In Summary

Over the three-year period, naming terms:

  • • Are drawn from a smaller pool of terms, with the consensus clustering around “oil spill” and “disaster”.
  • • Increase in terms of number of words used in the descriptor. This is judged to be largely due to journalistic convention (the greater the distance from the events in time, the greater the need for specific identification). However, importantly, an increase in the length of the naming term does not entail an increase in the specificity or the accuracy of the overall description of events. Rather, these longer terms replace detailed descriptions, thereby reducing depth and accuracy and offering a simplified depiction of the events.
  • • Are increasingly likely to be negative in tone. This finding should be read in conjunction with the finding on modality, which suggests an increasing level of certainty about the nature of events and how we are to understand them.

The clustering around negative descriptors is unsurprising in itself, given the serious nature of the explosion and oil spill, and the media here acknowledge rather than in any sense downplay that seriousness. The question remains of how this negative naming of the events by the media is positioned: whether these negative shorthand terms are contextualised to suggest that events such as Deepwater Horizon are either regrettable but inevitable or aberrant and preventable. The regular use by the media of certain shared terms, however negatively shaded, can serve to familiarise and compartmentalise deviant phenomena such as crises, as much as mark them out as shocking.

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