Is Twitter a counter public?: Comparing individual and community forces that shaped local Twitter and newspaper coverage of the BP oil spill

by Watson, Brendan R., Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA AT CHAPEL HILL, 2012, 162 pages; 3509311


If society is to avoid another disaster like the 2010 BP oil spill, the U.S. must reexamine its future energy policies and government regulations of industry. In the wake of such disasters, the news media should fulfill a surveillance function and raise these critical issues. But an analysis of 164 Gulf Coast newspaper reporters' coverage of the BP oil spill showed that these journalists largely failed to do so. This dissertation examines individual and community-level variables that prevented the journalists from raising more critical questions in the aftermath of the oil spill, and compares their coverage and the forces that shaped it to the Tweets of 240 "most-followed" Gulf Coast Twitter users. This dissertation seeks to answer whether, in the context of the BP oil spill, Twitter might have served as a counter-public, which challenged the social, political, and economic forces that constrained journalists' coverage. This study found a striking degree of similarity in journalists' and Twitter users' coverage of the oil spill, raising questions about whether Twitter is an alternative medium, and whether media-centric or more general sociological theories are most fruitful for understanding the similarities between these media.

AdviserDaniel Riffe
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsJournalism; Social structure; Mass communication
Publication Number3509311

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