Managing media sensationalism in the event of an airline disaster

Goodfellow Publishers
Publication Type:
Reputation and Image Recovery for the Tourism Industry, 2019, pp. 195 - 212
Issue Date:
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Airlines are a critical sector in the tourism industry. Progress in travel and mobility presents both opportunities and challenges to airline companies (Henderson, 2003). Airlines put a premium on the safety of travellers in their journey to and from destinations. They are meant to be prepared for potential disruptions to their operations. Airlines are, however, susceptible to certain tragic events that come without warning and bring fatal consequences (Fishman, 1999; Henderson, 2003). An airline crash is one of them. Causes of plane crashes vary from technical failure, manufacturing defects, extreme weather conditions, human error, or a combination of these. Post the September 11 World Trade Centre attacks, acts of terrorism are added to the list. Regardless of what causes a plane to crash, the unpredictability and high concentration of death and injury in a single event commonly lead to extreme grief and anger among members of the public (Gerken et al., 2016; Henderson, 2003). When a plane crashes, the host airline company encounters intense government, media and public scrutiny (Faulkner, 2001; Fishman, 1999; Henderson, 2003). Airline crashes provide an emotionally compelling as well as highly visual and textual media story (Vincent et al., 1997 cited in Fishman, 1999). Events surrounding an airline crash provide journalists and media practitioners with various narratives and perspectives that they can choose to use in writing stories about the incident. Media stories influence organisational reputation, which is defined as “collective representation of images of an organisation established over time” (Cornelissen, 2011:8). In media coverage of airline crashes, framing is a way for media practitioners to promote salient angles or storylines about the crash (Entman, 1993). It is critical for airline management to examine storylines about the airline crash because media reports influence stakeholder perceptions. Media reports of a plane crash provide audiences with “visible public expressions of approval or disapproval of [airlines] and their actions” (Valentini & Romenti, 2011:361). Therefore, effectively managing media in news reports of an airline crisis is crucial to an airline company to restore its reputation. An airline’s reputation influences travel decisions and thus impacts tourism and hospitality industry as a whole.
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