Reporting on terror attacks

newspaper-with-terrorism-headline

By: Yadira Nieves-Pizarro

Terrorism is a constant threat in the Western World and mainstream media in the United States will cover such stories as they develop in the homeland and Europe. Consider the treatment given to the incidents occurred in France and Germany by the New York Times and the Washington Post during the summer of 2016. First, let’s examine the patterns of coverage of the Bastille Day attack in Nice, France. Second, let’s survey a series of small-scale attacks perpetrated in Germany during the month of July. In line with framing theory, I will use existing terrorism frames to assess the news coverage of The New York Times and The Washington Post during July 2016 (Li, 2007; Semetko & Valkenburg, 2000; Woods, 2007).

Terrorism, which often manifests itself in coordinated incidents that result in multiple deaths and violence, is a pervasive topic in news today. News coverage about terrorism may underline some issues over others influencing the audiences’ “attitudes, beliefs and behaviors” (Li, 2007, p. 672). Woods (2007) explains further that audiences perceive terrorism danger as more imminent and catastrophic because of its “newness” and “dread” (p. 5). Furthermore, the salience of the topic amplifies the perception of risk and thus the audiences’ need for “information, explanations and interpretations” from the news media (Li, 2007, p. 670; Woods, 2007).

Existing literature has examined particular news frames in relation to news coverage of terrorism. Semetko & Valkenburg (2000) developed generic frames such as conflict, attribution of responsibility, human interest, economic consequences and morality. The conflict frame underscores the diverging nature of the topic by stressing the polarization between two institutions, groups, or ideologies. Next, the attribution of responsibility frame assigns responsibility for the problem to an individual, institution or government. Following, the human-interest frame emphasizes people who are or will be affected by this problem. Meanwhile, the economic consequences frame focuses on the consequences events or issues will have on people or institutions. Finally, the morality frame accentuates the moral and religious traits of the event or issue.

Conversely, Woods (2007) evaluates terrorism frames in terms of if journalists rely or not on official or what is known as government sources; if the story supports/opposes the use of military force to contain the terrorism threat; or supports/opposes liberties reduction for the same purposes. Likewise, the article may associate religion with terrorism referring to the committers as “Islamic extremists” or “Muslim radicals”. Finally, Li (2007) assesses terrorism frames in terms of if the story emphasizes on political leaders, issues and policies; the economic impact or cost of the events; the environmental impact, be it human or natural; as well as human disaster or well being stories or crime investigation.

The question remains, what are the coverage patterns of the New York Times and the Washington Post with regards to the Bastille Day Nice, France and a Germany attacks on July 2016? To study the coverage of elite newspapers, a content analysis was done using a purposive sample of news stories on both subjects. The articles were recovered from Lexis Nexis using the keywords “terrorist attacks Nice, France” and “terrorist attack Germany”. A total of 20 stories were analyzed.

When analyzing Semetko & Valkenburg’s (2000) generic news frames used in both incidents, most stories focused on the attribution of responsibility for the attacks to ISIS, Islamic or Muslim militants (70%), followed by human interest focusing on the stories of the victims (15%) (See Table 1).

Table 1: Generic frames

Incident Total
Terror attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day Series of terror attacks in Germany Summer 2016
Generic frames Conflict   0 2 2
  0.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  0.0% 20.0% 10.0%
Attribution of responsibility   7 7 14
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  70.0% 70.0% 70.0%
Human Interest   2 1 3
  66.7% 33.3% 100.0%
  20.0% 10.0% 15.0%
Morality frame   1 0 1
  100.0% 0.0% 100.0%
  10.0% 0.0% 5.0%
Total   10 10 20
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

When observing Woods’ (2007) terrorism risk frames, sources associated religion with terrorism referring to the executors as extremists or radicals (40%), followed closely by a heavy use of official or government sources leading the narrative (35%) (See Table 2).

Table 2: Terrorism risk frame

Incident Total
Terror attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day Series of terror attacks in Germany Summer 2016
Terrorism risk frame Government-source dominant   4 3 7
  57.1% 42.9% 100.0%
  40.0% 30.0% 35.0%
Supports military response   0 1 1
  0.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  0.0% 10.0% 5.0%
Supports liberties reduction   0 1 1
  0.0% 100.0% 100.0%
  0.0% 10.0% 5.0%
Religion associated with terrorism   4 4 8
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  40.0% 40.0% 40.0%
Non government-source dominant   2 1 3
  66.7% 33.3% 100.0%
  20.0% 10.0% 15.0%
Total   10 10 20
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

In the case of Li’s (2007) coverage frames, the criminal investigation aspect was more salient (40%), followed closely by the focus on politics and politicians in the handling of the ongoing terror threat (35%) (See Table 3).

