UW News

April 11, 2005

Journalists to gather Friday at UW to gauge tsunami coverage

The wave of news coverage of December’s Indian Ocean tsunami — 35,000 reports, by one count — surpassed coverage of the year’s other Top 10 disasters combined.

But did those reports inform or confuse? Did they explore the disaster’s aftermath, or just its immediate drama? Did they respect the victims, or intrude on them? Did they show images that were too gory, or too sanitized?

All this will be discussed Friday at the first major public conference on journalism and the tsunami, featuring Seattle-area and international reporters and photographers who covered the disaster.

“The tsunami was a breathtaking challenge for us,” said CNN anchorman Aaron Brown, who will give the 3 p.m. keynote address. “How do we tell the story in a way that a largely American audience connects to a world they could barely find on a map?”

Other participants at the daylong conference at UW’s Kane Hall, sponsored by the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, include CBS News Tokyo bureau chief Barry Petersen; Kimina Lyall, a correspondent for The Australian who survived the tsunami at a Thai beach; Getty Images photographer Spencer Platt; Chris Cramer, managing director of CNN International; BBC Banda Aceh lead correspondent Jeremy Hillman; and ABC correspondent Brian Rooney.

A panel of scientists and emergency-management experts also will discuss lessons learned and tsunami and earthquake risks to the Pacific Northwest.

And experts on mental health — including the staff trainer for a major Australian newspaper — will explore the psychological toll on tsunami victims and on journalists covering their plight.

“Our belief at the Dart Center,” said Roger Simpson, a UW associate professor of communication, “is that journalists with an understanding of trauma are both more likely to stay emotionally healthy and to be better equipped to report with sensitivity and authenticity.”

The day’s panel sessions in Kane Hall’s Walker-Ames room:

  • 9:30 a.m. –11:45 a.m.: What journalists saw and learned.
  • 1:15 p.m. — 2:45 p.m.: What the earth sciences learned for South Asia and the Pacific Northwest.
  • 3 p.m.: Keynote address by Brown.
  • 4:15-5:30 p.m.: A critical look at tsunami images.

At 7 p.m., in Kane Hall 130, many of the panelists and interested members of the public will continue with a “report card” of tsunami coverage.

Kicking off that evening session, the Dart Center will give this year’s $10,000 Dart Award for Excellence in Reporting on Victims of Violence to the Detroit Free Press for its six-part series “Homicide in Detroit: Echoes of Violence.” Also to be announced will be an expansion of the Dart Award next year to include radio and TV journalism categories. Simpson, the center’s director, said the award has for 12 years honored journalism that portrays victims and survivors with accuracy, insight and sensitivity, and informs the public about ways individuals cope with trauma.

The December tsunami brought trauma on an almost unimaginable scale.

“The stories were difficult for us as journalists,” said CBS’s Petersen, who covered the story from Thailand. “How can you look at the pictures of all the missing children and not cry? You can’t. We felt, as journalists, that our stories must reflect the dignity and strength of those whose loss we were telling.”

According to a study by AlertNet, a nonprofit arm of the Reuters news agency, the 35,000 reports on the tsunami by the end of February overtook the 33,620 stories devoted to the other Top 10 emergencies of the year combined. The study found that ethnic conflict in Sudan, which has displaced 2 million people, received one-fifth as much coverage as the tsunami.


For more information, contact Simpson at (206) 543-0405 or roger.simpson@dartcenter.org. The Web site is www.dartcenter.org