, Volume 77, Issue 1, pp 29–46 | Cite as

The evolving narrative of the Darfur conflict as represented in The New York Times and The Washington Post, 2003–2009

  • Joel Gruley
  • Chris S. Duvall


News media influence local to global interactions between people, societies, and governments by producing place images. Representations of Africa in Western news media are heavily imbued with colonialist notions of cultural geography. In particular, Western news media have represented conflicts in Africa as ‘tribal’, a trope that erases geographic and historical context, and discourages actions that could prevent or reduce violent conflict. To determine if ‘tribalism’ remains important in coverage of African conflict, we use framing analysis to evaluate news on Sudan’s Darfur region in The New York Times and The Washington Post during 2003–2009. We find that these newspapers predictably relied on stereotypes related to tribalism to simplify Darfur’s geography and make the conflict meaningful to intended readers. Tribal portrayal of African war is inherently political, and, problematically, neither newspaper recognized that their use of the tribal narrative was parallel to the views of both the Sudanese government and external observers that challenged the actions of the Sudanese government. However, we also found that stereotypical representations became less prominent over time, apparently because reporters found that the initial, simplistic framing of the conflict did not match their encounters with geographic reality. We emphasize the decline in stereotypical tropes, because this suggests behind-the-scenes negotiation about representations in these news organizations. Recognizing voices that challenge stereotypical portrayals is necessary to developing place images that are geographically more accurate.


Postcolonialism Africa News media Discourse analysis War Sudan Framing analysis 



We thank Bilal Butt, Kyle Evered, and Antoinette WinklerPrins for helpful comments on earlier versions of this paper, and Kristy Stanley for help in preparing the manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of GeographyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  2. 2.University of New MexicoAlbuquerqueUSA

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