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Newspaper reporting of the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise part 1: useful information or tabloid sensationalism?

Abstract : During March, April and May 2007 the local newspaper for the island of La Réunion, “Le Journal de L’Ile de La Réunion” (JIR), published 427 articles relating to natural hazards, with hazard-related articles occupying a total paper area of 21.94 m2 and appearing in all but four of the 90 editions of the newspaper. This high level of coverage was due to the passage of two cyclones in March, the largest historical eruption of Piton de la Fournaise in April, and a major rock fall event in May. The high level of coverage may also be due to the fact that JIR is a tabloid that follows tabloid news values. Cyclones, volcanic eruptions and rock falls fit the news values of a tabloid well, especially when the stories involve the power elite, feature stories of human interest, include surprise elements and rescues, and are of high impact, especially to the local population. Disasters also provide spectacular imagery and the opportunity for eye-catching headlines, which is another element of the tabloid format. These key parameters thus all flag stories about natural hazards and, in particular, volcanic eruptions as being newsworthy for a tabloid. Of the page space devoted to natural hazards, 9.24 m2 (42%) were set aside to reporting of volcanic activity, specifically the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise. We completed a content analysis of these reports to understand the quality of information disseminated to the readership and to extract data regarding the impact of the eruption on local communities. We found the information to be of extremely high quality, with lava reporting being the most important issue covered by page area, mostly due to its photogenic nature. If we consider text-dominated reports, and exclude photo-montages, then the order of importance in terms of space set aside to reporting of a particular theme becomes: (i) general eruption details; (ii) summit collapse; (iii) lava flows; (iv) evacuation; (v) gas; (vi) ocean-entry; (v) air fall; (vi) vegetation fires (lit by lava contact); and (vii) volcano-seismicity. As the eruption and the nature of the hazard evolved (from lava flow through air-fall and gas, to summit collapse and ocean-entry) so too did the focus of the reporting. Once the eruption had finished, emphasis shifted from the hardships of the impacted community to sightseeing and tourism. We found that the quality of the reporting resulted from the use of journalists who were specialized in their reporting areas and who therefore knew the background and the correct sources to seek out for information. This shows that a well-informed journalist can be (i) a means to disseminate information and educate an impacted population, and (ii) a source of information for the volcanologist regarding societal impacts of, and population responses to, natural hazards.
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Andrew Harris, Nicolas Villeneuve. Newspaper reporting of the April 2007 eruption of Piton de la Fournaise part 1: useful information or tabloid sensationalism?. Journal of Applied Volcanology, Springer Verlag, 2018, 7 (4), ⟨10.1186/s13617-018-0073-1⟩. ⟨hal-01906303⟩



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