Huffington vs. Washington Post
In this paper we will examine both mainstream and alternative news sources. It is often thought that the two news sources differ drastically in terms of their content, modes of production, and even aesthetics. Upon analyzing coverage of the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill of 2010 in both The Washington Post, a mainstream news source, and The Huffington Post, an alternative news source, we not only found differences between the two, but some commonalities as well.
The online alternative news source, The Huffington Post, was founded by author Arianna Huffington in May 2005. The site originally started out as a news aggregator, posting links to headlines and articles that fit its eclectic style. The site featured commentary that related to culture, politics, and entertainment. Often, the commentary was posted by various A-list celebrities, usually friends of Ms. Huffington. Whether intentional or not, it proved to be a creative technique that kept readers coming back for more. The site gained a great deal of popularity, so much so that HuffPo—as it is often referred to—caught the eye of America Online (AOL), the American global internet service and media company. AOL is acquiring The Huffington Post for $315 million. Ms. Huffington will hold the position of president and editor-in-chief of a recently created Huffington Post Media Group and will maintain control of AOL’s editorial content as well. Since the founding of the site, it has gone on to launch several local versions including: HuffPost Chicago, HuffPost New York, HuffPost Denver, and HuffPost Los Angeles. Currently there are approximately 29.4 million people in the United States, and 38.6 million people globally, that visit The Huffington Post monthly. The majority of the site’s visitors are male (54 %), Caucasian (87%), and are either graduate or post-graduate students (70%).
The mainstream news source we used for this assignment was the newspaper The Washington Post, which is often considered one of the leading daily American newspapers. This news source was founded long before the aforementioned one. The Washington Post published its first newspaper on December 6, 1877, and was founded by American newspaper reporter and publisher, Stilson Hutchins. After a series of changes in ownership, the newspaper is now owned by the American education and media company, The Washington Post Company. As for the news sources’ demographics, the majority of The Washington Post readers are men (48%), age 65 or older (61%), and fall under the category of “Any Post-Graduate Education” (53%). Despite the seeming baseline function of a news source (i.e., delivering information), other functions remain.
According to Pavlik and McIntosh (2011) the function that newspapers serve is providing surveillance, correlation, and entertainment to its readers. Surveillance “provides information about the processes, issues, events, and other developments in society”; correlations are “the ways in which media interprets events and issues and ascribes meaning that help individuals understand their roles within the larger society and culture”; entertainment “involves the generation of content designed exclusively to entertain” (Pavlik & McIntosh, 2011, p. 111). Although they ascribe these functions as being relevant to newspapers, these functions also apply to alternative media sources such as The Huffington Post and mainstream sources like The Washington Post.
This paper will examine The Washington Post and The Huffington Post, looking at their individual takes on the British Petroleum Company (BP) oil spill and its claims formula. The BP oil spill occurred in April 2010 in the Gulf of Mexico. It lasted for approximately three months and is considered the greatest accidental marine oil spill. The catastrophe caused immense damage to both marine and wildlife habitats, and severely hurt the Gulf’s tourism and fishing industries. Finally, on July 15, 2010, the leak was capped. BP took responsibility for what they are now calling the Deepwater Horizon spill, and came up with the “Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund”, a $20 billion claims fund which would pay individuals and businesses for harm caused by the spill. Both The Washington Post and The Huffington Post offer commentary on the issue pertaining to the allotment of funds. We will further examine their analyses and explore the similarities and differences between the two news sources.
First, we looked at The Huffington Post article entitled BP to Feinberg: Stop Paying People So Much by Rocky Kristner. The article criticizes the recent comments made by BP about their administrator of the $20 billion Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, Kenneth Feinberg, and his claims formula. BP posted comments stating that Feinberg has been overly generous with the formula. The company feels like his estimates and calculations have no real evidence and are far off base. Kristner includes the actual comments from BP, saying that there is no way anyone could assume that the victims of the spill will have 70% of their 2010 losses in 2011 and 30% of their 2010 losses in 2012. The oil giant goes on to state that there have been some reports that the damage to oyster beds in 2010 were not due to the spill but were caused by levels of dissolved oxygen and increased water temperature. They try to paint a good picture of the gulf, saying the December shrimp catch was the best in five years, and that the oyster problems most likely were not their fault. In Kristner’s report, he does not seem to make any obvious claims. Delicately, he tries to make BP look like a heartless company who cares of nothing but money, stating the whole claims system is a failure. The author legitimizes this claim in a couple of unusual ways. First, Kristner shows the actual statements that BP made. He then simply states that BP’s comments don’t match what we have been hearing in the Gulf, and launches into some intriguing pathos. The author alludes to the difficulty of getting actual checks in the mail and that people have already been settling just to get back on their feet. Kristner uses quotes from JJ Creppel, a fisherman in Louisiana, and Kindra Arnesen, wife of a fisherman also in Louisiana. Apparently many people are still waiting for their less than adequate checks. One man waited for his for months, and when he finally received it, it didn’t clear. Kristner offers video slideshows of people impacted by the gulf disaster to give more meaning to his claims as well. Toward the beginning of the article, he mentioned that with raising oil prices, BP stands to expect far more than their 4th quarter profits, about $3.4 billion. By using quotes from the actual people affected and actual figures BP is earning, the author gives us some ethos, or authority, showing that he knows what he is talking about. The first sentence in the article mentions past mishaps in BP, CEO Tony Hayward’s embarrassing statements last summer, also legitimizing Kristner’s claims.
