What is humanitarian news? A multi-sited study of how journalists define, debate and reproduce the boundaries of humanitarianism

The project mapped humanitarian reporting across media organisations, winning an award for Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice at UEA.

A combination of climate change, economic globalization and military conflict mean that two thirds of the world’s population are expected to be living in fragile situations by 2030 (UN Secretary General, 2016).  But the poorest countries in the world still receive the least international aid, and far too little attention is still paid to other forms of long-term development, including addressing gross disparities in wealth (UN High Level Panel on Humanitarian Financing, 2016: OECD, 2016).

Now more than ever there is a need for clear, well-researched and thoroughly contextualized humanitarian journalism to inform donors, diplomats, aid-workers and other media audiences. But who is doing this work? How do they conceptualize which actors and activities are “humanitarian”? What values, principles and understandings shape their own humanitarian approaches to media-making? How are they funded? What kinds of texts do they produce? What role do new technologies play? And what (if any) impact do such forms of journalism have on the decision-making of audiences, including international policymakers?

This two year collaborative project, funded by AHRC & ISRF, was undertaken by Dr Kate Wright (University of Edinburgh) with Dr Martin Scott (UEA) and Dr Mel Bunce (City, University of London). The project mapped the humanitarian reporting of major news organisations, as well as specialist media, between 2016-18. It resulted in significant industry impact, winning an award for Outstanding Impact in Policy and Practice at UEA, as well as securing significant media coverage. It has since led to a new project in partnership with UN-OCHA to analyse the impact of humanitarian journalism on the decision-making of major donors.

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