“Gatekeeping” Images of Hurricane Katrina (model abstract)

67b3e470ed1830d7657c416b4c1538afShariha Fahmy, James D. Kelly, and Yung Soo Kim. “What Katrina Revealed: A Visual Analysis of the Hurricane Coverage by News Wires and U.S. Newspapers.” Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly 84.3 (Autumn 2007): 546-561.

Abstracted by Sean Raymond.

Fahmy, Kelly, and Kim sought to determine whether the coverage of Hurricane Katrina was dictated by which photographs the wire services chose to distribute, or by which photographs editors chose to print on their front pages. The authors undertook a comparative visual analysis of photographs on the front pages of several major U.S. newspapers in the days following the storm in August 2005. They created two archives: one consisting of the unfiltered wire photographs from Reuters and the AP, and one consisting of the photographs run on the front pages of newspapers. A random sample was drawn from each archive, and each photograph was coded for the presence or absence of depiction of flood victims, emotional portrayal, suffering of non-white citizens, public officials, and aerial depictions. The photographs were also coded for their locations: Louisiana, Mississippi, Texas, Alabama, or other. The authors hypothesized that newspapers were more likely than the wire services to run photographs containing flood victims, strong emotions, suffering of non-white citizens, and Louisiana, and less likely to run photographs containing public officials and aerial depictions. Their findings overwhelmingly supported their hypotheses. For example, although just 30.4% of wire service offerings showed suffering of non-white citizens, suffering of non-white citizens was present in 49.8% of front-page photographs. Similarly, despite Louisiana being the location for just 42.3% of wire service offerings, the state was the location for 66.3% of front-page photographs (553). Similar differences (higher occurrences in front-page photographs than in wire service offerings) occurred for the categories strong emotions and flood victims, while the opposite (higher occurrences in wire service offerings than in front-page photographs) occurred for the categories public officials and aerial depictions. The authors explain that these results suggest that editors framed the hurricane in the context of individual suffering and emotional distress, rather than publishing more detached images of public officials and property damage because “in the end, ordinary people and how they cope in a crisis are always the most important story” (554). Although they decline to surmise why this pattern occured, they conclude frame building is not caused by limited wire service offerings, but rather is the result of gatekeeping by newspaper editors. [360 words]


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