9:52 AM

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.

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