Home » Diversity Publications » Oil and Water: Media Lessons from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

Oil and Water: Media Lessons from Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

By Andrea Miller, Shearon Roberts and Victoria LaPoe
University Press of Mississippi, 2014

This book explores the media experiences of the dual disasters to hit the Gulf Coast within five years, Hurricane Katrina and the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster. The Katrina journalists have reluctantly grown into Oil Spill journalists. The book looks at this process of growth from the viewpoints of not only the journalists, but the public, the science community, and through an analysis of the journalists’ own content.

It explores the quality of disaster journalism within these two events and the effects the media-fed experiences, visuals, and narratives may have on the public. For example, science literacy is an important factor in crisis decision-making. A survey conducted four years after Hurricane Katrina found Gulf Coast residents get a B-minus in hurricane knowledge. Findings also showed African Americans have significantly less hurricane knowledge than whites. A survey conducted while the BP oil was spewing into the Gulf found the public knows even less about the processes of oil exploration and the effects the spill may have on the sea’s ecosystems.

In terms of narratives, both national and local outlets framed coverage of the disasters in an episodic manner (rather than thematic) – a manner that highlights individuals without context and often results in blame being placed on victims. And in the case of Katrina, a disproportionate number of the victims were African-American. The use of sources had similar and robust findings across both the oil disaster and Katrina; the authoritative figures interviewed where white men, even in a region where many local and state authorities are minorities.

Screen shot 2014-08-23 at 8.46.14 AMThe lack of knowledge combined with negative visuals and non-diverse sources creates a conflicting picture of the information sent to the audience. Crisis media coverage affects the interpretation and the experience of an event. The premise of this book is that it all leads back to the fundamentals of solid journalism (diversity of sources, accuracy, community-focused, stories with context) and the importance of following these tenets consistently in an enduring crises atmosphere – especially when the crises are just years apart.

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