Thursday, April 29, 2010

Louisiana's offshore oil spill and possible environmental disaster reveals limits of both old and new media

Still miles offshore, the massive oil spill caused by the explosion involving a BP owned oil rig, is proving a difficult story to cover for both old and new media. (The latest is that Governor Bobby Jindal has declared a state of emergency.)

The New Orleans Times-Picayune, a news organization with far too much experience covering man-made disasters, is at the forefront again. Their home page contains links to no less than four locally written stories on the oil spill, as well as a link to a page specially dedicated to coverage of the event.

Photograph of massive oil spill supplied by NASA

But unlike a hurricane or earthquake, covering a story that is occurring miles out in the gulf is difficult at best, with reporters forced to quote politicians and experts, but not provide the kind of first person, on-the-scene reporting common in most news stories.

New Media is having difficulty with this story, as well. Neither Twitter nor YouTube can be a source of news and information since citizen journalists can not get to the scene of the news event. Should the oil onshore, and in an accessible area, this situation could change, of course, as volunteers would surely reach the scene to lend support, carrying cellphones capable of photography and video.

(As if it needs to be said, we hope it doesn't come to that.)

Photo from the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office →

So what are the options? One would be establish a microsite online. The anchor page is similar to the idea of a microsite, but it does not use aggregation to gather news that originates from outside of the paper and its own news resources including wire. Besides NASA (whose satellite photo can be seen above), there are other governmental resources that could be aggregated such as the governor's office or the Louisiana Oil Spill Coordinator's Office. The typical way, of course, their information would be used is inside staff reporter stories, and that would continue, but another option is a more unfiltered approach that could utilized in a microsite, or at least a news hub for aggregated content.

But this is still where the web beats out mobile apps. Although it would take only a short amount of time to create a new mobile app, especially a simple RSS reader, getting through the app store bureaucracy would require days or weeks. Then there is the issue of using third party vendors for all things mobile or tablet.