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A Comparative Study of Local and Foreign Online Media Photography After Typhoon

Haiyan in Tacloban

Corinna Victoria C. Martinez
University of the Philippines Diliman


A Comparative Study of Local and Foreign Online Media Photography After Typhoon
Haiyan in Tacloban
Three hundred seventy miles wide, with gusts of up to two hundred thirty-five miles per
hour, and a storm surge of sixteen feet high, Typhoon Haiyan, known locally as Typhoon
Yolanda, battered provinces all over the Visayas. Over sixteen million people were affected and
more than six thousand were found dead. Cities were left unrecognizable, with one of the most
badly hit cities being Tacloban City ("NDRRMC: Yolanda Death Toll up to 5,670, Damage at
P34 Billion.", 2013).
In order to relieve the masses of people whom Typhoon Haiyan devastated, massive
relief efforts had to be undertaken. It was estimated by the United Nations that there was a need
of about three hundred million dollars in order to help the disaster-stricken population. An
upwards of eighty-one billion dollars (with donors coming from all parts of the world) were
collected in a matter of days, with the amount continuing to rise (Silva, 2013). Now, one could
wonder how exactly this much money was raised in such a short amount of time. How was the
knowledge of the plight of the residents of Tacloban city spread and disseminated to quickly?
One possible answer to this could be through the utilization of photography. In the online social
media, broadsheets, and television accounts of the typhoon, many reports included photographs
of the disaster-stricken city.
According to Langton (2009), when planned, executed, and played well, photographs
are capable of telling rich, emotional, and informational stories. Photographs, through their
messages, symbols, icons, and imagery, are able to speak to audience and impart some of the
greatest impact (Samara, 2010). This is exactly what happened in the photographic
documentation of Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban
Review of Related Literature
In order to research the topic A Comparative Study of Foreign and Local Online Media
Photography after Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban, the researcher employed related literature in
the form of books, interviews, and news and journal articles.
The book entitled Complete Book of Press Photography, edited by Joseph Costa, is an
anthology of articles written by members of the National Press Photography Association,
Incorporated. Many of the articles found here speak about the power and influence of
photography and most especially, press photography in society today. This book, though
published in the year 1950, is still a reliable source because it is a product of one of the most
distinguished photojournalism associations in the world, the NPPA.
What Katrina Revealed: A Visual Analysis of the Hurricane Coverage by New Wires
and U.S. Newspapers. by Shahira Fahmy, et al., is a journal article found in Journalism & Mass
Communication Quarterly. Though it is an article about Hurricane Katrina in the United States of
America, it has a lengthy discussion regarding photojournalism in general, such as the process of
picking photographs to be used in media and newsprint, as well as other news selection factors.
These are important topics that can be utilized in the interpretation (determination of themes) of
the photographs to be selected. Journal & Mass Communication Quarterly is well-known
academic journal that primarily focuses on journalism and mass communication, thus making
this journal article substantial related literature.
Photojournalism and Todays News: Creating Visual Reality is a book written by Loup
Langton. In this book, Langton explains newsroom culture and how this culture influences the
photojournalism that is eventually released and published worldwide. Published in 2009, this
book is a reliable and valuable source for research because it discusses how the process of how
photographs are created and planned even before the click of the camera, and the reason behind
why a photograph is published.
Through the Lens: Visual Framing of the Japan Tsunami in U.S., British, and Chinese
Online Media is a journal article written by Rosellen Downey, et al. and published by the
International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin. This will be
a very useful work of literature because it focuses on how foreign online media, specifically the
United States, Great Britain, and China, used photographs to frame the tragedy of the Japan
Tsunami. It dissects several factors (geographic location, political relations, etc.) that affect the
photography that foreign media publishes in relation to another countrys tragedy. This is very
similar to the main research topic of this paper, and can therefore serve as a guide and fountain
of background information in the analysis of foreign online media photography of Tacloban
following Typhoon Haiyan.
Setting guidelines on how to design the news online. Portuguese online newspapers and
their spanish, argentinian and brazilian counterparts by Nuno A. Vargas is journal article
published by the International Symposium on Online Journalism at the University of Texas at
Austin. This article has an abstract and introduction that talks about the background and history
of online journalism. This can be used as an introduction or preliminary information in the
research paper because this research article talks about online journalism.
Photojournalist Captures Resiliency in the Philippines After Typhoon Haiyan is an
online article found on the National Geographic website and written by Ker Than. This has
proven to be a useful article because it can serve as a guide in the actual methodology of the
paper. It states in the article that one of the main themes of a foreign journalists photographs of
Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan is resiliency. Thus, the researcher can be guided in identifying
this theme and other themes in the scrutinizing of the gathered photographs. The National
Geographic website is a reputable source because it is a known and worldwide celebrated
magazine that was created in 1888.
The Designers Graphic Stew: Visual Ingredients, Techniques, and Layout Recipes for
Graphic Designers by Timothy Samara is a book that talks about the importance of photography
and its significance in relaying messages, symbols, and themes to readers. This is relevant to the
study because the study focuses on the messages, symbols, and themes of disaster
photojournalism in Typhoon Haiyan.
Digital Photojournalism by Susan C. Zavoina and John H. Davidson is a guidebook for
photojournalism. It talks about the role of photojournalism in the world today, as well as the
process a photograph undergoes before it is used in online media. This will be useful in the study
because the study necessitates the background of photojournalism in order to further explain the
reason behind the themes found in the photographs.
The Art of Photojournalism is an interview of renowned photojournalist Paolo
Pellegrin, conducted by Guy Lane. It was published in The Art Book, which is an academic art
journal. In this interview Paolo Pellegrin talks about the aspect of human interest in disaster
photojournalism. This is relevant to the study because preliminary research has shown that
disaster journalism is largely composed of human interest photojournalism. Paolo Pellegrin sheds
light on the reasons behind the prevalence of human interest in disaster photojournalism.

