United States and British news coverage of oil spills, 1966--1990

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communications


George Comstock


The New York Times, The London Times


During the 25 years of study, the London Times and the New York Times determined which oil spill incidents would be covered, regardless of the volume of oil disgorged. The number of news articles about oil pollution was disproportionately distributed. The study found that both papers were more likely to report domestic, nearby oil spills than foreign, remote incidents. The two newspapers also published more news articles about oil pollution in oil crisis years than in non-crisis years. They tended to have increased amount of news coverage and prominence of minor but otherwise similar oil spills after a major accident. The amount of attention to oil pollution on the policy agenda and news media agenda did not reflect the actual degree of severity of the problem. The New York Times and the London Times opened up a debate on the money-oriented oil exploration and environmental protection policy. In general, their tone of voice was negative in reporting criticism on irresponsible and ineffective rescue operations and out-of-date regulations. Both papers devoted a great portion of their coverage condemning oil industry's economic growth at the expense of the environment.


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