The Mourning News

Reporting Violent Death in a Global Age

by Tal Morse (Author)
©2018 Textbook XVIII, 268 Pages
Series: Global Crises and the Media, Volume 23


A conventional wisdom in media studies is that "when it bleeds it leads". The media love violence and from the newsroom perspective, negative news is good news. Violent death often makes it to the headlines, and mass violent death events often become media events that receive immediate continuous attention worldwide. However, reporting violent death is not only about sending information, but also about the maintenance of society. News about violent death functions as media rituals which elicit grief and inform a sense of care and belonging. Accordingly, this book takes a broader sociological and anthropological approach to considering the role of death and the media in organising social life in a global age. Based on literature on solidarity and social cohesion, death rituals, media rituals, and journalism studies, this book examines whether and how the performance of the media at the occurrence of mass violent death events informs solidarity and interconnectedness on a cosmopolitan level.
The book develops the analytics of grievability as an analytical framework that unpacks the ways in which news about death constructs grievable death and articulates relational ties between spectators and sufferers. The book employs the analytics of grievability in a comparative manner and analyses the coverage of three different case studies (terror attack, war and natural disaster) by two transnational news networks (BBC World News and Al-Jazeera English). This comparative analysis showcases the centrality of news media in selectively cultivating a sense of cosmopolitan solidarity in a global age.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for The Mourning News
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of Illustrations
  • Acknowledgments
  • Introduction
  • The Structure of This Book
  • References
  • Chapter 1: Solidarity, Rituals and the Media
  • Introduction
  • Solidarity and Social Cohesion
  • Dimensions of Solidarity
  • Imagining Solidarity
  • Solidarity Beyond Similarity
  • Solidarity: Towards a Working Definition
  • Rituals, Solidarity and Community
  • The Mediatisation of Rituals
  • Media Rituals
  • Everyday Media Rituals
  • Media Events
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 2: The Mediatisation of Death
  • Death Rituals
  • The Functions of Death Rituals
  • Death Rituals and the Imagined Community
  • Death and the Media
  • Mundane Death in the News
  • Death-Related Media Events
  • Managing the Visibility of Death
  • Death-Related Media Rituals in a Global Age
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 3: Global Crisis Reporting and Cosmopolitanism
  • Introduction
  • The Cosmopolitan Moment
  • Global Media and Multiple Visions of Cosmopolitanism
  • Comparative Analysis of Transnational Media
  • Al-Jazeera English
  • BBC World News
  • Conclusion
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 4: Towards the Analytics of Grievability
  • The Mediatisation of Death and Its Ethical Solicitation
  • Bearing Witness to Mediated Suffering
  • Bearing Witness to Mediated Death
  • The Analytics of Grievability
  • Elements of Mediatised Grievability
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • Conclusion
  • References
  • Chapter 5: Empathising Grief—The Case of the 2011 Norway Attacks
  • Introduction
  • Terrorism and the Media
  • Terror Attacks as Disaster Marathons
  • Ecstatic News
  • BBC Coverage of the Norway Attacks
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • AJE Coverage of the Norway Attacks
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 6: Judicial Grief and Condemnatory Grief—The Case of the 2008–2009 Gaza War
  • Introduction
  • War as a Media Event
  • BBC Coverage of the Gaza War
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • Al-Jazeera English Coverage of the Gaza War
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • Conclusion
  • Judicial Grief
  • Condemnatory Grief
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 7: Moving Grief—The Case of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
  • Introduction
  • Disaster News and the Paradox of Humanitarian Discourse
  • The BBC Coverage of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • The AJE Coverage of the 2010 Haiti Earthquake
  • The Sampled Reports
  • The Construction of the Dead as Human
  • Constituting Spatiotemporal Commonality
  • Producing a Witnessing Text
  • Ethical Solicitation
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 8: Mediatised Grief and the Fallacy and Promise of Cosmopolitanism
  • Introduction
  • Typology of Mediatised Grief
  • Empathising Grief or Grief as Empathy from Within
  • Moving Grief or Sympathy and Responsibility from Outside
  • Judicial Grief or Grief as an Aloof Judgement
  • Condemnatory Grief or Grief as an Inclusive Commitment
  • Mediatised Grievability and the Call for Cosmopolitan Solidarity
  • The Possibility of Non-Grief
  • Grievable Death by AJE and BBC—Similarities and Differences
  • Conclusion
  • Notes
  • References
  • Conclusion
  • Main Contributions
  • Limitations and Suggestions for Future Research
  • References
  • Appendix A
  • A1: Breaking News—Bomb Blast in Oslo
  • A2: Norway Witnesses Recount Utoya Attack
  • A3: Interview Norway Shooting Witness
  • A4: Norway Mourns Victims at Memorial Service
  • A5: Israel Launches Missile Attacks on Gaza
  • A6: Israel’s Attack on UN-run School in Gaza
  • A7: Gaza Family Torn Apart by War
  • A8: Haitians Struggle to Cope Amid Aftermath of Earthquake
  • A9: UN Confronts “Worst Ever Disaster”
  • A10: Quake Victims Buried in Mass Graves
  • A11: Haiti Quake Survivor’s Story of Despair and Loss
  • A12: Haiti Quake UN’s Most Fatal Incident
  • Appendix B
  • B1: Norwegian Capital Hit by Large Explosion
  • B2: Death Toll of at Least 80 in the Shooting on the Island of Utoya in Norway
  • B3: Norway Mourns Those Killed in Friday’s Attacks
  • B4: Massive Israeli Air Raids on Gaza
  • B5: Israel Strike ‘Kills 30’ at Gaza School
  • B6: Israel to Vote on Gaza Truce
  • B7: BBC News Reports January 12, 2010
  • B8: Haiti—The Place Where Hell Is the New Normal
  • B9: Earthquake Misery in Haiti Hospital
  • B10: Looking for Survivors Online
  • Index
  • Series index

