21 Pages

When news media turn to citizen-generated images of war

Transparency and graphicness in the visual coverage of the Syrian conflict
WithJelle Mast, Samuel Hanegreefs

This study takes the context of the Syrian war and media blackout as a pertinent case to investigate issues of transparency and graphicness when mainstream news media incorporate citizen-generated images. More specifically, we investigate (1) relative proportions of citizen and professional images used by news media through time; (2) source references, and indications of the non-professional origin of images; and (3) topic and explicitness of the depictions provided by citizens versus professionals. In order to do so, we conducted a systematic-quantifying content analysis of the visual coverage of the Syrian war in three Flemish mainstream news media between March 2011 and December 2012 (N = 768). Citizen-generated images prove to be an invaluable source for traditional news media exceeding the urgency of the initial period. Moreover, it seems that professional and citizen imagery fulfill a complementary role in representing different visual framings of (the Syrian) war. Yet the study also confirms non-professional imagery to be more graphic, and news media to be lacking in transparency.