Nation must focus on oil solutions

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2010

With every million gallons of oil that gushes into the gulf, a new national or international media organization jumps on the story bandwagon.

In the first few days after the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the story belonged to the major U.S. media outlets — the Associated Press, CNN, FOX News — and the local newspapers, like us.

By the end of the first day, with help from friendly readers, our staff had touched base with the families of each of the four local men on board the rig.

A week later, after the 11 missing men were declared dead, members of our staff spent one-on-one time with Courtney Kemp, the widow of Wyatt Kemp, at her Jonesville house.

Her story was one we wanted to tell simply because she is a member of our community. We knew area residents, many with friends and family members offshore themselves, would relate, care and want to help, even if only by prayer.

As the weeks passed, and the oil countdowns began — it’s day 58 — more and more news organizations sought to tell the stories of the 11 men initially at the center of the tragedy.

The initial stories written by newspapers like ours were picked up by the Associated Press wire and republished in some publications, but it didn’t stop there.

When President Obama invited the families of the victims to the White House last Thursday, interest in their stories picked up again.

Since the meeting last week, our newspaper has received phone calls requesting information on the local victims, including family photos and cell phone numbers. Calls have come from several news services in England, Al Jazeera English, and a few other American media outlets.

It’s our policy that we don’t release family photos or cell phones to anyone without permission from the family involved, so many callers have been disappointed with the help I’ve provided.

Perhaps journalism purists will disagree, but I simply view what our newspaper does differently from what an international media group does. We tell the stories of our community because we care — and we know our community cares — about the people at the center of the story. I tend to believe Al Jazeera may simply be after the next big story.

The oil spill is certainly a big story with international interest.

But the national media, and now the President, are focusing their energies on the wrong problems.

Instead of looking for rear ends to kick, brokenhearted families to exploit and corporate giants to blame, everyone needs to focus on fixing the problem.

Yes, someone is to blame and they must be held accountable. And yes, the government must do what it can to make sure this doesn’t happen again. The time for blame and regulation won’t run out.

But with 58 days and millions of gallons of oil, this isn’t the time to poke, pry and threaten. It’s time to work together toward a solution.

Now is the time for our nation to jump on the bandwagon of solutions headed straight for the cleanup site, avoiding all distractions on the way.

Julie Cooper is the managing editor of The Natchez Democrat. She can be reached at 601-445-3551 or julie.cooper@natchezdemocrat.com.