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Where's the oil? (And how do you make a picture of what's not there?)

The news from the Gulf seems to be getting better: The 'static kill' procedure appears to be have stopped the leak, at least for now. And, as far as the oil already in the Gulf of Mexico goes, the federal government says "that nearly three-quarters of the spilled oil — more than 152 million gallons — has been collected at the well by a temporary containment cap, been cleaned up or chemically dispersed, or naturally deteriorated, evaporated or dissolved."

That claim, however, is very controversial. Anne Thompson, NBC's environmental affairs correspondent, has a full report on the controversy, including some very skeptical reactions from fishermen, in this video from NBC Nightly News.

Whether the feds are right about the spilled oil or not, it's great to see Pass Christian looking pretty good in this picture--and certainly a lot better than Orange Beach, Alabama looked on June 26, in an earlier Photoblog post. Given the degree of uncertainty in the news, though, the question mark at the end of this headline seems necessary. We're not really sure what the picture means in the larger context of this story, even if we know exactly where and when it was taken. It's just too complicated of a story right now to try to show in one image.

Along those lines, our newsroom is hoping that the first stage of this national nightmare is coming to an end, and anticipating an announcement by the federal government that the static kill (or, failing that, a relief well) has worked to permanently cap the leak. As we hope for resolution, we're also planning: how can we present this news visually on our cover, if and when it happens? We could put up a live video stream of BP's "spillcam," but it isn't really showing useful information these days. We could put up a picture of a press conference, but why bother, really? We could put up a picture like this one from Pass Christian, with the right headline. We're considering a number of other options, though in the end we'll probably do what we usually do: quickly look at all available recent images as news is breaking, pick our best immediate option, and then improve it as new pictures and news are available. Publishing news on the Internet is almost always improvisational.

Nonetheless, we plan for foreseeable contingencies, and we love it when our readers tell us what they think. So, if you have any ideas to help us in our planning process, we'd love to hear them in the comment thread.