The Great East Japan Disaster, 2011 and the Regional Newspaper: Transitions from News to Newspaper Columns and the Creation of Public Memory

August 2014 (VOL. 32, NO. 2)

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This paper examines post-disaster local newspaper coverage associated with the Great East Japan Disaster of March 2011. On the basis of a long-term examination of several Tōhoku disaster area newspapers, the research identifies in the coverage of the disaster a transition from multiple ‘news’ themes to a variety of thematic frames that are presented in long-term newspaper columns. The research uses a database keyword trend to establish a ‘news-based’ newspaper coverage baseline, with framing analysis identifying newspaper columns as the mode frame of longer-term disaster coverage in the local newspapers thereafter. On this basis, the specific thematic frames of these columns of three disaster area newspapers are examined. The research finds that while the newspaper columns of local newspapers reflect the specific disaster-related issues of their areas, there also emerged a column that frames the disaster more optimistically, positioning the disaster as a point of new beginning for Japan and thereby constituting a form of real-time public memory creation. The research contributes to better understanding of both local media response to large-scale disasters based on the case for Japan and proposes a new understanding of the newspaper, in the form of newspaper columns, in disaster journalism, that of public memory construction.