Samantha Oostlander is a doctoral candidate at the University of Ottawa in the population health program. She has a masters degree in occupational therapy and practices as an occupational therapist in an acute care setting. Within the population health program, Samantha acts as the secretary for the graduate student’s association. For her doctoral research program, Samantha is pursing research that explores how asset-based approaches to policy development can foster adaptive capacity, with a specific focus on high-risk populations. She is supervised by Dr. Tracey O’Sullivan in the EnRiCH lab at the University of Ottawa.
Exploring the journalistic coverage of older adults in disaster contexts
Samantha Oostlander, University of Ottawa, Canada
Olivier Champagne-Poirier, University of Sherbrooke, Canada
Tracey O’Sullivan, University of Ottawa, Canada
Media helps to construct and shape understanding of old age and aging; under-representation and negative stereotyping are two issues that have been identified in previous research exploring the framing of older adults in news media.
We conducted a constructivist grounded theory in which discourse analysis was used to explore how Canadian news media portrays older adults and aging, specifically in a disaster context. With climate change, disasters are continuing to increase in frequency and severity around the world. In Canada, many regions are coping with the heatwaves, forest fires and flooding in the warmer months, and snowstorms in the winter season.
As part of a larger research project on the social construction of resilience, we analyzed 119 news media articles covering five Canadian disasters, including the 2013 Alberta floods, 2016 Fort McMurray wildfires, 2017 and 2019 Ottawa-Gatineau floods, and 2018 Ottawa-Gatineau tornados. In keeping with the theme of ageism for the 15th Global Conference on Aging, ageism acted as a sensitizing concept guiding this study and is reflected in our results. We identified examples of compassionate, inter- and intragenerational ageism, and noted that ageist perceptions and attitudes were amplified by circumstances that threaten the independence, autonomy, and security of older adults.
The four themes we identified were: (1) Stereotypes of older adults are presented on a positive–negative continuum in journalistic coverage of disasters, (2) Journalistic coverage tends to exclude perspectives of older adults from relevant discourse, (3) Journalists assess the value of losses for older adults – ‘home’ as a central concept, and (4) Disasters are framed as disrupting retirement ideals. We created a model depicting the journalistic coverage of older adults in disaster contexts and highlighted examples of positive and negative stereotypes used.
Older adults who were labelled with positive, rather than negative stereotypes, were more likely to be viewed as active participants in the disaster risk reduction process. This has further implications for informing and structuring future disaster risk reduction policies and practices. The social inclusion of older adults in discourse related to disasters and disaster risk reduction may help to mitigate ageist attitudes and promote older adults as more active participants in this process. Media outlets should be encouraged to include the voices of older adults in articles about disasters and disaster risk reduction, and achieve greater diversity.
The voices of older adults experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity, and those who continue to work into old age were missing from the corpus of news media we analyzed. By understanding how the news media portrays older adults in disasters, we can better understand how this contributes to perceptions of vulnerability and resilience in this context.