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When societies crash: A critical analysis of news media’s social role in the aftermath of national disasters

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Apart from their primary role as news providers in disaster situations, news media can also assume a broader social role. Drawing on a critically informed qualitative content analysis of the Belgian news reporting on a national disaster, the article reveals a twofold articulation of this social role. The first consisted in newspapers highlighting the emotional dimension with potential societal implications of raising compassion and identification. Second, we found a strong articulation of a discourse of (national) unity and community, aimed at restoring the disrupted social order in the disaster’s aftermath. Both aspects were discursively established by a dominant presence of emotional testimonies, strategies of personalization and by the use of inclusive language permeated with references to nation or community. The study highlights the important social role of journalism in disaster situations and events involving human suffering.
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Keywords: Belgium; Sierre bus crash; disaster news reporting; mediated suffering; national disaster; qualitative content analysis; social role of news media

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Ghent University

Publication date: July 1, 2018

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