Washington Post Reporter Talks about New Book on BP Oil Spill, Previews What To Expect on High School Journalism Trip to The Gulf

Washington Post reporter Bill Achenbach talked about his experience covering the Gulf Oil Spill on Studio SPJ, sponsored by the Alabama Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists

If you haven’t seen it– you should read A Hole At the Bottom of the Sea,  the first major account of the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Deepwater Horizon Disaster than began a year ago this month.

This summer, I will be on the team of journalists taking 18 high school students from seven states  to the Gulf for an intensive team reporting experience a year after this major environmental and political story.

This afternoon, The Alabama Pro Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists sponsored a 30-minute talk with Joel Achenbach about his book on a new program, Studio SPJ.

It’s a podcast that is produced LIVE .

According to Achenbach, what made the Deepwater Horizon incident such an incredible story was not just the unprecedented nature of the environmental disaster, but the lack of a similar experience on which journalists could depend to know how to cover the story.

As journalists, we learn how to “routinize the unexpected.”

But there were no routines for this story, which really became national news about 8 days after the initial incident.

“There was no template for it,” Achenbach said. “Not a lot of people in our newsroom knew about off-shore drilling.  I certainly did not.”

Achenbach is an acclaimed science writer for National Geographic and more recently has become a veteran reporter and blogger for the Washington Post. 

He says his book is as much about crisis management with politics as a sub-plot as it is about the long, tedious tasks of scientists trying to plug a leak.

The interview was conducted by Alabama SPJ Pro President Dennis Pillion, who himself spent some time covering the oil spill for al.com.

I came away from today’s talk with Achenbach with a lot better understanding of what was going on behind the scenes and what directions we should take in our “one-year-later” journalistic efforts this  summer.

Author: George Daniels

George L. Daniels is an associate professor of journalism at the University of Alabama. After spending eight years in the local television newsroom working as a producer at stations in Richmond, Virginia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Atlanta, Georgia, Daniels moved from the newsroom to the classroom. He’s conducted research on diversity issues in the media workplace and change in the television newsroom as well as media convergence. Before going to work in television news, Daniels worked briefly as a freelance writer for The Richmond Free Press in his hometown of Richmond, Va.

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