For all of us who work with or in the news media, topic fatigue is a simple reality of life in the information-saturated 21st century. Regardless of the degree to which a news story continues to have life, there is a point where the public simply gets sick of the topic.
If any story was immune to topic fatigue, I thought the British Petroleum oil spill story might be the one. The enormity of the event more than two months ago gave the story a conspicuous birth. Various other drivers, including comments by BP officials that could charitably be called questionable, along with various federal governmental officials and their special effort to hold BP singularly responsible for disaster, gave the story added life.
The oil spill continues to wreak havoc on ecosystems in the Gulf. Enterprising reporters certainly could find untapped angles for stories that would shed light on a new aspect of the story. But the news media doesn’t appear to be moving in that direction.
It does appear that, at least for the time being, the news media’s focus is shifting from BP to other topics, mostly non-oil-spill related. Friday morning two of the three major global news organizations—Fox and MSNBC—were focusing on a disappointing jobs report. CNN was the lone voice commenting on the oil spill with a story focusing on bioremediation cleanup techniques, not BP.
For its part, BP appears to be attempting to fill the information vacuum with a public service announcement-style television spot explaining what it’s doing to “make things right” with the residents and businesses of the Gulf Coast, referencing how those impacted by the spill can access their share of the $20 billion fund BP established following some “suggestions” from President Obama.
The Gulf oil spill is the most significant story we’ve seen for a very long time. It will be interesting to see how the media treats it now that it is becoming “old” news.