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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Analyzing Canadian print media coverage of the 2004 southeast Asian tsunami Cowen, Brandi Nicole


Using the 2004 Southeast Asian tsunami as a case study, this paper considers how natural disasters are covered in the media in order to develop a better understanding of disaster reporting. The analysis builds upon Alexa Robertson’s 2008 study of television coverage of the tsunami. Data was collected through a content analysis of three daily Canadian newspapers in the three months immediately following the tsunami. The findings show that although there are some notable differences between newspapers, simply catering to the same type of audience (i.e. national) is no guarantee that coverage from different newspapers will produce similar trends. However, the research did identify four trends across the three newspapers studied: pieces that are framed as political stories and critical of the government are not necessarily fuelled by inherent political bias, at least with regard to a foreign natural disaster; in the immediate aftermath of a disaster, the abundance of dramatic stories that can be told raises the threshold with regard to the level of drama a disaster story must have in order to be printed; recovery stories are generally re-framed as aid stories, thereby making it easier to relate the story to the audience, and; there does not seem to be any pattern to when a disaster disappears from newspapers’ front pages, as even an anniversary commemorating a disaster is no assurance of front page coverage. This study found that although narrative arcs in disaster reporting follow similar patterns across newspapers, other aspects of disaster coverage – such as the quantity or location of coverage – vary from newspaper to newspaper.

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