New Ideas for Covering the Oil Spill

I have been interested recently in the stark difference between the photos BP posts on its Flickr pages compared with those from groups such as Greenpeace.

BP's Flickr page includes one photo of an oil-covered crab, but mostly shows photos of booms and hard-working people scooping up tarballs. Greenpeace's Flickr page is far more disturbing, with photos of oil-covered marshes and distressed animals.

Compare the size of the spill with your city

Google's Paul Rademacher shows on his site how you can use Google Earth to compare the size of the oil spill with cities such as New York, Paris or even your hometown. It is just another example of how visuals are more memorable than numbers in stories like this.

The BP boycott might hurt the little guy

Thousands of people have indicated that they "like" the "Boycott BP" movement on Facebook. It might make people feel good to boycott their corner gas stations, but as ABC News points out, boycotting the gas station won't necessarily send a message to a multinational corporation.

A lesson in crisis control

BP has purchased Google search phrases and a series of oil-related website names to redirect online readers to the corporate website.

ABC News reported:

"A simple Google search of 'oil spill' turns up several thousand news results, but the first link, highlighted at the very top of the page, is from BP. 'Learn more about how BP is helping,' the link’s tagline reads.

"A spokesman for the company confirmed to ABC News that it had, in fact, bought these search terms to make information on the spill more accessible to the public.

" 'We have bought search terms on search engines like Google to make it easier for people to find out more about our efforts in the Gulf and make it easier for people to find key links to information on filing claims, reporting oil on the beach and signing up to volunteer,' BP spokesman Toby Odone told ABC News."

Crowdsourcing the story

The oil spill might prove to be a catalyst for lots of new crowdsourcing ideas. For example, the Louisiana Bucket Brigade has an interactive map for reports of oil onshore, injured animals and related matters.

The Bucket Brigade's site lists reports that are both confirmed and unconfirmed. The map was built on open-source code from Ushahidi, a platform that was developed in response to the 2007 election violence in Kenya. Anne Rolfes is behind the BucketBrigade site. Her blog gives insight into what's gone on behind the scenes of the crowdsourcing project. is a site worth visiting. It is a community of mappers who spin up projects when news breaks. The site includes videos that will help you learn how to do it.

GovLive tracks government news releases related to the oil spill, from the local level right up to the White House.

Grassroots Mapping is an innovative crowdsourcing idea that urges people to tie cameras to balloons and get pictures from above the shoreline and oil spills.

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    Al Tompkins

    Al Tompkins is The Poynter Institute’s senior faculty for broadcasting and online. He has taught thousands of journalists, journalism students and educators in newsrooms around the world.


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