Newspaper reporting of the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise, part 2: framing the hazard

Abstract : An analysis of the front pages of 120 consecutive editions of the local newspaper for the island of La Réunion (France), “Le Journal de L’Ile de La Réunion”, published before, during and after the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise reveals that its front page is an ideal vehicle for maximizing information delivery and recall during a volcanic eruption. Supported by flash tests, and by cross-checking with a content analysis of information given within the newspaper, we find that the front page is an effective gauge for the hazard frame which, for the case examined here, involved six volcanic hazards (pit-crater collapse, lava flows, gas, air fall, ocean entry lava flow and bench collapse), as well as the issue of evacuation. We found that crater collapse and lava flow hazards were framed using their natural colors and clear imagery of the phenomenon, tied to context-setting explanations within the newspaper. However, for lava flows in particular there was an element of spectacle and promotion of sightseeing, with photographs always featuring sightseers invariably taking photographs. After the end of the eruption reporting became almost entirely focused on tourists and sightseeing. Gas and ash fall hazard were framed using images and words of the victims, so that it became worrying and frightening, and associated with panic. As a result, the volcano itself became portrayed as a monster, and the situation for the impacted population became “apocalyptic” and “hellish”. This probably contributed to the evacuation measures being described as confused and pointless, with the morale of the impacted population suffering accordingly. The ocean entry and bench collapse had no frame at all, and became associated with the dead, exotic fish that were collected; this hazard thus being framed as an interesting curiosity rather than a volcanic hazard. The front page-tracking model followed here could guide future educative measures during volcanic crises by quickly identifying, on the basis of front page analysis, hazards that are appropriately conveyed versus those that are poorly portrayed. Responses to rectify a poor frame can include reactive scientific advertising, a route that is used commonly by businesses seeking to boost sales by taking timely advantage of a developing newspaper frame, and distribution of appropriately designed and timed press releases.
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Andrew Harris, Nicolas Villeneuve. Newspaper reporting of the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise, part 2: framing the hazard. Journal of Applied Volcanology, Springer Verlag, 2018, 7 (3), ⟨10.1186/s13617-018-0072-2⟩. ⟨hal-01906328⟩

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