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Salience of the BP Story

One of the measures of how a story is being represented concerns not just how many media items are written about it, but how much of a given item is directly connected to the story. A reduction in the number of stories is indicative of a loss of media interest, and there being less going on in terms of the story. However, a reduction in how big the BP story is within a given piece is also of interest, and this is shown in Table 6.3.

In 2010, more than two-thirds of the media items in the sample dealt with the BP spill alone. The majority of the remaining texts are those that deal with financial results, in which BP is only one of the organisations reported on, and TV news programmes, where BP is one story of several. By 2011 just one-third of texts are primarily about the disaster. By 2012, this figure is only about one-fifth, and BP is mentioned only minimally in nearly three-quarters of the texts.

Table 6.3. Proportion of media text dealing directly with BP oil spill 2010-12

27 April 2010

27 April 2011

27 April 2012

No. of texts

%

No. of texts

%

No. of texts

%

% of text relating to

0-25%

37

22

52

55

22

71

BP story

26-50%

12

7

9

10

3

10

51-75%

4

2

1

1

0

0

76-100%

116

69

32

34

6

19

Total

169

100

94

100

31

100a

aNote that low numbers make percentages indicative rather than firm findings

As time goes on, stories that mention the BP events tend to mention it not as a story in itself but as an example that illuminates another phenomenon. Consider the following text from 2012. In a 3029 word blog, the following fragment appears:

Some of the most profitable of all corrupt activities involve energy. Remember Dick Cheney’s secret energy meetings? Those led directly to electricity deregulation scams, corporate welfare for energy producers, fracking, the BP oil spill, gas pipeline explosions, high gas prices, faulty nuclear reactors, and an unreliable grid. (Phil’s Stock World, 27.4.2012, my emphasis)

Here the BP oil spill is used as an illustration of the results of “corrupt” activities involving energy. This is the only place the BP oil spill is mentioned in the entire piece, and in this way it represents a typical example of the pattern of coverage of the oil spill as time moves on. This pattern of a reducing proportion of coverage within stories may indicate something more than media loss of interest in the BP oil spill. This may be an assimilation of the concept of the BP oil spill into the way we look at the world, where the BP events have become a shorthand or an index of something else, which is jointly understood, and which casts light on yet other social phenomena in a process of unlimited semiosis. This idea is further explored in analysis.

 
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