Journalism's missing links: Kidnapping and captivity coverage around the world

Keren Tenenboim-Weinblatt, University of Pennsylvania


Journalism is a project in constant search of itself which is shaped by multiple and often contradicting impulses and forces. Using the strategic example of stories of political kidnapping and captivity, this dissertation examines the ways in which the news media—and newspapers in particular—enact and negotiate their identity and roles in different parts of the world and against the background of the ongoing crises facing mainstream journalism. Several fundamental tensions that underlie journalistic practice and journalism scholarship are at the heart of this dissertation: between information and debate, on the one side, and narrative, myth and ritual, on the other; between public agenda and collective memory, or between past, present and future in the coverage of current events; between publicity and visibility, on the one side, and secrecy and invisibility, on the other; and between the national and the transnational. This dissertation suggests that there are ways to think about these tensions in an integrative manner and that doing so can tell us much about what journalism is and could be in a changing media environment. The dissertation focuses on the media coverage of seven cases of kidnapping and captivity around the world in the first decade of the twenty-first century. In particular, it looks at cases of Colombian, French, Israeli, and US citizens who were taken captive between 2002 and 2008 during the ongoing conflicts in Colombia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Gaza. Using a combination of quantitative and qualitative approaches to textual analysis, it demonstrates the complex movements and alignments between seemingly disparate dimensions of journalistic practice. Emerging from this analysis are several new conceptualizations that complicate our understanding of journalism, among them the notion of reverse newsworthiness, according to which news criteria are not only shaping patterns of coverage and visibility but are also being shaped by them; and the framework of mediated prospective memory, which connects between the notions of agenda setting and collective memory and positions journalists as agents of prospective memory, who remind the public and decision makers what still needs to be done.

Subject Area

Journalism|Communication|Mass communications

Recommended Citation

Tenenboim-Weinblatt, Keren, "Journalism's missing links: Kidnapping and captivity coverage around the world" (2011). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3475895.