← xii | xiii →




Figure 5.1:An aerial photograph of Central Oslo, where the explosion took place
Figure 5.2:A survivor testifies on what he underwent as he saw his friends die
Figure 6.1:“A badly injured man recites the Muslim prayer for those about-to-die”
Figure 6.2:War as a spectacle: Israeli cannon fire
Figure 6.3:Metonymy images of death
Figure 7.1:The collapsed presidential palace
Figure 7.2:Long-shot image of unidentifiable corpses
Figure 7.3:The face of nine-year-old Stephaney


Table 8.1:Typology of mediatised grief ← xiii | xiv →

← xiv | xv →



This book is an outcome of a long process of study and exploration. After dedicating the past few years to representation of death, some friends granted me the title “master of disaster,” but in fact there are greater masters, and I was fortunate to work with two of them. I am entirely indebted to Prof Lilie Chouliaraki and Dr Shani Orgad who served as my supervisors during the Ph.D. studies at the Department of Media and Communication at The London School of Economics and Political Science. It was a great privilege for me to learn from two leading scholars in this field. Their broad intellectual horizons and profound and extensive knowledge in the study of the mediation of suffering inspired me and guided me in my way. I admire their devotion and diligence, and want to thank them for creating a stimulating intellectual environment. Their contribution to my work is evident in every single sentence of this book, and for this I am grateful.

I want to thank Prof Simon Cottle for believing in me and encouraging me along the way. His guidance has helped me overcome obstacles and his illuminating comments have helped me to clarify the focus of this book and improve my writing. Dr Mirca Madianou has also contributed to strengthening the thesis presented in this book and making it more robust, and for this I want to thank her.

I am also thankful to Prof Tamar Katriel of Haifa University for teaching me the bread and butter of an academic work. The lessons she had taught me were ← xv | xvi → useful and valuable, and her support throughout the years is something I greatly cherish.

I want to thank my family—my parents, my brothers and my sister and my late grandfather—for being there for me. Their encouragement and support helped me throughout the years, and their faith in me motivated me to pursue this work.

Lastly, I want to thank my dearest Michael. If it wasn’t for him, this book would never have been possible. His unconditional love and support encouraged me in moments of crisis (and there were many of them), and his wisdom and experience helped me to overcome the difficulties. He is a true survivor of my freaky interest in death, and he coped with it without any complaint.

← xvi | 1 →



On June 13, 2016, some 48 hours after the deadly shooting attack at Pulse, an Orlando gay nightclub, Anderson Cooper, CNN news-anchor, stood up in front of the camera on Orlando’s streets, and began his prime-time programme with a tribute to the 49 lives lost in the shooting:

In the next two hours, we want to try to keep the focus where we think it belongs, on the people whose lives were cut short. I’m going to start tonight by honouring them. They are more than a list of names. They are people who loved and were loved. They are people with family and friends, and dreams. The truth is we don’t know much about some of them, but we want you to hear their names and a little bit about who they were.

Cooper then read out the names of the 49 victims, followed by a short informative comment about each of them. Pictures of some of the victims appeared on screen (Vales, 2016).

