Although we did not have a chance to discuss this in class, I was really intrigued by the articles about how media cover and shape global disasters. What struck me was the explanation of different types of coverage of stories. As media and journalism studies was never a subject of focus for me in undergrad, some of this may seem relatively obvious. I think it still important to note how the presentation styles of news, especially disasters, can affect the relative importance of and relationship we feel to the story.
Chouliaraki’s article, “The symbolic power of transnational media: Managing the visibility of suffering”, illuminates examples of how the media covered particular tragic events. She discusses the new role of on the ground footage, and demonstrates how it brings us closer to suffering. The questions really raised are how do media networks decide which stories to highlight, and how does this change the way in which they present the story. As discussed, a brief story with a picture of a map of the area “decontextualizes” the tragedy of a boat accident in India. Even aerial views of tragedies seem to put a certain distance between us and the event. When footage comes from on the ground, and includes important interviews and firsthand citizen film, the credibility and reactions go through the roof. These may not be as refined, but they are “real”. I also wonder if reporters on the ground are given more credibility for trying to bring the audience as close to the story as possible.*
Of course not every story can be given this amount of attention. On the ground footage is not always available, could take longer to get, and could seemingly be extremely dangerous. The media companies must decide when it is most important to take the steps to produce this kind of engaging story. I believe that a great deal of the time, more effort to create these kinds of products is put in when it directly affects the audience or people similar to the audience – such as events that occur on their soil or their citizens abroad.
Limitations of time and expenses force the media to make critical decisions on which stories to explore in-depth, and which can suffice with still images or maps. Because of these decisions, the audience’s reactions will likely be varied. Assuming there is a certain amount of empathy for suffering that each person can possess, the media is basically dictating where we should direct it towards.