to the disaster, news covered several local issues and kept the
community up to date with detailed information.  On a national level,
the news held political connotations and was only moderately detailed.
 In Denver, the news was being related to local stories to keep the
reader interested.  This conclusion was also reached looking at the
quantitative results.

If this study was continued for further results, there are a few
recommendations that we would like to make.  Increasing the number of
papers analyzed and using a wider range of dates, we believe, would
potentially enhance the case of the findings.  Also, we would want to
look at Associated Press articles and see where newspapers are
publishing them.  This could give great insight to what news is
reaching different locations.  Analyzation of another disaster as well
as further literary reviews would also improve this study.