Title page for ETD etd-11162006-102101

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Dill, Roxanne Kearns
Author's Email Address rdill1@lsu.edu
URN etd-11162006-102101
Title An Investigation of Focus: Local, Regional, and National Newspaper Coverage in the Aftermath of Hurricane Katrina
Degree Master of Mass Communication (M.M.C.)
Department Mass Communication
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
H. Denis Wu Committee Chair
Craig M. Freeman Committee Member
Jay Perkins Committee Member
John M. Hamilton Committee Member
  • disaster myths
  • topic selection
  • framing
  • official sources
  • gatekeeping
  • assignment of blame
Date of Defense 2006-11-14
Availability unrestricted
This study examined the content in coverage of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by local, regional, and national newspapers. Specifically, six newspapers were examined for a variety of items, including topics covered, frame, types of sources cited, types of authorities quoted, geographic focus, and assignment of blame for the devastation and evacuee distress that followed this historic storm. The analysis covered a two-week period, from August 29, 2005, the day Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, to September 11, 2005.

The research methods included a content analysis of the 263 articles that appeared on Page 1 of The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, The Clarion-Ledger in Jackson, Mississippi, The Sun Herald in Biloxi, Mississippi, and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Louisiana. In addition, interviews were conducted with management and staff of the newspapers to determine management style, reader focus, and unique circumstances reporters on the field and editors at home encountered in providing coverage of this historic storm.

Topic and frame selection were similar at the local and regional levels, which focused on life, limb, and property issues, need for information, and distress of those affected by the storm. National newspapers focused most often on evacuee distress, but were more likely than local and regional newspapers to address criminal activity, government failure, and broader reaching economic considerations.

The results of this study offer challenges to the typical daily news cycle. Ordinarily, journalists most often look to official government sources, even when many citizens are available. After Katrina, citizens such as relief workers, medical personnel, and evacuees, became significant sources of information. Most importantly, intermedia agenda setting-the tendency of journalists to look to the elite media to set the news agenda-seemed to be suspended during the two weeks following Katrina. It appears that in times of widespread disaster, newspapers attend most closely to the anticipated needs and demands of their readers.

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