This dissertation examines media coverage of two social protests set more than three decades apart – “The March on the Pentagon” in October 1967, part of the anti-Vietnam war movement and “The Battle for Seattle” in November-December 1999, part of the movement for democratic globalization. Through two separate studies – a content analysis of print media coverage and qualitative in-depth interviews with journalists – this dissertation looks for patterns of sourcing and framing between the coverage of these two protests. It also examines any possible influence on these patterns caused by journalists’ access to diverse sources and research through the Internet.
This examination is prompted by the current celebration as well as debate over the capacity of the Internet, as a tool of political organization, to empower social movement protests, boost political participation, enhance media coverage and develop the public sphere. This research uses the lenses of sourcing and framing to examine journalists’ reliance on official and authoritative sources in government and trade, the circumstances under which they cite sources of dissent, their preferences and practices in their use of the Internet, their use of the episodic versus thematic frame and the valence in their stories.
The dissertation found that journalists who covered the anti-globalization protests used more official and authoritative sources in government and trade than did their predecessors who covered the anti-Vietnam war protests 30 years ago. No significant difference was found, however, in journalists’ sourcing from among protesters or the frames and valence in the coverage of both protests. Moreover, the coverage did not show any discernible impact of the Internet in either increasing the diversity of journalists’ sources or causing a shift from episodic to thematic frames; journalists exhibited skepticism over protest Web sites and showed a preference for official and authoritative sources even over the Internet.
This dissertation, therefore, points to the endurance of age-old news values and norms despite journalists’ enhanced access through new tools and technologies. It also calls for a continued examination of the Internet’s ability to cause any shift in social movement-media relations, given the impact of these relations on participation and public opinion.