For the last several months the world has watched while British Petroleum tried to get the leak under control. On Thursday, July 15, 2010, British Petroleum was able to affix a containment cap and stop the flow of oil into the Gulf for the first time two and a half months. The story is being covered by many news stations. This paper will consider the news reports from Houston, Texas news station KHOU channel 11, CNN U.S. International, and Reuters, Edition: U.S.
Objectivity and Subjectivity
According to Turner and West objective truth “exists apart from our knowing it.” and subjective truth “can only be understood from the point of view of those involved.” (2004, p. 63) Each of the news stations covered the story in an overall objective manner.
Houston, KHOU: The news segment began with the story introduction in the newsroom and then moved to another reporter in another part of the station who used a flat screen to show video of the cap on the oil well underwater. The reporter used a yellow highlighting tool to show where the lines were going into the sea floor and what British Petroleum was trying to do with the cap (how it all worked). The Houston news segment showed a lot of the technical equipment being used to monitor the cap and included the information that the testing would be going on for another 24 hours as of late Saturday night. The second reporter went on to describe how robots monitor the ocean floor to look for any oil leaking out of fissures that might have been created during the initial explosion. Audio equipment is also being used near the cap itself to monitor for any sounds of gas or oil leakage. Pressure monitoring devises are in place to assure that the well is building pressure, which also indicates that there is no leakage. This particular segment reported that British Petroleum and United States National Incident Commander Admiral Thad Allen had not yet decided on what the next procedure would be after testing was complete (KHOU, 2010).
CNN U.S.: This news piece starts with a rather long and intricate (silent) video of the cap actually being placed on the top of the oil well. Underwater cameras swirl around huge robotic arms that move in jerking motions to place an enormous metal cap over the leaking well opening. The sequence then moves to the newsroom segment where a reporter explains that the initial 48-hour testing period for the cap had been extended for another 24-hours. Video footage begins rolling of the huge spills and clean-up efforts, showing several burn-off procedures underway. The newsroom reporter then goes to a location reporter who is in New Orleans who gives a more detailed report of why the testing was extended and what British Petroleum intends to do after the testing is completed. This report directly says that after the testing period is finished British Petroleum intends to begin producing oil from the well again with the cap in reserve should a hurricane approach. A new well is being drilled to intercept the leaking well but will not be completed until sometime in August. According to this story, British Petroleum is not going to wait for the new well to be completed before it begins production again. Instead, as soon as the testing is complete British Petroleum will remove the cap and begin siphoning the oil to tanker ships on the surface. The reporter actually says that during the process of uncapping the well and attaching the lines for siphoning there will be more oil spilled into the Gulf. At this point the newsroom reporter takes over the main role in the story again and begins talking about Kent Fineburg, the British Petroleum executive in charge of paying out damages to commercial fisherman in the Louisiana area. The video turns to a community meeting in Lafayette, Louisiana where Mr Fineburg is listening to the concerns of commercial fisherman who have lost a great deal of money (and stand to continue losing money) because of the oil disaster. Fineburg explains to the community members that he is willing to compensate for loss but that loss has to be sufficiently demonstrated (CNN U.S., 2010).
Reuters, Edition: U.S.: The Reuters story opens with a segment of the underwater test operation. The video is much darker and shorter than the video shown by the other two news channels and audio tells briefly that British Petroleum has managed to affix a cap to the leaking oil well. The segment immediately moves into the financial aspects of British Petroleum finally stopping the flow of oil into the Gulf by moving to a shot of the outside of Thompson Reuters where businessmen watch the numbers for British Petroleum rise. There is one more short clip of the cap on top of the oil well but the rest of the segment is entirely devoted to economic trade without another mention of the test cap (Reuters, 2010).
