Findings from the BP Data

Using this definition and analysis approach, the data were analysed in 20 texts from each year. The results across the three years—summarised in Table 8.1—showed a number of significant features.

The number of times the events are named at all drops from 89 in 20 texts in 2010 to 41 in 20 texts in 2012. By 2012, the BP story has become part of a bigger picture, and is often mentioned only once per news item. The three most mentioned descriptors (excluding “spill”) are consistently “oil spill”, “disaster” and “explosion”. In 2010, these terms accounted for 38 of the 89 terms used (43 %). By 2012, they accounted for 29 of the 41 terms used (71 %), suggesting an ever closer alignment within the media concerning how the events should be named. The average length of the nominal group

Table 8.1 Analysis of naming terms for the BP Deepwater Horizon events




Number of naming terms (per 000 words)


Number of naming terms (per 000 words)


Number of naming terms (per 000 words)



73 (8.0)


39 (5.6)


23 (3.2)



16 (1.8)


26 (3.7)


18 (2.5)



89 (9.8)


65 (9.3)


41 (5.8)


increased from 2.2 words in 2010 to 3.2 words in 2012, as the noun head is accompanied by a greater number of adjectives and adverbials. This type of density in noun groups is typical of journalistic prose where a lengthy noun group concentrates a considerable amount of information in a small space. What is important about these dense nominal groups is that they are selective, they organise and categorise the events in a particular way, which includes certain features or evaluations and excludes others.

Typical of 2010 are names such as:

“tragic incident”

“oil rig spill”

“potential environmental disaster”

By 2012, naming choices have become longer and more descriptive:

“the BP Deepwater Horizon nightmare in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010” “the US Gulf of Mexico oil spill disaster in 2010”

“the 2010 BP Macondo rig disaster”

“the BP Deepwater Horizon oil disaster”

The qualifying adjectives and adverbials alongside the noun head are commonly temporal and spatial, but the nouns are often highly evaluative. Naming terms used in 2012 are even more likely to be negative (by proportion) than they are in 2011, and this follows a pattern from 2010. “Disaster” is now as commonly used as “oil spill”, increasing the number of negative references that together now account for 44 % of mentions.

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