As part of the new communication studies course “Environmental Communication: Lessons Learned from the BP Oil Spill,” 12 students traveled to the Gulf Coast in January to meet communication leaders involved in the crisis, as well as coastal business owners and environmental scholars and scientists. The speakers included public affairs officers for the Coast Guard and Louisiana governor's office, Sun Herald editors, the president of the Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce and spokespersons for the seafood and travel industries.

Nina Flournoy, senior lecturer of communication studies in Meadows School of the Arts, said the speakers recounted the convoluted flurry of information and misinformation during the moments and months after the spill. "My students learned that a transparent, honest approach to media, marketing and advertising is the only way to gain public trust in today's multitiered communications climate of 24/7 news coverage, blogs, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter," she says.

She says her students also gained a respect and deep concern for what residents said is the larger story — the vanishing coastline. Because of decades of dredging and offshore drilling, Louisiana loses the equivalent of one football field of wetlands every 38 minutes, leaving its cities more vulnerable to hurricanes. "So the question becomes, how do you get that information across to the rest of the country in a way that is meaningful?" she says. "For communication students, I can’t think of a better lesson to learn."

Read the students’ blog entries about their trip.

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