Reporting Disasters : A narratological analysis of disaster news reportage

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Title: Reporting Disasters : A narratological analysis of disaster news reportage
Author: von Weissenberg, Andreas
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta, Sosiaalitieteiden laitos
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Social Research
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten, Institutionen för socialvetenskaper
Publisher: Helsingfors universitet
Date: 2013
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Discipline: Media and Communication Studies
Medier och kommunikation
Abstract: The thesis explores narrative techniques used in the genre of news reportage, specifically related to reporting from disaster contexts. This particular context is highly interesting, as the journalistic idea of ‘witnessing’ is very pronounced and also a major journalistic rational of deploying reporters. At the same time, reporters in this context might often ‘parachute’ in to the country, they will often have to work in poor security conditions and are exposed to stress and trauma. There are strong indications of an increase in the frequency and effect of disasters globally, which underlines the need to know more about how media reports on such events. This thesis is a small contribution to that end, exploring what narratological choices can be observed in the published news reportages. The material examined consists of news reportages from Haiti published in four different daily newspapers in Finland and Sweden immediately after the devastating earthquake there in January 2010. Out of a total of 30 articles, 8 have been examined in detail with a descriptive and also comparative approach. The method is that of narratological analysis, to a large extent based on the structuralist narratology. The categories included in the analysis are the narrative situation (how the author is present/absent in the text and how she regulates the information), narrative space (how the author present the space on which the reportage is centred) and characterization (how the author presents the characters in the text). The main findings regarding the narrative situation is that the author is present in all the analysed articles, but often not in a clear and consistent way. Rather the author will ‘place’ herself in the text more for temporary effect, particularly in the preamble, but the presence is not for example used to drive the narrative forward. In the category of narrative space, frame space (where the space is passive) is clearly the dominant narratological choice, despite the fact that disaster often has a clear effect on the ‘landscape’ and could potentially be given quite a lot of narrative weight. Regarding characterization, there is very little of it in the analysed articles; interviewees or people observed are generally not introduced or characterized in any way. The analysis of the results and the overall process of writing the thesis leads to two distinct features in the examined material that are discussed in the summary: fading narrativity and low descriptiveness. Fading narrativity refers to the fact that the use of narrative techniques is patchy and often with a focus on the preamble and the beginning of the article, whereas the end of the article often resembles a more traditional news text. External issues can be assumed to be one clear reason for this fading narrativity (time pressure, difficult context, etc.) but I argue that there are internal issues as well, namely that the genre of news reportage and the expectations on the reports is ill defined. Low descriptiveness, in turn, refers to the fact that in all of the articles the narratological categories of narrative space and characterization is used sparsely. This is highly interesting, considering the basic rational behind deploying reporters to such context, i.e. the idea of witnessing. I argue that one possible explanation for this is linked to the McLuhan Galaxy, i.e. that we are dominated by the audio-visual and that this has – consciously or unconsciously – led to a reduction in the perceived need to be descriptive in print journalism.
Subject: disasters

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