Bloggers Tell Compelling Gulf Oil Spill Stories

BlogHer Original Post

Oil continues to gush into the Gulf of Mexico more than one month after an explosion at the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and created what's being called the world's biggest environmental disaster. In deep contrast to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989, the Internet is playing an important role in how we are receiving information about what it happening in the Gulf. The world is literally watching the oil by live feed via a Spillcam, and bloggers from the region and bloggers with specific expertise in difference niches are essential resources for understanding what is happening right now in the Gulf. 

The Gulf Coast is a complicated and beautiful region, and this disaster has wide-reaching impact. A massive and diverse body of political, environmental, economic and personal issues are playing out in the cities, rural fishing towns, beach communities, and family dinner table conversations all along the Gulf states of Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

Bloggers are communicating with the immediacy, urgency and resonance that can only be conveyed by those actually experiencing an event. Their words and images are conveying real-time reports of the impact and of the uncertainty of continuing and long-term damage. Knowing that this disaster has changed a landscape and a way of life, bloggers are writing about the mysterious amalgam of deep Southern, seafaring, tourist-welcoming and community-driven cultures in the Gulf. They are writing requiems to remember pristine beaches and marshes, they are thinking aloud about how to tell their children about the dangers of oil in their air, they are sharing news and creating awareness, and they are organizing action. They are blogging to share their home and hearts --their precious, precarious Gulf -- with the world, because they know this disaster affects everyone and the losses are hard to comprehend.

Here are some of the blogs I've turned to for personal accounts of life in the Gulf region, for niche information, and for intelligent analysis about the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Giving Voice to the Region

Floridian Ryan Marshall of Pacing the Panic Room has been catalyzed by the disaster to document the stories of Gulf residents through his blog and his artful portrait photography. The first post in a series, His Gulf of Mexico is brilliant work, showcasing the mixture of regional pride, anger, grief and hopefulness that many Gulf residents are feeling. Ryan's project is exceptional because of his talent and because of the respect he holds for his role as messenger:

I am headed to Mississippi to reunite with my family there, many of which are in the middle of the fight to contain this spill. I am going to be doing a series of photo essays from the heart of the spill, into Mississippi, and back down into the Florida Pan Handle. These faces and stories will be the most important thing I have ever aimed my camera at, and I hope I can do them justice, and truly capture what we are all facing.


Image courtesy Pacing the Panic Room

Telling the Story Behind the News

Blogs excel at delving deeper than sound bites and at helping us understand niche topics. For example, mainstream media frequently turns to Barbara Callahan and her colleagues at the International Bird Rescue Research Center (IBRRC) for information about the coordinated oiled wildlife response, but blogs provide more information, personal accounts, photos and videos from them and from others. The IBRRC's blog provides frequent updates on their intensive work in the Gulf, and in this post on The Wip, Barbara not only reports from Alabama but also reveals her passionate motivation:

While it is emotionally difficult to see animals suffering, particularly when they are suffering from something caused by humans, I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to help animals in distress.

Awareness and Action

Bloggers with specific interests or insights are dedicating countless hours to gathering information, disseminating it, and rallying calls to action. For example, blogs like Save the Environment are aggregating diverse media stories to make sure the environmental stories aren't buried. Bloggers like Julie Pippert from the Texas Gulf Coast are taking on the political and fiscal implications of the spill. Writing at Momocrats, Pippert says:

My town certainly can't afford to pay for another coastal cleanup. We barely finished recuperating from the last one and the subsequent hurricane. And it shouldn't be on our financial ledger anyway.

This challenging and provocative post by Rick Moran at The Moderate Voice highlights the strength the blogosphere holds for keeping institutions accountable. The post compares the governmental response and mainstream media coverage of the spill with the diligent accounts of bloggers and forum posters who have been monitoring and documenting the live Spillcam feed. The disparity is shocking:

Apparently, the seabed is collapsing into a crater and oil and gas has begun leaking directly from the sea floor. At least that is one interpretation of the images captured by the blogger "Monkeyfister." If so, this has complicated the job of shutting down this spill astronomically.

Not a word of this from authorities or BP has reached the mainstream media. The New Orleans Times-Picayune appears to be in the dark.

Living in the Shadow of the Disaster

Engaging and important first-person narratives of life along the Gulf Coast round out our understanding of how people, families and communities are coping, and they give us a perspective that only independent, on-the-scene publishers can offer. Readers can travel a Gulf Stream of personal bloggers, stopping to read Caroline of Morningside Mom in the Tampa Bay area, Megan Jordan of Velveteen Mind in Gulfport, and BlogHer Contributing Editor Nordette Adams of Whose Shoes Are These Anyway in New Orleans for first-person accounts of waiting, grieving, anger, resilience and action.  Tales from the Trenches of Parenting wrote about how the Pensacola community came together at the prompt of an elementary-school student:

The gathering began with a trio of presenters who thanked Porsche Prince for thinking BIG enough to bring us together for this brief period of time, a Reverend who asked for prayers during our wait and watch moments, and a local representative who encouraged each of us to help when we could and to suggest where we could go and ask "What can I do to help?".

Loud applause followed when he said "We need to save our communities."

Bloggers are telling the diverse stories we need to hear from the big cities, rural fishing towns and tourist meccas along the coast. First-person, immediate and passionate responses. Analysis and reporting that goes beyond expected soundbites and that will be on the beat longer after the cameras leave. Images and words that seek to capture an endangered way of life and to document on-going effects on land, wildlife, local economies, and the people who love the Gulf Coast. Taking into account the increasing reach of the blogosphere, I have to agree with Rick Moran when he wrote at The Moderate Voice that the Deepwater Horizon disaster "may be a seminal moment in the history of the Internet."

What are you writing, and who are you reading, to understand what is happening in the Gulf?

More on the Oil Spill

Obama Goes on Oil Spill Warpath, Jindal Says BP Will Be Held Accountable

Oil Slick Creates Stench Over New Orleans; I Can't Pretend This Disaster Is Not Happening

The Spillcam:

Watch President Obama's Thursday press conference and post your rants to our oil spill discussion here.

Contributing Editor Deb Rox lives in Tallahassee, Florida, near the gorgeous and scrappy Apalachicola region of the Gulf.

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