Protest coverage largely ignores underlying causes
Excerpted from The Peace Journalist magazine, April 2017.
The first tenet of peace journalism implores reporters to examine the causes of conflict, and to lead discussions about solutions. How much of the anti-Trump protest reporting has addressed the reasons behind the protests?
A Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper articles using the search “anti-Trump protests” from Jan. 20 to March 1 showed that only a minority of stories—24.6%-- discussed the root causes of the protests. Of the 548 articles that came up in a search, 91 discussed racism, 21 sexism, 2 Islamophobia, and 21 xenophobia. In total, there were 135 total mentions of these grievances.
Almost identical results were found regarding broadcast news transcripts. During the same time period, for the 227 hits generated by the search, 34 stories mentioned racism, 0 sexism, 1 Islamophobia, and 24 xenophobia. There were 59 total mentions of these root causes that appeared in 25.9% of the total number of broadcast stories.
It is important to note is that in both newspapers and broadcast transcripts, for the purposes of the mini-study, I counted each mention of each word (xenophobia, sexism, etc.) as a separate “hit”, thus it’s possible, even likely, that several of these terms no doubt appeared in the same story.
Thus, no more than one in four news pieces about the protests has gone into detail about the stated grievances behind the protests. Instead, these stories have provided nothing but superficial and sensational “blow by blow” coverage. What did get covered? Most stories provided details about how many attended, whether there were any arrests, etc., along with simple, succinct, superficial quotes
Peace journalists, in contrast, would provide depth and context, rather than just superficial and sensational coverage of events like protests, which after all are merely the visible surface manifestations of a roiling sea of underlying discontent.