Second, we looked at a mainstream article in The Washington Post entitled BP Says Oil Spill Claims Formula is Too Generous by Harry R. Weber. This article was fairly similar to the one we found in The Huffington Post. Weber talks about Kenneth Feinberg, and how he is already getting criticism for the delays on getting claims out. BP then posts on the Gulf Coast Claims Facility’s (GCCF) website, saying the amounts Feinberg is giving out are far too generous. Weber delves further into the actual source of the main part of the news, describing the GCCF’s public comment period that Feinberg initiated, promising he would consider all comments. Over the last couple of weeks, hundreds of Gulf residents and businesses have been commenting and complaining, some saying that Feinberg is moving too slow, others that the payments are too small, and many say the formula underestimates the future impact of the spill on victims. The oil company’s statement was submitted on the last day of the public comment period, again talking about how Feinberg’s method inflates the expected losses with no actual evidence to base his assumption on. Weber then uses a quote from a reliable source, US Rep. Edward J Markey of Massachusetts, the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, “BP said they would make things right for the people in the Gulf, yet it seems all they really care about is making things right for its shareholders.” This legitimizes Weber’s claim that BP is not really trying to fix the Gulf, the company is just trying to get itself out of a dire situation. They do not want to give up $20 billion; a number that, according to Weber, Feinberg says won’t even be fully used—only about half. Only $3.4 billion has been given out so far, and Feinberg insists he is being fair. The author referenced an earlier article that questioned the administrator’s independence because of his ties to BP. Although the government forced BP to set up the fund, there is no way to oversee Feinberg’s operations because it is not subject to federal or state laws. Nevertheless, the clogged system is frustrating people more and more. Most people are threatening to line the courthouse steps if they do not get the changes they seek. Feinberg says that the system is just clogged with the sheer volume of claims as well as the large and ridiculous requests. Weber used a lot of measurable data, and showed his knowledge of the BP spill to support and legitimize his claim.
Comparing the two articles, The Washington Post’s BP Says Oil Spill Claims Formula is Too Generous by Harry R. Weber seemed to be the more solid argument. Weber used more measurable data than the other article. The Washington Post story also incorporated basically what The Huffington Post said but with more reliable sources. Although Kristner included BP’s actual statements, he backed up his argument with everyday people, who can be easily biased and uninformed. Weber did not put BP’s whole statement his article, he paraphrased it. The people Kristner interviewed were all in the same area, Louisiana, which can also skew experiences. The Washington Post article quoted someone who had influence in the story, the US Representative, referenced a previous story in The Washington Post about the raised questions of his independence, and explained where the actual BP comments originated from. Not only did Weber’s article have more evidence than Kristner’s, but it was more detailed.
Looking at a Bloomberg article, BP Says Feinberg Too Generous With Future Spill
Losses by Jim Snyder, we can confirm what we noticed in the previous two articles. BP wants to pay as little as possible, suggesting a lower estimate than Feinberg proposed, 25-50% of the claimant’s losses. The oil company wants Feinberg to change the protocols. Feinberg on the other hand, is receiving criticism from both sides, and is being faulted for not being generous enough. This source also says more about BP not being required by federal law to pay future losses, and that they have already provided “benefits well beyond” what should be sufficient for the oil spill victims. The previous Washington Post article AP Enterprise: Gulf Claims Process Under Fire by Brian Skoloff and Harry R. Weber is consistent with what they are now saying and might reliably be expected to say in the future. Everyone is unhappy with the process, and there are so many promises that aren’t being kept on BP’s side.
Although it is often thought that alternative and mainstream news sources differ drastically in terms of their content, ownership, and aesthetics, this is not necessarily so. Having analyzed the BP claims issue, we found that similarities exist despite differences in ownership and aesthetics. Meaning, despite that the news sources differ in terms of ownership and aesthetics, they both seek to deliver accurate and informative content, which, ultimately, is the objective.