Telling the Columbia Story Academic Article uri icon


  • This content analysis of newspaper stories seeks to answer three questions about the Columbia space shuttle disaster: What sources did journalists cite in telling the Columbia story? What did those sources say? Which sources were heard most often? Stories analyzed were published by the New York Times, Washington Post, and Houston Chronicle in the 217-day period following the accident. News reporters most frequently used elected and appointed government leaders and NASA administrators, engineers, and other agency employees as sources. Those sources most often communicated neutral facts and observations while not placing blame for the accident or evaluating the shuttle program's progress. Astronauts and their relatives, NASA contractors who built and maintained the shuttle fleet, and government accident investigators from agencies other than NASA or the Columbia Accident Investigation Board rarely appeared in the stories. Journalistic routines call for reporters to balance their story narratives with sources representing different viewpoints. In the Columbia story, however, this was not necessarily the case.

published proceedings

  • Science Communication

author list (cited authors)

  • Sumpter, R. S., & Garner, J. T.

publication date

  • January 1, 2007 11:11 AM