One Issue, Three Pens Essay

A cargo ship hit the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge and spilled oil into the water. This is just one issue that holds specific information yet three different views of the incident emerged from various popular newspapers. Be it intentional or not, the writers of these articles can illicit different perceptions and judgment from their readers in the manner that they penned their stories. Media is very powerful because it can shape the perceptions of people who are audience to it.

Any incident, no matter how specific its facts can be, is easy to distort to conform to or declare opinions that can shape the views of the public. Events such as the one mentioned above are important not only because of its direct effects on the lives of the people in the community but also because of the “reactions they provoke.” (Starr 233) Media, especially the written form, can manipulate the news by the way reporters reveal the facts to get the response desired by certain people. The articles published on the New York Times, San Diego Tribune and L.A. Times carried different views on the issue creating various reactions from its readers who form public opinion.

The writers of the New York Times article, seems to convey a lack of sincere concern for the issue. The write-up was not only shorter but also careless in two levels of meaning. First, there were many typographical errors in the article because of letter capitalization and sentence construction plus the use of wrong facts. The editors and writers did not capitalize the words “bridge” which was connected to the name of Golden Gate and “company” which was part of the title of Hand Jin Shipping. These people also failed to put a comma to separate the common noun from the proper noun when they introduced the “nonprofit environmental group,” Save the Bay.

The description of the boat’s fender as “woodlike plastic” is also too ambiguous to understand the real impact of the hit. The article also said that the ship, Cosco Busan, was from a South Korean company, Han Jin Shipping, while the San Diego Tribune reported that it was part of the Chinese government-owned China Ocean Shipping (Group) Co. The report of the San Diego Tribune regarding the ship’s ownership had more credibility because the term, “Cosco,” is the initials of the Chinese company. The writers of the New York Times obviously failed to verify their facts. On the other hand, the article was correct in its quantity of dead birds compared to the San Diego Tribune report.

Secondly, these errors do not only project negligence but also show the lack of concern regarding the issue. The writers used a story-like style in imparting the data they collected which cloaks the urgency of the situation. Phrases like “the glancing blow,” “hit a nerve,” and “belt of goo,” (Barringer and Marshall 2007) are descriptive ways that are common to fictional works compared to news reporting wherein authors need to state the facts as objectively and stark as possible. The article was also in the past tense, supporting the artistic instead of factual release of information.

The writers of the New York Times may not have been very concerned about the issue but may also have been trying to downplay public reaction. Whatever their motives were to produce the article, the readers were not enticed to concentrate their energies towards reacting to the oil problem.

The L.A. Times article was a complete contrast to the New York Tribune write-up because of its sense of urgency. The readers get the feel of being in the situation as if it was described in a manner more akin to television field reporting. By starting the article with the phrase “Crews were racing,” the writer already picks up his reader’s curiosity and energy in creating a pressing image. (Bailey 2007) Revealing that the Coast Guard initially estimated the fuel leak as an insignificant 140 gallons at first before they realized that it actually summed up to nearly 60,000 gallons adds pressure to the issue. The quotations from interviews also emphasize the importance of the situation.

Quotations like “this is a significant event… one we’re very concerned about” (Bailey) supported the reigning tension provided by the news. The reporter also showed better inclination in getting more views of important people by including their positions and questions in the article. It included the perceptions and examinations of key persons such as Steve Edinger, assistant chief for the California Department of Fish and Game, Melissa Hauck of the U.S. Coast Guard and Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). This initiative to get quotations from these people not only supports the sense of urgency but also clearly shows the attempt to get more facts out of the situation.

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The research done by the writer is also evident because of the facts he revealed. He not only indicated the concrete parks and beaches contaminated by the oil but also put a specific number (13) as to the group of agencies doing the mop up. The description of the chemical that spilled provides evidence of good fact-finding as well.

One thing that distinguishes this article from the other two analyzed is that it provided more information regarding the plight of the environment that is affected. The measurements of collected oil in gallons and cubic yards give the reader an image of how much damage it has brought upon the waters. The explanation on how oil on the feathers of the sea birds can actually threaten their survival paints a very vivid picture of how devastating the oil spill is to its habitat.

The writer of the L.A. Times article shows his inclination for a better environment as in his input about the birds. The write-up evokes an emotional response. This could lead the public into forming an opinion that could push people to bring more assistance in solving the problem. It also creates in its readers a sense of urgency to do something about the oil spill or the plight of the environment instead of merely watching things from the sidelines.

The article from the San Diego Tribune showed more balance in its approach in delivering the news about the oil spill. The articles from the L.A. Times and New York Times gave the impression that the situation was unmanageable. However, a statement from Coast Guard Capt. William Uberti, captain of the Port of San Francisco, reveals that the problem may be grave but not without solutions.

The quotations coming from his interview explained how small the incident actually was to other oil spills of greater magnitude in the past and that the incident is simply significant because of its reference to the area concerned. However, his statement, “a sheen with small little globules – something that’s not too difficult to clean up,” (Lindlaw 2007) gives the reader a relief from the tension that one would feel if he were just reading about the great devastating effects of the oil spill.

Another attempt to suppress the tension of the event shows in an interview with Barry McFarley, the incident commander of the private recovery firm the O’Brien Group, which was heading the response. The writer published the verbal public apology that McFarley gave in behalf of the ship’s owner. This interview was not included in the other two articles but is very effective in lessening a public uproar regarding the incident.

There was, however, inconsistency in the fact that the writer reported regarding the number of birds that survived the ordeal. The two other articles said that six birds were dead but in the San Diego write-up, six birds that survived. This may have been carelessness at work but in news reporting, such errors deny the public access the truth.  The three articles reviewed revolve around only one issue – an oil spill that has a great impact on its environment. However, the different approaches of reporting the facts can shape the perception of the public.

Since the New York Times article can be nonchalant about the issue, there is a possibility that its readers will not be provoked to respond physically to help fix the oil spill or prevent it from happening again. The L.A. Times’ report, however, pushes the public to react and do its part in taking care of the environment. The San Diego Tribune article allows the public to peek at the different angles of the oil spill that could suggest a more intelligent way of looking at the problem. As ___ has aptly puts it, the “way which the world is imagined determines at any particular moment what men will do.” (PO 25)

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Works Cited

Bailey, Eric. “About 58,000 gallons of heavy fuel spilled, threatening wildlife and closing

beaches.” The L.A. Times. 09 November 2007. 21 November 2007 .

Lindlaw, Scott. “Pacific Coast beaches affected by oil spill from container ship.” The San Diego

Tribune. 08 November 2007. 21 November 2007 .

Lippman, Walter. The World Outside and the Pictures in Our Head. New York: Simon &

Schuster, 1922.

Barringer, Felicity and Carolyn Marshall. “Oil Spill Fouls Shores in San Francisco Area.” The

New York Times. 09 November 2007. 21 November 2007 .

Starr, Paul. The Creation of the Media. New York: Basic Books, 2004

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