Cover: How Disasters Drive Media Channel Preferences

How Disasters Drive Media Channel Preferences

Tracing News Consumption Before, During, and After Hurricane Harvey

Published in: Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, Volume 29, Issue 4, pages 342–356 (December 2021). doi: 10.1111/1468-5973.12348

Posted on rand.org Feb 1, 2023

by Elizabeth L. Petrun Sayers, Andrew M. Parker, Rachana Seelam, Melissa L. Finucane

Understanding public media channel preferences can inform preparedness plans, response strategies and long-term recovery. However, questions remain about how media consumption changes across pre-crisis, crisis, and post-crisis phases. Past theories argue that media use may change for several reasons, including during times of societal conflict and challenge. These theories point to the belief that, during a crisis, we expect media channel use to change because media preferences during a crisis will be fundamentally different compared with everyday routines.

This paper takes advantage of a survey fielded to Texas residents soon after Hurricane Harvey. Here, we ask the following: (a) "what media channels are most prominent in each crisis phase?" and (b) "do media channel preferences change across crisis phases?". We use simple descriptive statistics and chi-square tests to describe media channel preferences across the three crisis phases by demographics. Additionally, we use alluvial diagrams to visualize media channel preferences over time. In total, 62% (n = 174) of respondents reported no changes in channel preferences. However, chi-square tests identified significant differences in media use changes related to a handful of demographic characteristics. These findings are explored alongside theories that would hypothesize likely media use changes across pre-crisis, crisis and post-crisis phases.

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