When you're hanging out of a U.S. Coast Guard HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter for hours at a time searching for oil, you hope that engineers have done their job right.
After spending nearly two months of my life hunting for the cause and effects of the BP oil spill for The Miami Herald, I have found endless similarities between you, engineers, and me, a journalist.
As journalist, like engineers, we want the most detailed answers when something goes wrong, and if there is none - we dig deeper.
As I spent weeks touring the communities destroyed for the first time by something other than a hurricane, families opened their homes to me, invited me to dine at their tables and offered places where I could rest. Southern comfort is an understatement for how the media has been welcomed by the gulf by the communities.
In a world as connected as we are today, there are an infinite number of unanswered questions about this disaster. From engineers wanting detailed answers explaining the mechanics of a deepwater drilling rig to an oysterman or shrimper trying to figure out how he will feed his family in just a few days, information and communication is needed now more than ever.
Unfortunately, the seamless communication necessary to tell these stories has been severely hindered.
Every step of the way was a challenge. If it wasn’t closed beaches or non responsive information officers it was something else. Usually in the form mother nature’s sinister sense of humor along side her oven-like heat and the clock-work thunderstorms, all working against you and your cameras.
Luckily, with the help of United States Coast Guard, the media was given access to some of the most vital sources, including exclusive access to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administrations research vessels, needed in explaining just what is going on and how the gulf will be affected. Many have criticized BP and the USCG in attempting to censor the media, and this is partially true.
One of the biggest hurtles in dealing with a disaster this size is communication, and with many different agencies and contractors working to clean up a mess that spans multiple states - sometimes the left hand in Louisiana doesn’t always tell the right hand in Florida what is going on. With constant changes to beach access and fishing grounds, local law enforcement is not always the first to know about media access. This caused many headaches in the early weeks of reporting, but after many arguments with local officials and the occasional “who’s really in charge” argument issues were either worked out or made the news.
I can see why BP would want to censor dead animals and destroyed communities - from any PR standpoint this disaster is a game-changer, but when a big corporation tries to censor the media, like BP, time and time again it proves that, like engineers, the media will dig deeper to find an answer.
Since I have returned, I am often asked “what do I really need to know?” It is impossible to know everything that has gone on in the past 100 days or why certain events happen. It should be understood that no matter who is reporting on this story that their sources are going to have a dog in the fight. It is up to the news organization to sift through what is actual fact and what is preferable information for a company involved collective engineering effort to save the gulf.