Thursday, August 26, 2010

What did you think of the media coverage of the Gulf Spill?

It's fascinating to me to look at how people evaluate media coverage. The evaluation often says more about the person evaluating than the media itself. For example, if someone says they think FOX is fair and balanced, that might give you an indication of their politics, same is true of those who might say that about Keith Olberman.

If you talk to anyone involved in the Gulf spill or the communications operation of that event, mention the media and their eyes will roll and there's a good chance that if they are inclined toward foul and vulgar language they won't be able to hold it in. Universally those involved have seen the coverage as horrific. Biased, inaccurate, nasty, intentionally misleading, etc. That's why it is quite surprising to me to see from the Pew Research Center findings that the public overall feels the media did a pretty good job. My reaction is, what is wrong with those people? But, that again is the difference between an inside and outside perspective.

The Pew study, announced yesterday, is fascinating. I think it is must reading for any PIO or communication leader responsible for crisis and emergency communication. The event was singular, no question, and they make it clear how unusual the spill was in terms of media coverage. But their analysis is undoubtedly the best way to get a grasp on how the media will cover events like this. And, unlike me, they do it without perceptible bias or frustration.

For those not interested in wading through the lengthy report (very worth it, however) here are the eight key points they make (with my own spin on those points)

1) this story was dominant -- by a long ways. Compared to other major disaster stories, none ever came close to the percent of news hole consumed with the incredible longevity.
2) The "blame game" was exceptionally strong --while the leading story line was the containment and recovery operations (47%) and exceptionally high percentage was focused on finding fault or blame (they call it the blame game, not just me) with BP (27%) and the adminisration (17%)
3) The White House had mixed coverage (I wish Pew had better analyzed the changing WH strategies and how that lined up with the media criticism of the WH, but that will be left for others)
4) BP emerged as antagonist -- that is not surprising, what surprises me is that Pew is using the black hat vs. white hat method of analyzing the news, seeing it as cast in entertainment form which it certainly is
5) The spill was mostly a TV story--with surprising differences in how the cable networks dealt with the story vs. major networks (hint--blame game is CNN and cable business)
6) Social media was not nearly as strong as mainstream media in its focus -- again surprising, but if you look at the nature of social media, it is understandable
7) Media outlets websites with interactive features were very important in telling the story
8) Public interest even exceeded the extremely high level of coverage -- the public simply couldn't get enough of this story

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