This unusual tribute resembles a ritual performed in Israel every year on Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurah (Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day) under the title “Everyone has a name.” In this ritual, Israeli citizens read out the names, places of birth and places of death of their relatives who perished in the Holocaust. The title of the ritual is taken from a poem by the same name, written by ← 1 | 2 → a Jewish-Israeli poet known by her first name, Zelda. The last verse of the poem reads: “Everyone has a name/ that the sea gives/ and /one’s death gives” (Mishkovsky & Falk, 2004). The purpose of this ritual is to commemorate the death of Holocaust victims and to recall their names and personal histories and, in so doing, to bring to the fore the personal aspect of this catastrophe. It is a ritual designed to remind people that each death counts and to ensure that each person is remembered, even if he or she had the misfortune to die violently in a mass death event. By stating the names of those who died, participants in the rituals are able to grieve for the death of their ancestors and declare their belonging to their community. It is an act of remembrance designed to give meaning to the death of an individual as well as to remind the participants of the bond that holds them together as a community.

The “Everyone has a name” ritual, like Anderson Cooper’s tribute, captures the notion of grievability, which Judith Butler introduces in her work (2004, 2009). This concept holds the idea that death becomes politically meaningful only when it generates a symbolic, public performance that manifests grief as a signifier of ethical ties that form communities. In other words, rituals like “Everyone has a name” illustrate the significance of a public, collective performance that gives meaning to death and utilises grief as a motivation for community formation. This book draws on the concept of grievability and uses it as a prism through which to reflect on questions of solidarity and community formation in relation to news about death.

The study of community formation focuses on mechanisms that inform us on how we understand our place in the world, and our interrelations with other people. Nowadays, we increasingly engage with the world and its inhabitants through the media, as they appear in front of us in the newspapers and on the screens of our television and mobile devices. This engagement with the representation of “the other” establishes our relations with him or her. The engagement with the other through the media becomes even more significant with the occurrence of violent death, since these are times when the sense of personal and collective security is eroded and the ties between individuals and groups come to the fore. The collective engagement with death reflects the mutual commitment and interdependency people share and so they learn how they belong together, why and with whom. Based on literature on solidarity and social cohesion, death rituals, media rituals, and journalism studies, the central argument this book develops is that death rituals elicit grief which informs the solidarity that is the basis for community formation, and that the media are central players in selectively producing and performing death-related media rituals which reach global audiences ← 2 | 3 → and thus cultivate a sense of belonging to a cosmopolitan community. Let me briefly unpack this argument.

The function of death rituals in relation to community formation has long been studied (Hertz, 1960; Huntington & Metcalf, 1991; Turner, 1969; Van Gennep, 1960). Rituals play a role in cultivating solidarity and the occurrence of death is an occasion which sets in play rituals that present an understanding of the values and ties that hold society together. Death and solidarity are also central themes for informing the social imaginary that facilitates a perception of an imagined community to which its members believe they belong and to which they are willing to commit (Anderson, 1983; C. Taylor, 2002). Imagined communities are formed and maintained by summoning their members in shared public spaces where the members can engage with one another and deliberate and negotiate their values and narratives (Calhoun, 2002a, 2002b). The media are the technology that positions us vis-à-vis faraway others and allows this communication; the media are the institution that shapes our understanding of “order” and “disorder”; and the media are the space where these participatory collective actions take place (Carey, 1992; Couldry, 2002; Dayan & Katz, 1992; Rothenbuhler, 1998; Silverstone, 2006).

Literature on the construction of imagined communities in contemporary age recognizes the role of imagination and representation in informing a collective perception of community (Anderson, 1983; C. Taylor, 2002). But, while national communities utilise death in order to maintain the perception of a shared past, contemporary imagined communities are constituted and reconstituted in the light of the construction of present vulnerability and future risks (Beck, 1992, 2011). In this respect, current disasters or the fear of future death facilitate the reflection on interdependency that encourages solidarity between individuals and informs the consolidation of communities based on proximity to risk. As risks overflow national boundaries, the notion of risk cultivates the formation of communities that extend beyond “the nation.” These are cosmopolitan communities that form and are reconfigured in response to the suffering of others who do not readily belong to one’s own community (Chouliaraki, 2006). However, while the literature on risk society admits that risks and emergencies are socially constructed (Beck, 2011; Calhoun, 2010), it gives little attention to a central social institution which engages with the staging of risk and shapes its perception as such. This social institution is the media.

