Suffering through the news: How the American news media cover hunger in Africa and at home

Lauren Kogen, University of Pennsylvania


The dissertation examines U.S. newspaper coverage of hunger occurring both in Africa and the United States, in order to determine whether and when news reports offer readers information they could readily use to discuss the issue in the public sphere. Coverage is examined through a comparative discourse analysis and frame analysis of 168 news articles appearing in the mainstream American print newspapers from January 2008 to May 2011, and 311 news articles appearing during two humanitarian crises—Hurricane Katrina in the United States and the 2011 East African famine—as well as interviews with journalists and editors. The author finds that stories of hunger in Africa are frequently framed as `irrelevant' to the American public sphere, by not including the kind of information that would allow audiences to engage politically with the material. Hunger in Africa was frequently presented as a problem with no clear solution, or with 'solutions' that did not work. Stories on hunger in the United States, by contrast, were much more likely to include information readers could use to engage politically with the story, or to monitor the actions of their government. In cases of crisis, the author additionally finds that human interest stories tend to displace information on solutions, cause or context, that could be used to productively discuss the issue in the public sphere. The author concludes that, rather than simply denying readers the information that would allow them to respond politically, through discussion or action, articles on hunger in Africa in fact do suggest a political narrative by implying that the problem is an on-going and inevitable one, without the potential for responsive political action. Journalistic norms for domestic and crisis reporting are used to explain discrepancies between reporting styles when reporting on the United States and Africa.^

Subject Area

Journalism|Mass Communications

Recommended Citation

Kogen, Lauren, "Suffering through the news: How the American news media cover hunger in Africa and at home" (2012). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3551504.