Photograph Gathering
A total of thirty photographs are to be gathered for comparison. Fifteen of these are to be
sourced from local online media sources, while the other fifteen are to be taken from foreign
online media sources. The photographs to be gathered are those of Tacloban after it was struck
by Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

After all thirty photographs are gathered, they will be segregated into their respective
groups: Group A, those from local online media sources and Group B, those from foreign online
media sources. Once they are grouped, the researcher will observe and scrutinize each
photograph. In doing so, the researcher will try to identify the photographs message, symbol,
icon, and imagery, in order to determine its main theme. Observations will then be recorded.
The researcher will then the observations recorded within each group. Similarities and
differences are to be written down. Afterwards, the researcher shall compare and contrast the
main themes the similarities and differences between the two groups in order to come up with
the conclusion. The researcher shall also refer to the preliminary research that was done in order
to infer how or why such differences and similarities occur between the two pictures (cultural,
political, social factors, etc.)

Results and Discussion

The chart above is a frequency distribution of the themes present in foreign media
Tacloban photography following Typhoon Haiyan. Destruction is the most common theme
present (12 out of 15 pictures), while Relief Efforts is the least represented (1 out of 15
pictures). As illustrated by the chart, the two aforementioned themes register a marked difference
(11) in frequency. Following destruction in terms of greatest frequency is human interest
with 8 pictures. Succeeding human interest is hope, with 5 appearances and aerial-themed
pictures, with 3 occurrences. Therefore, majority of the pictures display the theme of destruction,
while a very small minority display relief efforts.

Aerial Destruction Human
Relief Efforts Hope



Theme utilized in picture
Photography Themes Utilized in Foreign
Media after Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban
Foreign Media
The chart above describes the frequency of themes utilized in the photography of local
media covering Typhoon Haiyan in Tacloban. The highest frequency occurs in human interest,
while the lowest frequency is registered in aerial. As reflected by the chart, these two themes
have the largest contrast (11) in terms of recurrence. Hope is the second-most recurrent theme,
with 9 occurrences out of 15 pictures. Thereafter is Relief efforts with a frequency of 8, and
destruction with a frequency of 7. In summary, the greatest marked distinction is between the
themes human interest and aerial, with a difference of 11.