Table 3: Coverage frame

Incident Total
Terror attack in Nice, France on Bastille Day Series of terror attacks in Germany Summer 2016
Coverage frame Political   2 5 7
  28.6% 71.4% 100.0%
  20.0% 50.0% 35.0%
Human Interest   4 1 5
  80.0% 20.0% 100.0%
  40.0% 10.0% 25.0%
Criminal   4 4 8
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  40.0% 40.0% 40.0%
Total   10 10 20
  50.0% 50.0% 100.0%
  100.0% 100.0% 100.0%

In conclusion, the news coverage of terrorism by the New York Times and the Washington Post is more likely to attribute responsibility to Islamic militant groups and the Muslim religion from the onset. Official sources and political actors dominate the storyline often alluding to the need of reinforcing the national security. Interestingly, many stories delved into the victim’s lives highlighting the human-interest aspect of terrorism. In the particular case of the series of terrorist attacks in Germany, many stories showcased the repercussions of government policies for refugees.

For journalists, dealing with developing news is a challenge. Working on developing news about terrorism defies a society’s preconceived notions about who the terrorist attacks perpetrators are and what are their motives. Often many of the stories lack context and rhetoric of reinforcing security and reducing civil liberties abound after terrorism incidents occur. More human-interest stories and a better balance of sources may provide the audience with the “information, explanations and interpretations” (Li, 2007, p. 670) that are more a tune with the bigger picture of terror.

References

Li, X. (2007). Stages of a Crisis and Media Frames and Functions: US Television Coverage of the 9/11 Incident during the First 24 Hours. Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media, 51(4), 670 – 687.

Semetko, H. & Valkenburg, P. (2000). Framing European politics: A content analysis of press and television news. Journal of Communication. 50(2), 93–109.

Woods, J. (2007). What we Talk about when we Talk about Terrorism: Elite Press Coverage of Terrorism Risk from 1997-2005. Press/Politics. 12(3), 3 – 20.

Reporting on the Zika pandemic

Original Title: Aa_FC3_58a.jpg

By: Yadira Nieves-Pizarro

Pandemics are considered global crisis. As such they receive comprehensive news coverage and require responses from governments and health authorities.

As it happens with terrorism, mainstream news outlets in the United States will cover disease outbreaks such as Avian Influenza, Ebola or Zika virus as they threaten to infect their population. In 2014, there were four cases of Ebola registered in New York and Texas (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2014) that received major news coverage. Recently, 1,305 Zika virus cases have been reported in the United States (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). Until recently these cases were generally “travel-associated” as most of the patients come from Latin America where the virus has been linked to microcephaly in newborn children (Fox, 2016). Nevertheless, in August 2016 the country reported local contagion (Garcia Casado, 2016).

The state of Florida is considered “ground zero” for Zika because mosquitoes prevail all year-round. Recently, the state government has declared a public health emergency (Dana, 2016). Many Americans and other international tourists come to Florida during the summer time to enjoy some time in the theme parks. Yet, local and international tourists are being dissuaded to come to Disney World, as well as other destinations in the Caribbean, because of the Zika virus (Storey, 2016). Cottle (2008) anticipated that global health threats might constrain mobility for citizens of the world, and in this case for the average American.

Likewise, Latin American and Caribbean countries have seen a decline in tourism activity as Zika news reports have scared away potential visitors from popular summer venues. According to World Bank estimates for 2016, Brazil, Mexico, Cuba and the Dominican Republic will suffer greater loses this year as a significant part of their economy depends on tourism (Associated Press, 2016; Ojea, 2016).

News media professionals in the United States have to report global crisis such as the Zika virus spread to create awareness among the American public. As a result, the type of coverage given to the crisis will define how the audience responds to the threat (Cottle, 2008). Locally, on the other hand, news outlets face challenges to make topics such as the Zika outbreak relevant to their audience. On the first place, Cottle (2008) espouses that the sources that sponsor the crisis must be legitimate and be able to communicate the message of awareness, prevention or specific actions to be taken regarding the health threat. Secondly, in order to make stories relevant, news professionals must consider putting a human face on the topic. Hight and Smyth (2003) recommend “writing about the victims lives and their effect on the community” (p. 6) in order for the audience to relate to the crisis.