Representation of Social Groups
Houston, KHOU: The main social groups represented in this segment are the British Petroleum officials, the United States National Incident Commander (United States officials), and the scientists and technicians in charge of capping the well. The story focuses on the technical aspects of the well cap and the processes being used to make sure that the well remains secure. The report stays specifically on the subject of the test cap, how it was placed, and how it is being monitored.
CNN U.S.: There are many social groups represented in the CNN story. The segment begins with the technical aspects of what British Petroleum is trying to do and then moves into the realm of financial responsibility within the communities that have been affected by the disaster. The community meeting footage represents both the fisherman and their communities as well as the financial officer of British Petroleum. Both groups have valid concerns and must work together to come to a fair resolution for all involved.
Reuters, Edition: U.S.: The Reuters segment dealt almost exclusively with the financial aspects of the gulf cap test. The short blurry video footage at the beginning of the report immediately gave way to footage of the stock market boards. The report dwelt on what the cap working meant for British Petroleum financially and the affect that would have on the rest of the world market as well.
Houston, KHOU: This segment was very factual and to the point. The report focused on what was being done to cap the oil well and the reporter even took time to draw out on the flat screen what British Petroleum was trying to accomplish with the cap and how they went about putting it into place. The segment was not sensationalized but informative and well done. It covered only the point of the story, the extended test period and what it was intended to accomplish.
CNN U.S.: This segment is a bit more sensationalized than the other two because it contains much more footage of the spill damage, clean up efforts, and the footage of the community meeting. At least three times during this story footage was shown of the ocean clean-up efforts being conducted in the Gulf. Huge spills stretching hundreds of yards float on the surface of the ocean as nearby ships conduct controlled burns to remove the oil. The report then moves to include a rather heated group meeting where British Petroleum officials meet with understandably angry community members. This story also includes the fact that British Petroleum intends to uncap the well and attach siphoning lines which will have oil flowing into the Gulf again.
Reuters, Edition: U.S.: The only social group represented in this report is the financial community. Of course corporate finances admittedly have the trickle-down effect but the people being affected the most by this disaster are not in corporate offices, they live on the Gulf Coast.
Each of these stories dealt primarily with the main topic, that British Petroleum was extending the testing of the cap on the leaking oil well. The story from Houston KHOU stuck to the point and didn’t add much more. It was concise and factual without any added commentary. The CNN U.S. story added in quite a bit more conjecture in regard to what British Petroleum intends to do at the end of the testing phase. The on-site reporter states that even though the leak has finally been stopped British Petroleum intends to spill more oil into the Gulf while attaching siphoning hoses. The report brings even more emotion to the situation by bringing in the community meeting involving British Petroleum officials and local fisherman. The Reuters report focuses mainly on the financial aspect of the cap being successful.
While all of these aspects are important, something is missing from each one of these stories. The environmental devastation should be just as much a priority as British Petroleum’s financial status or the livelihood of local communities (which is directly affected by the environment). How much land and water has been destroyed? How many animals have died? How long will this disaster affect the wild life and the environment? How far will the devastation reach? These should be the next news stories.
Associated Press (2010). The Gulf waits: Oil is plugged, but for how long? Houston, KHOU, Houston, Texas. KHOU.com, July 16, 2010, 10:53 p.m. http://www.khou.com/news/BP-scientists-try-to-make-sense-of-Gulf-oil-well-puzzle-98651334.html. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
CNN, Edition: U.S. (2010). Gulf Coast Oil Disaster: Testing of BP well will go another 24 hours. CNN International, July 17, 2010, 5:38 p.m. http://www.cnn.com/2010/US/07/17/gulf.oil.disaster/index.html?video=true&hpt=T2. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
Reuters, Edition: U.S. (2010). BP hopes to keep blown well capped. Reuters, Edition: U.S., July 18, 2010, 12:38 p.m. http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSTRE65O5TA20100718. Retrieved July 18, 2010.
Turner, L.H. and West, R. (2004) Introducing communication theory: Analysis and application. (Second Edition). McGraw-Hill Companies