10:30 AM

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.

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