Graduate Program

Communication Studies

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Semester of Degree Completion


Thesis Director

Matthew J. Gill

Thesis Committee Member

Claudia Janssen Danyi

Thesis Committee Member

Brian C. Sowa


When an organizational crisis emerges, crisis communicators must craft specific messages for their stakeholders and the public. While an organization is attempting to shape how the public perceives it during a crisis, the media work to frame the public's perception of the crisis through news coverage. Situational crisis communication theory (SCCT) is a prescriptive theory that assesses a crisis situation to determine which crisis response will best protect the organization's reputation. Two factors, crisis history and severity, serve as modifiers that can affect the crisis situation, and ultimately influence the best response. BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill serves as a case to explore how the SCCT model may be challenged by a long-term crisis, when shifting media representations of crisis history and severity affect the public's perception of the crisis at hand. Newspaper articles from three sources, along with BP's public statements, are thematically analyzed to understand media presentations of BP's crisis history and severity over time, and how BP responded to media presentations throughout the course of the spill. This thesis ultimately provides recommendations for how SCCT can account for the dynamic nature of crisis modifiers in a long-term crisis situation.