PEJ: Media Rise To Oil Spill Coverage

If the Gulf oil spill coverage was a test of network news operations "battered" by
staffing cutbacks, many of those outlets appeared to pass the test with
coverage that humanized the story and refrained
from turning it into "another polarizing and political saga," despite
some temptation to do so.

That was the
conclusion of a study of coverage by national news outlets by the Pew
Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ).

The oil spill was primarily a TV story, said PEJ, with cable providing the most
coverage with 31% of the airtime studies, followed closely by network
news at 29%. CNN gave it the most airtime at 42%
of its news hole, followed in the cable sector by MSNBC with 32%, and
Fox with 18% (the study does not include local broadcast TV or regional
cable network news).

According to
PEJ, media outlets "rose to the occasion" when covering a complicated,
often technical, long-running story that included sometimes competing
storylines that "did not break down along
predictable political and idological lines.

The study also concluded that online was a big value-added, providing details that would have been tough to convey.

"In short,
the oil spill disaster was a unique story that tested a news industry
battered by staffing cutbacks, decreasing revenues, and shrinking
ambition," said PEJ in announcing the results. "It
was a test that much of the media seemed to pass.

PEJ's conclusions were based on 2,866 stories about the spill from April 20 to July 28.

The study
identified eight major points about the coverage: The spill was the
dominant story in the media over those 100 days; cleanup and containment
were the lead storylines; the White House received
mixed coverage for its role; BP was the clear antagonist; it was
primarily a TV story; it was much less of a story on blogs and social
media; it put a spotlight on the value of interactive Web features like
PBS' oil leak widget; the public's interest in the
story matched or even exceeded that of the media.

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.