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Humanitarianism, Communications and Change


Edited By Simon Cottle and Glenda Cooper

Humanitarianism, Communications and Change is the first book to explore humanitarianism in today’s rapidly changing media and communications environment. Based on the latest academic thinking alongside a range of professional, expert and insider views, the book brings together some of the most authoritative voices in the field today. It examines how the fast-changing nature of communications throws up new challenges but also new possibilities for humanitarian relief and intervention. It includes case studies deployed in recent humanitarian crises, and significant new communication developments including social media, crisis mapping, SMS alerts, big data and new hybrid communications. And against the backdrop of an increasingly globalized and threat-filled world, the book explores how media and communications, both old and new, are challenging traditional relations of communication power.


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When Michael Buerk revealed to the world the extent of famine in Korem, Ethiopia, in 1984, his startling report became perhaps the biggest story that the BBC did in the 1980s until the fall of the Berlin Wall (Simpson, 1998). His seven-minute report contained only his own voice and that of a white doctor (Cooper, 2007); the video rushes were carried back to London, as Buerk wrote and rewrote his script on the night flight from Kenya. The result however was astonishing. As Franks writes: “In an era before satellite, social media and YouTube, the BBC report went viral— being transmitted by more than 400 television stations worldwide” (Franks, 2013). The iconic imagery of the Buerk report still overshadows humanitarian re- porting today. But the world in which one man told an amazing story, able to keep it as an exclusive as he travelled back across the world, has changed. Today, as this collection shows there are many more channels for such stories to be told through, and many different types of storytellers. Journalists and aid agencies are no longer the sole gatekeepers to such information. Instead we have seen how citizens have taken on the role of witness, how NGOs have transformed themselves into storytellers, and how journalists such as CNN’s Anderson Cooper have abandoned traditional approaches of objec- tivity in order to intervene themselves. Edited highlights of Cooper’s career on YouTube ( show him rescu- ing a small boy from a mob in Haiti, taking...

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