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On April 20, 2010 an explosion tore through the Deepwater Horizon, an oil rig operating in the Gulf of Mexico. The disaster happened as workers were finalizing the drilling of the exploratory Macondo well, forty miles off the coast of Louisiana. It was, by any standard, a catastrophe. To investigate this catastrophe, President Barack Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling and tasked the commission to produce a report that detailed the commission's findings and recommendations. The Gulf Spill site is an interactive and multimedia presentation of the report that describes the causes of the Deepwater Horizon spill, its immediate aftermath, and long term fallout.

Link: The Gulf Spill
Client: Oil Spill Commission
Published: February 17, 2011

NPPA's Best of Photojournalism (Honorable Mention)
Multimedia Package
The Challenge
With the commission’s final report being 382 pages in length, the challenge of the site was to present the essentials of the report’s findings in a way that would be accessible to the general public. The site needed to convey the series of events and decisions leading up to the spill and the consequences following after.

The guide contains:
  • a cinematic overview
  • an interactive timeline
  • a detailed timeline leading up to the well blowout
  • a section looking at the effectiveness of the response to the spill
  • a section examining the spill’s impact on the surrounding region and environment
  • a section offering recommendations for the future
  • a resource guide

The site was developed at the same time as the report was written so MediaStorm had to work closely with commission staff to establish the structure and presentation strategies for the site.

For the video portion of the site, MediaStorm was charged with creating a six to ten minute project that described the causes of the Deepwater Horizon spill, its immediate aftermath, and long term fallout.

MediaStorm was also hired to conduct many of the interviews with committee members and their scientific support team.

The MediaStorm team faced several challenges when producing the video overview. Specifically, the Oil Spill Commission required that the project speak to a general, non-scientific audience; yet many of the interview subjects were highly-skilled with specialized knowledge of the incident.

Secondly, with close to a dozen interviews ranging in length from 15 minutes to close to an hour, there was a plethora of material to distill for the final project.

Finally, finding images to illustrate the many complex and abstract ideas presented in the piece proved formidable.

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The Solution
Through images, graphics, video and text, the site lets users explore the narrative of the spill, from presenting a broad look at the spill in the overview to detailing the recommendations for the future for the government, the industry, and offshore drilling.

Technically the site is written in HTML5, CSS, and jQuery with Flash only being used for the video player. Except for the video, the site is accessible to users on devices that do not support Flash and there are fall backs for browsers that do not yet support HTML5.

Producing the overview video for a general, non-scientific audience required great specificity when questioning interview subjects. The subjects were routinely asked to describe highly complex technologies in accurate but simplified language. This required both a thorough attention to detail and a conscious knowledge of the targeted viewer.

Creating a story based on 10 interviews demanded rigorous organization and a firm commitment to the MediaStorm ethos: keep the essential, take away the rest. All Interviews were transcribed, logged, and separated in to distinct sections based on specific themes. These ‘themes’ were edited to their essence and then used as building blocks to create the final narrative.

MediaStorm sought image submissions from more than a dozen photographic agencies and photographers. We surveyed close to 3,500 to find the 100 best used in the final piece. For explanations of underwater events, where images would not suffice, animations were created.

The Results
The site and overview video were well received by the Oil Spill Commission. The Executive Director of the commission, Richard Lazarus said:
"Now that the Commission's interactive multimedia website is up, I just wanted to thank you and your wonderful company, MediaStorm, for the terrific job you did in creating the website. It is spectacular. I remember well Pete's and my first meeting with MediaStorm many months ago when you showed us the kind of work you had done and we discussed generally what you might be able to accomplish in support of the work of this Commission. I had high expectations and you surpassed them. I fully expect this resource will be used by the American public in general and by teachers and students in high schools, colleges, and universities across the nation, and internationally as well. This is an enormous public service for which all of us here at the Commission are extremely grateful."

About the Client
President Barack Obama established the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling through Executive Order 13543 on May 21, 2010. The Commission will be examining the relevant facts and circumstances concerning the root causes of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and developing options to guard against, and mitigate the impact of, any oil spills associated with offshore drilling in the future.

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