This book brings together death and the media. In this regard, it joins a body of literature that studies the mediated encounter with death (Chouliaraki, 2006; Hanusch, 2010; Seaton, 2005; Sumiala, 2012; J. Taylor, 1998; Walter, ← 3 | 4 → Littlewood, & Pickering, 1995; Zelizer, 2010; and more). Yet, while most of the literature on death and the media focus on the function of the media from the perspectives of political communication and journalism studies, this book takes a broader sociological and anthropological approach to considering the role of death and the media in organising social life in a global age. By combining theories on cosmopolitanism with theories and concepts from media anthropology (Sumiala, 2012), this book examines whether and how the performance of the media at the occurrence of mass violent death events informs solidarity and interconnectedness on a cosmopolitan level. Namely, the discussion that follows draws on the ritual approach to communication and studies the function of death-related media rituals.

Another important theoretical thread that informs the argument offered in this book comes from moral philosophy. Alongside the sociological explanations for imagining and constructing cosmopolitan community, there is also a moral justification for forming social bonds that encompass all human inhabitants of the earth. The motivation for individuals to come together in times of crisis is a moral imperative which derives from shared human vulnerability and joint commitment to the wellbeing of the other on the basis of common humanity (Butler, 2004; Rorty, 1989). This understanding brings together cosmopolitanism as a sociological reality and as a philosophical ideal (McRobbie, 2006). And, again, the media have a central role in introducing human suffering and portraying the other as worthy of solidarity (or not). The literature on media and morality and on the mediation of suffering (Boltanski, 1999; Chouliaraki, 2006; Frosh & Pinchevski, 2009; Silverstone, 2006) offers a fertile ground for engaging with questions related to the moral work of the media in mediating suffering. This framework is useful and telling; it also engages with questions regarding the mediation of death, while acknowledging the differences between the two.

Accordingly, death rituals, media, and community go hand in hand. So far, the academic discussion on the meeting point of these three elements has focused mostly on local or national communities. This book points to the significance of death also in a global context and shows how the performance of the media, following mass death events, functions as a mechanism that can cultivate transnational solidarity and facilitate the formation of cosmopolitan community. By focusing on the performance of transnational media organisations following the occurrence of mass death events, the book studies the ways in which these ritualistic performances function as a social mechanism that informs the audience about the boundaries of care and belonging to an imagined community. What do the ← 4 | 5 → media tell their audiences about how they should feel and act in relation to the death of distant others?

In order to address this question, the book draws on Lilie Chouliaraki’s analytics of mediation (2006) and develops an analytical framework that aims to capture the ways in which news about death constructs death as grievable (or not). Inspired by the work of Judith Butler (2004, 2009), this book understands grief as a moral-political stance that requires the spectator to morally assess the circumstances of death and express empathy, pity or condemnation accordingly. Grief is a form of expression through which we can understand and measure our responsibility for the misfortune and the wellbeing of the other. And, the news is not only a form of informing the public on the occurrence of death; rather, it is a cultural mechanism to delineate boundaries of belonging and ethical responsibility. Based on this, the book discusses two main media performances and journalistic practices, which their interplay facilitates the construction of grievable death: one that positions the spectators and the sufferers as belonging to a consolidated community based on common humanity; one that articulates the commitment of spectators to care for and be in solidarity with sufferers.

However, these conditions are not always in place. Therefore, this book considers death rituals and media rituals as manifestations of symbolic power that reflect the contestation of power and dominance. It is by acting on representations of death and by managing its visibility that various institutions wish to act upon reality and reinforce their worldview. Accordingly, death-related media rituals are an arena where power struggles over boundaries of inclusion and exclusion, care and solidarity take place. Especially in a global age, death—or, more precisely, the representation of death—is utilised to promote competing worldviews, and the media rituals performed following violent death often reflect that. Thus, this book seeks to offer a nuanced understanding of the various propositions which death-related media rituals make in defining the interrelations between spectators and distant others. The book operationalises these conditions and introduces the analytics of grievability, which offers an analytical framework for the study of news about death.

The book puts the analytics of grievability in play and employs it in a comparative manner to study and analyse the coverage of three different case studies by two global news networks—Al-Jazeera English (AJE) and BBC World News. These two networks cater for similar Western, English-speaking audiences, but they portray a different picture of the world and offer a different perspective of global power dynamics. The three cases selected for this book are the 2011 Norway Attacks, the 2008–2009 Gaza War, and the 2010 Haitian Earthquake. ← 5 | 6 → These events represent the three main types of mass death event (terror attacks, wars and natural disasters) and each entails a different “genre” of media ritual. This comparative framework offers a multi-dimensional approach that captures the complexity of the mediatisation of death in terms of geopolitics, cultural proximity, and the legitimacy of violence and the morality of witnessing death.

