NBC Chief Environmental Correspondent Anne Thompson spoke to the Huffington Post by phone Tuesday from Venice, Louisiana to discuss media coverage of the Gulf oil spill — 100 days into the disaster.
Thompson, who arrived on the scene two days after the rig explosion, has been on location in the Gulf for the majority of the past 100 days. She has been living in one of three fishing camps maintained by the NBC News team.
As the Gulf spill reaches the 100 day mark, Thompson said the question on everyone's mind is whether the relief well will work as a permanent fix for the leak.
"People down here do one of two things: they fish, or they work for an oil company. You can do all the static kills, top kills, and caps that you want, but you have to kill this well from the bottom. We need to drill the relief well and put a plug near the source," she said.
But Thompson said BP's recent satisfactory attempt to cap the well, which resulted in successfully stopping the continued flow of oil, has been a bright spot for locals.
"It's been a big sigh of relief, that no more oil is flooding into the Gulf," she said. "The state of Louisiana recently opened the waters for sport fishing. But for [some Gulf residents], fishing is more than just sport — shrimps, crabs, and oysters: it's how they make their living."
The experience of living on the Gulf coast these past several weeks, Thompson said, has made an enormous difference in her understanding and reporting of the ongoing story.
"I'm so glad we live here. I think it makes a big difference in the stories that we do," she said.
Thompson, a New Yorker, said that she was struck by the strength of the locals' ties to the coastal area.
"The people down here are...so connected to the land and the water," she said. "Many of them had boats before they had cars, or even before they had bikes. That is the thing to do here — the kids get home from school, get in a boat, and drive around the marsh."
Thompson said that because of its position at southern tip of Louisiana, the town of Venice is the optimal location from which to fully cover the environmental effects of the spill. With Venice as a command center, she said, it is "easiest to get out on water to see the story."
She said that while media presence in the Gulf as a whole has not diminished, it has scattered as different networks have set up bases further inland at Grand Isle and New Orleans, for example. NBC, as far as Thompson knows, is the only remaining network stationed in Venice. NBC's team will remain at the Venice fishing camps at least through August, she said.
One hundred days after the rig explosion, one of the greatest challenges facing Thompson and her team is to keep the Gulf story on the front burner — and keep the public interested.
"My challenge as a journalist is to always find the fresh angle," she said. "I would hate to think that people would assume that once the well is killed, that this ends."
Thompson cited the long-term environmental damage, as well as the future of American dependence on oil, as examples of issues for which coverage has yet to scratch the surface.
Still, the crisis in the Gulf is unique for Thompson as a journalist in that its timeframe is unlike that of any other disaster she has covered (Thompson was an eyewitness to the horrific events of September 11, 2001, and broadcast several live reports from downtown Manhattan).
"It's like a slow-motion hurricane — that's the most apt description I've heard," Thompson said of the Gulf spill.
While Thompson said it would be impossible to compare the Gulf oil spill with the Sept. 11 attacks, since "each is unique and devastating in its own way," one marked difference between the two scenarios is their respective pacing.
"9/11 was absolutely frightening because it happened in a moment," she said. "That's what's so different about [the Gulf spill] story. It's been 99 days of moments."