BP oil disaster: what news media need to do next

Day after day there’s been an endless gusher of news reports about the BP oil spill, and in general, journalists have done a good job. They’ve covered many angles, especially the impact on wetlands wildlife and on the people of the fisheries industry. (And those photos of oil-stricken pelicans have helped focus attention on the immensity of the crisis.)

To be sure, not all the coverage has been adequate. There’s been far too much focus on what this means for Obama’s popularity and image, although that’s a natural question to ask. News media failed to clarify exactly who and what was the source for those initial underestimates of the oil flow, and failed to keep pressing BP for enough updates about its various capping attempts (which might have revealed that at one point BP had stopped the attempt without telling the public). Some journalists gave too much play to politically-motivated claims, including those by Palin and her ilk that BP had had to drill deep because the mean old environmentalists pressured them against “safer,” more shallow drilling.

But in general journalists have worked hard to keep us informed on the most important news developments. Now it’s time for news media to focus more on the policy implications. The New York Times had a good editorial Saturday on the need for the Senate to stop delaying and pass the comprehensive energy bill. This oil spill is a terrible tragedy, and there probably is no silver lining, but at least it could be a wake-up call, and journalists should take advantage of the enormous public interest in it to focus more on policy. News media should create a forum for an intelligent, reasoned debate on where we go from here with our energy policy. They should tell us what enlightened policy experts are saying about what we need to do, at last, once and for all, to drastically cut back on dependence on oil.



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9 responses to “BP oil disaster: what news media need to do next

  1. Linda C.

    The BP oil spill has definitely put a lot of pressure on President Obama to create policies dealing with environmental issues, particularly America’s dependence on oil. Not only has Obama been critiqued on his involvement in the oil spill and other environmental issues, many are also discussing the possibility of this tragic event determining whether or not he will be reelected into a second term for president. In CBS’s news report (http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2010/06/06/sunday/main6553939.shtml) they were equating Obama’s handle on the oil spill situation with Bush’s Hurricane Katrina response and how these events will be defined as the largest and most defining events during their office. This pressure on Obama for reelection could in turn help push Obama to develop new environmental policies.

  2. Troy Woolfolk

    After the oil spill the pressure that Obama received was justified, but I also feel that some of that pressure should be shared with BP. I do not feel that the journalist did their research to find out what kind of preventative regulations that are implemented so that disaster like this wont happen, and did BP follow them?

  3. Austyn F.

    I agree that the news organizations have been doing an excellent job of covering the ongoing BP oil spill. One news organization that I have been using during this crisis to keep me informed is NPR.org – they have had some great discussions on shows such as Talk of the Nation. One segment that was particularly interesting discussed the impact images of wildlife covered in tar-like oil have had on the public. I agree with you that there needs to be more reports focusing on policy implications – will there be tougher regulations? Will the US allow off-shore drilling any longer? Can we afford to stop deep off-shore drilling?

  4. McKenna Farrar

    While BP’s oil spill has created a lot of controversy surrounding the company, it also threatens Obama’s reputation and presidency. It makes complete sense that much of the blame would be placed on BP but seems relatively unfair to radically discredit Obama for this disaster. An article from Newsweek mentioned that Republicans are comparing Obama’s actions in regards to the oil spill to Bush’s “lack of urgency in reacting to Hurricane Katrina.” (http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/10_24/b4182007924028.html) The responses to this disaster should not be the sole responsibility of one man but an entire team’s job to clean up the spill.

  5. Austyn F.

    I agree that news organizations have been doing an excellent job keeping up with the BP oil crisis. I would have liked to see more critical commentary earlier on – as this spill has been dragging on for over a month now and I feel like it has just started to really hit home with a lot of Americans. I can’t really blame the media though, for many news organizations were quoting experts who said how terrible the effects of the spill could be — and now we are just beginning to see the oil hit land. I listened to a really interesting story on NPR’s Morning Edition about how the American public is really responding to and understanding the oil spill through images – especially images of wildlife covered in tar. It is crucial that photojournalists take extra care capturing images of the oil spill so those who do not leave on the coast can understand what is truly happening.

  6. Lindsey

    I agree that the focus of oil spill coverage should be on the facts as opposed to politics, however, you mention that “journalists should take advantage of the enormous public interest in it to focus more on policy.” How exactly should the focus be turned to policy, and how can this be done without getting politics involved?

  7. Stephen Cooke

    When the news first broke about the BP Oil Spill, news organizations immediately began to sensationalize and compare it to 1989’s Exxon Oil Spill and whether or not the disaster would turn into Obama’s “Hurricane Katrina.” Instead of making this a political issue, I would have liked to have seen more coverage on the the environmental consequences and its impact on the residents and economy of the Gulf Coast region. However, I think the journalist did a good job keeping Americans abreast on what was going down. I’m also glad the president took initiative and claimed responsibility; however, I think a lot of time was wasted finger-pointing. It shouldn’t take this long to patch a hole, regardless of how size or level of difficulty. It is also sad that it takes an oil spill of this proportion to create awareness of the need to have alternative fuel options. Hopefully, politicians will realize that they need to put their agenda’s aside and concentrate on doing what is best for the American people.

  8. Allyson David

    Journalists have done a good job in reporting on the oil spill, but I also think they have focused too much media attention on whose fault it is. Everyday I see images of oil spilling out into the oceans accompanied by commentary focusing more on who to blame rather than fixing the problem. I don’t believe Obama should be under so much scrutiny for this situation. The question right now is how can we fix this? This article in the TIMES did a good job in explaining the actual spill and whats going on with it . http://www.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1994657,00.html I think right now our attention should be focused more on the fact that the problem is still not solved and possible solutions to fix it.

  9. Alexa E.

    I agree with you wholeheartedly on this issue. Though I am impressed that the BP oil spill is getting as much coverage as it deserves, I feel that overall, news organizations have gotten caught up in the details of the event, instead of placing the tragedy into the larger context of irresponsible environmental policy. Instead, journalists can utilize this event to enlighten the public on crucial policy issues. Furthermore, I agree that the coverage may be too focused on Obama’s role in the disaster- although his role is important- I feel the coverage is too critical. We cannot expect President Obama to fix this situation single-handedly; more so, the public needs to understand the policy decisions that will help to minimize environmental disasters in the future. It is clear that BP failed to consider the long-term consequences of its off-shore drilling, and I feel it is the press’s job to inform the public with this gap of information.

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