Thirdly, in order to effectively communicate global crisis news professionals must consider the audiences’ nature. The modern news consumer is continuously evolving as digital innovations change the way news are delivered. According to the Pew Research Center 70% of adults in the United States follow national and local news “somewhat closely” while 65% track international news “with some regularity” through their desktop computer or mobile devices (Mitchell, Gottfried, Barthel, & Shearer, 2016).

This lukewarm reception to news forces news organizations to implement audience engagement strategies that encompass more than just having a social media presence. For instance, The Chicago Tribune emphasizes on transparency and often explains to the readers the newsgathering process though a blog in their site and in the print edition. For the sake of accuracy, errors are quickly amended. In addition, the news organization habitually holds community-based events, listens to the opinions the community has about their news coverage and gather news ideas that are in tune with their interest. Finally, the Chicago Tribune embraces social media, staying on top of trending topics.

Reporting a global crisis to the American public is challenging, but to do so at a local news market level is even more uphill. Effective reporting will depend on many other considerations such as routine practices and the size of the news organization. Yet, it is the responsibility of local news organizations to open the scope of the coverage and make crisis relevant to their audience who are, at the same time, citizens of the world affected by global crisis.

References

Associated Press. (2016, May 31). Zika threat to tourism adds to Puerto Rico’s woes. CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/zikas-threat-to-tourism-adds-to-puerto-ricos-woes/

Capatides, C. (2016, April 8). What role does Islamophobia play in terror attacks? CBS News. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/terror-in-molenbeek-schaerbeek-brussels-belgium-islamophobia/

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2014, December 16). Cases of Ebola diagnosed in the United States. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/vhf/ebola/outbreaks/2014-west-africa/united-states-imported-case.html

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016, February 2). Zika virus disease in the United States 2015-2016. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/zika/geo/united-states.html

Cottle, S. (2008). Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age. McGraw-Hill: New York.

Fox, M. (2016, July 14). Zika virus worries pregnant women in the U.S. as mosquito season approaches. Today. Retrieved from http://www.today.com/health/zika-virus-worries-pregnant-women-u-s-mosquito-season-approaches-t100781

Garcia Casado, C. (2016, March 24). Científicos investigan llegada del virus del Zika a las Américas. El Nuevo Herald. Miami, Fla.

Hight, J., & Smyth, F. (2003). Tragedies and Journalists: A guide for more effective coverage. The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma.

Hight, J. & Smyth, F. (2003). Tragedies and Journalists: A guide for more effective coverage. Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma.

Janega, J. (2013, February 18). 5 ways to engage more with your audience — in person and online. Poynter. St. Petersburg, Florida. Retrieved from http://www.poynter.org/2013/5-ways-to-better-engage-with-your-audience-in-person-and-online/191825/

Mitchell, A., Gottfried, J., Barthel, M., & Shearer, E. (2016). The Modern News Consumer: News attidudes and practices in the digital era. Washington DC.

Ojea, M. V. (2016, February 22). Cinco impactos económicos del Zika en Latinoamérica. El País. Recuperado de http://internacional.elpais.com/internacional/2016/02/22/america/1456168173_573653.html

Dana, F. (2016, January 26). Fear of Zika impacts daily life, Travel in U.S., Latin America. NBC News. Retrieved from http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/zika-virus-outbreak/fear-zika-impacts-daily-life-travel-u-s-latin-america-n512291

Storey, K. (2016, May 31). Zika has already caused a noticeable impact on tourism. Orlando Weekly. Retrieved from http://www.orlandoweekly.com/Blogs/archives/2016/05/31/zika-has-already-casued-a-noticeable-impact-on-tourism

Szabo, L. (2016, July 14). Baby with Zika-linked microcephaly born in Texas. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/07/13/baby-zika-linked-microcephaly-born-texas/87040518/

Williams, C. (2016, May 20). 4 Michigan Zika cases tied to trips out-of-state. The Detroit News. Recuperado de http://www.detroitnews.com/story/life/wellness/2016/05/20/michigan-zika/84654630/

Yuhas, A., Weaver, M., Malkin, B., & Rawlison, K. (2016, July 15). Nice attack: Truck diver named as France mourns 84 killed in Bastille Day atrocity. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/world/live/2016/jul/14/nice-bastille-day-france-attack-promenade-des-anglais-vehicle