Picturing resilience: analysis of newspaper images of 2011 floods in Brisbane, Australia

14:00 Tuesday 28 May


Room S2


Anne M Leitch (Australia) 1; Erin Bohensky (Australia) 2

1 - Griffith University; 2 - CSIRO Australia

The concept of resilience is gaining currency in the public discourse as a lens for interpreting change and uncertainty. Resilient systems tend to be flexible in their response to changing environmental and social contexts, are self-organizing, rather than controlled by external forces, and can build the capacity to learn and adapt. Natural disasters are focusing events which help us to understand a concept such as resilience. The human and ecological disruption of a natural disaster has a high news value both during and beyond the natural disaster event and recovery. The news media plays an important role in communication of concepts as it helps to reflect and shape public opinion of events such as natural disasters.

Previous work has examined news texts and yet news images of natural disasters has received little attention, despite their important role in framing and communicating news events. In this paper we undertake a longitudinal study to analyse how aspects of resilience are portrayed in newspaper images in the media coverage of the Brisbane floods in January 2011 and in ‘anniversary’ media coverage„ commemorative articles that describe the event„ in subsequent years from 2012 until 2018. We find that as well as portraying themes of resilience, these images also portray themes of nature as an external or evil agent, helplessness, heroism, and humour as a coping strategy. We also note that the images sometimes contradict the headline. We compare images printed during the event, to those printed around the anniversaries. We conclude that news media images are of central importance in framing these events and subsequent responses. We discuss the significance of our findings for communication about resilience to natural disasters and for building community resilience to disasters. We also discuss some of the challenges we faced in data collection and analysis.