100 Days of Gushing Oil

Aug 25, 2010

The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, which began with the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion on April 20 and continued to gush for another three months, posed a daunting set of challenges for the news media.

Unlike most catastrophes, which tend to break quickly and subside almost as fast, the spill was a slow-motion disaster that demanded constant vigilance and sustained reporting.

The story was also complex, dominated by three continuing and sometimes competing story lines from three different locales—the role of the London-based oil company, the efforts of the Obama Administration, and the events in the Gulf region—that taxed reportorial resources and journalistic attention spans.

Coverage of the disaster also required a significant amount of technical and scientific expertise. News consumers were introduced to a series of new terms and concepts as the media tried to explain the efforts to contain the spill and formulate reliable estimates of the extent of the environmental and economic damage.

The news media, in short, found themselves with a complicated, technical and long-running disaster saga that did not break down along predictable political and ideological lines. And they were reporting to an American public that displayed a ravenous appetite for the spill story.

How did the press handle the challenge?

A new study of media coverage of the oil spill disaster by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that, given the tough task they faced, the media as a whole seemed to rise to the occasion.

Read the full report 100 Days of Gushing Oil on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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