In Summary

Given the complexity of the Deepwater Horizon story in 2010, and the number of journalists working on it, there is perhaps a surprising degree of homogeneity in the intertexts referred to in the news reports. Primary sources are press releases, interviews and press conferences. Press releases provide a source of factual information (as offered by BP), and some “direct quotations”, almost exclusively attributed to Tony Hayward. Interviews and press conferences also generate direct quotations, but these same quotations are repeated frequently from half a dozen actors in the story, chief amongst them Rear Admiral Mary Landry of the Coast Guard. In addition, a number of other texts are implicitly or explicitly drawn on, such as photographs, websites and TV footage. The impression is of a set of texts teeming with a cast of informed voices, but closer analysis shows these to be relatively restricted and repeated. They are, with few exceptions (one being the voice of the cook Oleander Benton), what Bignell (2002: 88) calls “accessed voices”, namely, those with regular and unquestioned access to the news media.

By 2011, press releases and witness voices are drawn upon to a much smaller extent, but documented accounts of the events and the ensuing legal processes are far more evident. These are texts reporting upon other written accounts rather than events themselves. So along with the temporal distance from events comes a distancing through the use of intertexts. Not only does this practice tend to mitigate the intensity of accounts, but it also functions to create shared accounts that draw on each other, rather than presenting multiple individual perspectives.

The final year of data draws from a number of intertext types, including for the first time in this data, direct literary quotations. These are used to evoke particular social worlds, to which the reader needs to bring a degree of shared cultural understanding. This is particularly the case where well-known quotations are modified (“BP or not BP?”) or used out of context to make a humorous point (“let’s kill all the lawyers”). This kind of reference does not use the words of those with a warrant to speak about the topic, but rather draws on shared experience and cultural knowledge to present events as understood, as having a degree of collective meaning.

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