2007 J. Disp. Resol. 185 (2007)
News Coverage and Social Protest: How the Media's Protect Paradigm Exacerbates Social Conflict

handle is hein.journals/jdisres2007 and id is 189 raw text is: News Coverage and Social Protest:
How the Media's Protest Paradigm
Exacerbates Social Conflict
Douglas M. McLeod*
I. INTRODUCTION
Past research on media coverage of social protests has yielded evidence of a
protest paradigm: a set of news coverage patterns that typifies mainstream media
coverage. This coverage generally disparages protesters and hinders their role as
vital actors on the political stage. The lack of respect for the value of social pro-
test inherent in such coverage has created frustration among the protesters, which
has in turn contributed to dysfunctional confrontations. However, under certain
conditions, journalists will deviate from the protest paradigm. Such aberrations
were found in the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the May 1, 2006, Day without
Immigrants demonstrations. An analysis of this coverage reveals that the report-
ers relaxed the conventions of the protest paradigm in favor of more constructive
forms of news coverage, permitting a more functional discourse to emerge from
the conflict. Based on insights gleaned from this analysis, this paper argues that
society would reap enormous benefits if journalists would abandon the traditional
protest paradigm in favor of multi-perspective approaches. Following a summary
of this analysis, specific suggestions for improving protest coverage are made,
which will ultimately enhance the dynamics and outcomes of social conflicts.
Most protest groups operate with limited resources and have a difficult time
securing public visibility, disseminating information, and exerting influence.
Though the Internet has certainly compensated somewhat for the lack of resources
in achieving such goals, most protest groups still attempt to engage mass media.
However, getting media attention puts many protest groups in a precarious situa-
tion. A peaceful protest that focuses on articulating issue positions is not likely to
fit established news conventions for what makes a good news story. As such,
protest groups often engage in activities that provide the kind of drama that gar-
ners media attention. For example, the media largely ignored the Minneapolis
anti-pornography movement until demonstrators ransacked an adult bookstore.'
Anarchist protests in Minneapolis got the attention of local media when they im-
paled a Pillsbury doughboq, demolished a TV set, and smashed the windows of a
Marine recruiting station.  Protests against the World Trade Organization got
* Professor, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, University of Wisconsin-Madison.
1. See Douglas M. McLeod & James K. Hertog, Social Control and the Mass Media's Role in the
Regulation of Protest Groups: The Communicative Acts Perspective, in MASS MEDIA, SOCIAL
CONTROL AND SOCIAL CHANGE 305, 314-15 (David Demers & Viswanath Kasisomayajula eds.,
1999).
2. Douglas M. McLeod & James K. Hertog, The Manufacture of Public Opinion by Reporters:
Informal Cues for Public Perceptions of Protest Groups, in DISCOURSE AND SOCIETY 3, 259, 263, 269
(Teun A. van Dijk ed., 1992).

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