Mobile Media Museum in Armenia Chronicles Reporting on a Devastating Earthquake

October 2, 2013

Media coverage of the 1988 Spitak earthquake that killed more than 25,000 people in northern Armenia and left more than half a million homeless is the subject of the first exhibition of the Mobile Media Museum (Lratun, or “NewsHouse” in Armenian), which opened at the Still Art Gallery in Gyumri, Armenia in September.

The museum, which was designed and created by the Armenian NGO Media Initiatives Center and is supported by Internews, presents the history and development of Armenian media over the past 25 years.

The Earthquake that Shocked the Media,” analyzes how the political realities of the time, including Soviet censorship and strained relations with Azerbaijan over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabagh, affected coverage of the quake. It examines the difficulties of working as a journalist following a catastrophic event, including how simple human sympathy and emotional distress affect journalists trying to cover tragedies impartially.

Explore a 3D panorama view of the exhibition:




"This is an exhibit not about the earthquake, but about the work of journalists, the relationship between journalists and the public, and about the feat required of journalists, who, god willing, sometimes succeed and sometimes not," said the museums’ coordinator, Vahram Martirosyan, who in 2012 produced a series of nine multimedia articles featuring materials from the exhibition.

The quake was of only moderately high magnitude (6.9 on the Richter scale), but the devastation resulting from it was enormous: nearly 60 towns were completely destroyed, due largely to poor building design and faulty construction. Thousands of schools, apartment buildings and hospitals collapsed, crippling the ability to provide medical care to survivors.

The exhibition demonstrates how the magnitude of the tragedy and international interest forced the Soviet government to relax control over the press and allow for the first time in Soviet history a massive influx of foreign aid to treat victims and rebuild the affected territory.

Through interactive touchscreen exhibits, interviews with prominent Armenian journalists, and archival video footage, photos, and newspapers, the Mobile Media Museum helps visitors understand how the country’s media changed following the collapse of the Soviet Union and how media outlets covered various important events in its history since independence.

The museum also includes a general media literacy component, which introduces visitors, primarily high school and university students, to news production techniques and helps them approach news critically and analytically. Games, quizzes and tests teach visitors about the problems journalists may face in unexpected situations and ask them to solve ethical journalistic dilemmas.

“This exhibition is just the beginning of the big idea of Lratun, which aims to bring media education to the public at large,” said Nouneh Sarkissian, managing director of the Media Initiatives Center. “We hope to continue the series of exhibitions while developing the idea further.”

Watch a video about Soviet media coverage of the earthquake and about the Mobile Media Museum:

During October, this first exhibition of the Mobile Media Museum will travel to various other cities and towns across Armenia, including Vanadzor, Martuni, and Kapan.

The Mobile Media Museum is the realization of a long-time dream of Sarkissyan and the Media Initiatives Center, which was formerly known as Internews Armenia. It was made possible with support and funding from USAID.