Media Representations of Places: Definition, Concepts, Theory

To what extent and how do the media – press, broadcasting or social – influence our perceptions of places and brands, and as such their image and reputation? With what consequences?

Learn about:

  • Importance of media representations;
  • Why media representations are especially relevant for remote places;
  • Amount and nature of media coverage of places;
  • How news coverage influences reputation;
  • Why the ‘media reputation’ of places is hard to control.

Media representations of places – why care?

Media representations play a crucial role in the place image context. Perceptions of places, including countries or tourist destinations, are influenced by the ways in which they are represented by the media (Boisen et al., 2011).

While images are constructed and communicated through multiple channels, including direct experience, word-of-mouth and audio-visual media (Hudson & Brent-Ritchie, 2006), the mass media are one of the main means by which information is disseminated (Anholt, 2010).

The media play “a major part in informing consumers’ images of destinations…either directly in terms of being read, heard or watched, or indirectly through the advice given by friends, relatives and other sources.” (Hall, 2002, pp. 458-459)

Media representations especially crucial for distant places

Remote places in particular depend on media coverage to become known to the outside world (Avraham, 2000; Avraham & Ketter, 2008; Choi, Lehto, & Morrison, 2007; Dinnie, 2008; Kotler & Gertner, 2011).

What is more, the media’s portrayal of distant places is mostly accepted as their “true” nature by those not living there (Adoni & Mane, 1984; Avraham, 2000; Avraham & Ketter, 2008; Burgess & Gold, 1985; Gold, 1980; Pocock & Hudson, 1978; Relph, 1976).

In this regard, the media also function as a primary source for stereotypes and images associated with distant places (Dahlgren & Chakrapani, 1982; Gold, 1994). Media reporting can also turn remotely located places into areas of possible concern for people living thousands of kilometers away (Chouliaraki, 2006; Cottle, 2009a, 2009b).

Yet, the ability of places to become known through the media is limited by the tendency of the media in many countries to exclude peripheral regions (Avraham, 2003; Lahav & Avraham, 2008).

Amount and nature of media coverage of places

Regarding the amount and nature of media coverage of places, Avraham and Ketter (2008, p. 30; see also Avraham, 2000) – drawing on Manheim and Albritton (1984) – have proposed that places either:

  1. receive much negative coverage,
  2. are not covered by the media except in a negative context, usually related to crime, social problems, natural disasters, etc.,
  3. receive much positive coverage, such as cultural events, tourist activity, or investments, or
  4. are largely ignored by the media but when noticed are covered in a primarily positive light.

How news coverage influences reputation

Carroll and McCombs (2003) offer some guiding principles that help understand the influence of news coverage on (corporate) reputation:

  1. the greater the amount of coverage, the greater public awareness,
  2. attributes emphasized in media coverage become attributes the public uses to define a firm; and
  3. the valence of news coverage, positive or negative, is reflected in corresponding public perceptions about those attributes.

Although those principles were developed with business organizations in mind, they can be considered equally valid for understanding the significance of media reputation for place or national brands. In both situations, brand managers are, at the best, outsiders listening in, if not completely disconnected from such conversations (Humlen, 2012).

Media reputation: difficult to control

Controlling media-constructed reputation of a place is difficult, if not impossible (Murphy, 2010). The reputation an organisation or place enjoys in the media develops over time through a complex social process (Deephouse, 2000, p. 1098); it is constantly challenged and evolving (Murphy, 2010).

Apart from media representations of places being subject to sociopolitical influences beyond the immediate control of places, they also cannot entirely control editorial decisions or other news making characteristics (Avraham & Ketter, 2008).

This is not to say that a place’s reputation (coverage) in the media shouldn’t be closely monitored. Quite the contrary:

Isolated negatives in media coverage should not be dismissed as irrelevant, as “these dissonances may signal nascent patterns that, when they become obvious, may have assumed an immovable logic of their own” (Murphy, 2010, p. 233).


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