This chart summarizes the frequency of different photography themes as seen in foreign
and local media following Typhoon Haiyan. Overall, there seems to be a great difference in
frequency within each theme listed between foreign and local media. Each of the figures
registers a marked disparity when comparing foreign and local media photography. The most
noticeable imbalance is seen in the theme relief efforts. In this theme, local media has 7 more
pictures than foreign media that show relief efforts that were undertaken in Tacloban. The theme
of destruction has the second-most apparent difference; here, foreign media has 5 more
pictures with this theme than local media. Following this is the theme of hope, with a
difference of 4, in favor of local media. Lastly, the least noticeable difference is of just 2, with
foreign media edging out local, occurring within the aerial theme. Therefore, there is a marked
contrast in the frequency of themes presented local and foreign media photography after
Typhoon Haiyan.
The most curious finding in this chart is the marked difference between the amount of
relief efforts-themed photography between local and foreign media. This could be explained
by Downey, who states that relations between countries play an important role in the publication
of media. The pictures utilized in this research were gathered from a distinguished British
publication and from a well-respected Philippine news agency. Yet, there seems to be no
outstanding conflict between the Philippines and Great Britain. The lack of pictures of relief
efforts may be explained by the fact that Great Britain does not need to answer to the Philippine
government, and therefore has no qualms about perhaps criticizing the governments response to
the plight of Tacloban.
The result of human interest as having a very high frequency in both local and foreign
online media is greatly supported by various researchers, while there is a consistent lack of
aerial-themed pictures. Both Fahmy and Jackson suggest that human interest is a popular
theme because it has the ability to capture and keep the attention of readers. This relates to the
research of Kennedy, who believes in the photographs power to elicit and stir emotion from
people throughout and around the world, with their reaction and their response moving others
and themselves to act. As Lester (in Fahmy, 2007) has explained, That is because in the end,
people, ordinary people and how they cope in a crisis are always the most important storynot
the storm.
Destruction is the most popular theme in foreign media photography; there is also a
considerable amount of destruction-themed pictures from local online media. Downey states that
the reason behind this is because of medias aim to illuminate [the] obstinate [problem] in
society. In this case, it would be the widespread devastation in Tacloban. By highlighting the
destruction caused by Typhoon Haiyan, both local and international press aim to inspire and
move others to aid the Philippines.
Hope as a mildly popular theme, is explained by Mister Guttenfelder (photographer for
National Geographic) in an interview. According to Guttenfelder, photographers hope to focus
on how the people survive despite their displacement, as well as their resiliency throughout the
ordeal. This is also supported by Pellegrin, who described optimism, bravery, and human
resilience in the midst of tragedy to be common themes in disaster photography.
It is also medias responsibility to inject positivity following a disaster. This may be a
reason for the high frequency of hope-themed pictures, especially in local media. Since local
media reaches the population first, they are at the helm of spreading news to Filipinos. Instead of
wishing to discourage and de-motivate the country, they want to mobilize and inspire the people
to act. There is also a personal business of charity in the Philippine media, due to our culture.
The media does not simply report the destruction, they aim to arouse the publics interest to help.
This is in contrast with foreign media, whose target audience is a wider and more global
population. With them, foreign media aims to just inform their consumers, not necessarily give
them hope.

The researcher recommends that if further studies are to be made, researchers should
gather more photographs to analyze. Because of the relatively small sample size (15 from foreign
online media, 15 from local online media), the results gathered may not be representative of the
entire population. Another recommendation would be to include pictures from other sources,
such as print media (newspapers and magazines). This would allow for the widening of the scope
of the research, and therefore become more relevant to the audience.
Lastly, the researcher recommends that a study could be conducted on the Asian media
treatment of Yolanda versus the media treatment of Western journalists. Seeing as Southeast
Asian countries can have similar cultures, it would be interesting to see if the results of this
proposed study match those of this study.
This research holds importance in society because it is reflective of the power of media.
As seen above, media is the mirror of our world. However, what media chooses to present is also
a product of its biases. The research performed here proves and highlights the importance of
being critical thinkers and analyzers of media in this day and age.

In conclusion, there sees to be a general trend in terms of themes in the photography of
Tacloban after Typhoon Haiyan in local and foreign online media. Human interest, destruction,
and hope are the more popular themes, while aerial is the least popular. The conflict resides
mainly in theme of relief efforts. There is a stark difference between the amount of relief effort-
themed pictures in local and foreign online media, with the former having the higher frequency.
This can be caused by many factors, but the main one, as conjectured by this research, is the
political freedom of foreign countries. Due to the lack of a need to answer to the Philippine
government, international press tends to feel freer to criticize (or commend) the said government.
Lastly, the research also showed the high frequency of hope in both sources of media. As shown
by this research, a likely reason for this would be the Philippine medias responsibility to inject
hope into the population after a tragedy.
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A. International Online Media