The analysis of the three case studies on two global news networks enables the mapping of the mediatisation of mass death events and an accounting for the different propositions the two networks, Al-Jazeera English and BBC World News make for their Western audiences in comprehending mass death events. These propositions contain different ethical solicitations that construe grief as different understandings of the relational ties between spectators and distant others—some promote a cosmopolitan outlook, and some maintain a communitarian outlook.

Three remarks are in place, before introducing the structure of the book:

Firstly, this book aims to explore the possibilities for the construction of cosmopolitan community by viewing the news and participating in death-related media rituals. However, it would be fair to admit that the understanding of the cosmopolitan spectator whom this book has in mind is limited mostly to Western spectatorship. The decision to focus on English-speaking news networks, which cater mostly to Western audiences premises a qualified understanding of cosmopolitanism, which extends beyond a single nation-state, but is still not all-encompassing. Accordingly, when I use the pronoun “we” throughout the book, this term usually refers to Western spectators. This methodological decision makes it harder to propose an all-encompassing cosmopolitan vision. Yet, the decision to include a non-Western media channel creates a Western/non-Western juxtaposition that offers a better understanding of the multi-vocal and multi-directional global media ecology, and thus, it allows a better understanding of how the non-West speaks back to the affluent West. This is of special relevance given the possibility of the West to act upon non-Western suffering (while the other way around is less probable).

Secondly, the premise of Western spectatorship prioritises various cultural perceptions which refer also to death-related issues and to contested questions regarding the presentation and representation of death and its relation to common perceptions of human dignity (or respect for the dead). The appropriate way to publicly present death images is contested and varies across cultures and times. Every culture has a different understanding of the respect towards the dead and what honours them or violates their dignity. Accordingly, in some cultures, news media are very strict about the visual depiction of the dead and the public engagement with death, while in other cultures death is more visible, and the public ← 6 | 7 → engagement with it is more common. I have tried to be as reflexive as possible when dealing with these issues, and yet there is still an inherent bias in the ways in which these issues are addressed here. The analysis considers these issues from the perspective of Western spectators and examines whether they follow prevailing Western journalistic practices and perceptions.

Lastly, this book studies the representations of death on television as death-related media rituals. The centrality of television in generating and circulating news (and news about death) is immense. The engagement with television, in terms of the arrangements of viewing, captures its ritualistic function in summoning large and diverse audiences that simultaneously consume the same audio-visual materials. It is a medium which organises space and time within conventions of production and consumption. Audiences turn to television to engage with the reality “out there” and to get a sense of “order” and “disorder,” “here” and “there,” “us” and “them” through engagement with the medium. Especially in times of crisis, television often serves as the centre to which everybody turns (see also Robertson, 2015).

Indeed, contemporary media ecology offers multiple platforms for engaging with the world and engaging with the news. The internet and the social networks it hosts allow a richer and more complex experience of engagement with the world. Mobile devices allow the consumption of news everywhere, not only at home, and the interactivity of the internet and its social networks enable their consumers to be “users” and not only passive spectators. This brings a range of new possibilities and challenges for the public that consumes the news, some of them of great significance in relation to questions of action and participation (Chouliaraki, 2010; Madianou, 2012). And yet, in this book I focus solely on television for the reasons stated above.

The Structure of This Book

Since what is of interest here is the construction of cosmopolitan communities, the book begins with an exploration of the meeting points of solidarity, rituals and the media and their role in the construction of communities. Chapter 1 begins with an exploration of the concept of solidarity and its accounts in sociology, political theory and moral philosophy. It points to the centrality of solidarity to community formation and the various motivations for cultivating solidarity. The chapter then turns to discussing the role of rituals as a mechanism that brings communities together and informs their sense of solidarity. The chapter proceeds to the meeting ← 7 | 8 → point of rituals and the media, and discusses the role of media rituals in summoning communities of spectators and constituting the bond between them.


XVIII, 268
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVII, 268 pp., 8 b/w ill., 1 table

Biographical notes

Tal Morse (Author)

Tal Morse teaches media and communications at Hadassah Academic College in Jerusalem. He received his PhD from the Department of Media and Communications at The London School of Economics and Political Science. His research focuses on media rituals, death studies, media ethics and visual communications.


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