Visual Reporting of Heatwaves

Over the last few years, several of us working in climate visual communication have raised the issue of problematic visuals embedded in media reporting of heatwaves. Whilst the text often portrays the seriousness of the risks of extreme hot weather, the photographs and other types of visuals used to represent the heatwave do not. Many of the images used in heatwave reporting seem instead to suggest a visual discourse of ‘fun in the sun’ – eating ice-creams, splashing about in city fountains or relaxing at the beach. Having visuals that contradict the text is not unusual in climate reporting (e.g. DiFrancesco and Young) but it is particularly problematic in the context of extreme heat.

For more information about why heatwave imagery is currently problematic, and what sorts of imagery might help to open up this visual discourse, see my blog at Carbon Brief: How heatwave images in the media can better represent climate risks.

In this project, I am leading a team of researchers to analyse visual coverage of the 2019 heatwaves. Together, we have analysed visual coverage from major online newspapers across four countries: the Netherlands, France, Germany and the UK. The team is as follows:

Marie-Noëlle Doutreix, Information and Communication Sciences, Université Lyon 2
Joshua Ettinger, Geography, University of Oxford
Sylvia Hayes, Geography, University of Exeter
James Painter, Environmental Change Institute, University of Oxford
Andreas Schuck, Communication Science, University of Amsterdam
Nadine Strauß, Communication and Media Research, University of Zurich
Katherine Steentjes, School of Psychology, University of Cardiff
Ned Westwood, Environmental Intelligence CDT, University of Exeter

We hope to conduct future work to test the valence (the intrinsic positive or negative quality) of the imagery we find with a representative audience cohort, to test our assumptions about how heatwave imagery is perceived.