BREAKING: An oil train derails in Illinois. Who’s covering the story?

On Thursday, at around 1:20 p.m. a BNSF Railway Co. freight train derailed in a rural area just south of Galena, Illinois, near the conjoining point of a major tributary and the Mississippi River. According to BNSF, 21 of the train’s 103 tank cars were loaded with light Bakken crude left the tracks and at least five of these tank cars burst and caught fire.

Today, the wreck is still burning.

Since Thursday, local and U.S. national news sources have jumped to cover this breaking story. Below is a synopsis of some of this coverage by a variety of news sources:

1. Chicago Sun-Times: A newspaper’s website

Illinois newspaper Chicago Sun-Times posted on its website a breaking story, titled “Agencies mobilize after crude oil train derails, catches fire near Galena,” on the derailment of BNSF Railway Co.’s freight train. The story was posted on Thursday, just hours after the derailment occurred.

To tell the story, the Chicago Sun-Times sourced all of its text material and most photos from the Associated Press. Yet, it also included several photos (mostly in a photo-gallery) and news links from Twitter, which the paper embedded into its story.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 4.37.29 PM
One such AP photo that the Chicago Sun-Times included in its breaking coverage of the March 5 BNSF train derailment in Galena.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 10.33.05 AMI found this story on the first page of Google News search results for “BNSF train derailment.” I’m assuming that this was so because the newspaper is a trusted, relevant and local source well equipped to cover the story. I have to say that I’m somewhat surprised that the Chicago Sun-Times relied mostly on the Associated Press to cover the story, as Chicago is just 3 hours east of the site of the derailment.

Despite this lack of original reporting, I think the Chicago Sun-Times did provide its readers with a credible, balanced story. What this story could have used, however, were some useful links to relevant information about Bakken crude and crude oil transport, or perhaps a map showing the precise location of the derailment.

2. WQAD-TV (Channel 8): A broadcast company’s website

The ABC-affiliated television station for the “Quad Cities” of four counties in northwest Illinois and southeastern Iowa, WQAD-TV (Channel 8) also posted a breaking story on the BNSF train derailment online on the day of the event, written by WQAD-TV reporters Katrina Lamansky and Jonathan Ketz, titled “Evacuation put in place after train derails near Galena, Illinois.” Its initial coverage proved the quickest of all the news sources I consulted, just a little over two hours after the derailment occurred. The original story was later updated with an accompanying video clip of its TV broadcast coverage of the event, which includes a map of the derailment area (I found this very helpful in picturing WHERE the story was unfolding).

WQAD-TV updated its initial breaking coverage (posted Thursday) of the BNSF train derailment with a segment from its Friday morning TV broadcast, which included more detail, images and other resources, like a map.
WQAD-TV updated its initial breaking coverage (posted Thursday) of the BNSF train derailment with a segment from its Friday morning TV broadcast, which included more detail, images and other resources, like a map.

Posted with the original story is a photograph submitted by Illinois resident Chad Winterland, a seed technician who works at Asgrow DEKALB Seed and Monsanto Company. Another photograph of the fiery derailment which was found on Twitter was embedded into the text portion of WQAD-TV’s breaking story.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 4.29.39 PMI stumbled upon WQAD-TV’s coverage of the breaking story on page two of my Google News search results for “BNSF train derailment.” I think that WQAD-TV did a good job overall covering the story; as it includes some useful links, a video and photos. For this reason, I’m not surprised that it was found on the second page of Google’s search results.

3. Blue Marble (Mother Jones): A blog

Posted online, the night of the derailment, was a breaking story, titled “Yet another oil train has derailed and caught fire,” written by Luke Whelan of Mother Jones’ Blue Marble blog. This story differed from the others slightly, in that it had a slightly biased pro-environment spin. The story’s title, in addition to its opening line (which follows here), tell it all: “Earlier today, yet another massive train carrying crude oil derailed and caught on fire, this time in norther Illinois near the Mississippi River.” (The BNSF Railway Co. derailment was the third such crude oil train derailment to occur in North America in the past three weeks.) The other news sources I analyzed took a much less sardonic approach, remaining unbiased in their reporting of this breaking news story.

The blog post, like many blog posts, opens with a photograph, and in this case, it’s a fiery photo not of Thursday’s BNSF derailment, but of a crude oil train that derailed in Ontario, Canada, a few weeks prior. I found this somewhat misleading, as I am sure other readers did…but I understand it was probably posted there: a. because it is a shocking, scary photo, and b. because the nutgraf of the story is not focused solely on the BNSF derailment, but instead is centered on the larger issue of crude oil train derailments (though the majority of the story IS focused on breaking coverage of the derailment).

The opening shot of the Blue Marble's breaking coverage of the BNSF train derailment in Galena was not of THAT derailment, but of another crude oil train derailment that occurred in mid February.
The opening shot of the Blue Marble’s breaking coverage of the BNSF train derailment in Galena was not of THAT derailment, but of another crude oil train derailment that occurred in mid February.
This photo sourced from Twitter of the Galena derailment/explosion is totally more terrifying than that of the Ontario derailment/explosion...so why not use it as a lead-in to this breaking news story on the Galena derailment/explosion?
This photo sourced from Twitter of the Galena derailment/explosion is totally more terrifying than that of the Ontario derailment/explosion…so why not use it as a lead-in to this breaking news story on the Galena derailment/explosion?

The Blue Marble’s coverage of this breaking story did include several photos of the BNSF derailment, sourced from Twitter. (Personally I think they could have used one of these photos as their lead-in; they’re actually more terrifying than the photo they used from the Ontario derailment and explosion. But anyway…) The story also added an update on Friday, adding a bit more detail to the story and confirming some of the story’s facts.

Screen Shot 2015-03-07 at 4.30.52 PMI found this story on page seven of my Google News search results for the term “BNSF train derailment.” I believe it was buried largely due to the fact that Blue Marble is a blog rather than a newspaper or broadcast company–and because it has an environmental spin. It’s not just about the derailment in Galena; it also makes a bigger statement about the North American oil and gas industry’s health and safety record as a whole (thus making it less newsy and relevant to my search).

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