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Overthrowing the Protest Paradigm? - Harlow & Johnson

Overthrowing the Protest Paradigm? - Harlow & Johnson

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InternationalJournalofCommunication
5
(2011),Feature1359-13741932-8036/2011FEA1359
TheArabSpring
-
TheRoleofICTs
OverthrowingtheProtestParadigm?How
TheNewYorkTimes,
GlobalVoicesandTwitterCoveredtheEgyptianRevolution
SUMMERHARLOWTHOMAS
J.
JOHNSON!
UniversityofTexasatAustin
Withsocial-mediadrivenprotestseruptingacrosstheArabworld,thiscontentanalysisofEgyptianprotestcoveragein
TheNewYorkTimes,
theTwitterfeedof
Times
reporterNickKristof,andthecitizenmediasiteGlobalVOices,examineswhetherthede-legitimizing"protestparadigm"foundinmainstreammediaisreplicatedinsocialmediaandblogs,andwhatimpacttheirprotestcoveragehasontheircredibility.Resultsshowedthat
TheTimes
adheredtotheparadigmbyemphasizingthespectacle,quotingofficialsources,andde-valuingprotestersasreportersmaintainedanimpartialrole.Incontrast,GlobalVoicesandKristof'sTwitterfeedtookdifferentapproaches,legitimizingprotestersandservingascommentators/analysts,evenactors,intheunfoldingevents.GlobalVoicesalsoprovidedmoreopportunitiesforreaderinteractivity.
Introduction
Scholarslonghavenotedthecomplexrelationshipbetweenthemediaandprotestgroups.Mainstreammediaoftendiscreditandmarginalizeprotestactions,withjournalistsrelyingona"protestparadigm"thatfocusesontactics,spectacles,anddramaticactions,ratherthantheunderlyingreasonsfortheprotest(Chan
&
Lee,1984;Gitlin,1980;McLeod
&
Hertog,1999).Atthesametime,protestersmustrelyonthemediatoreachthepublicandpolicymakers(Rucht,1991).Tocombatthenegativeportrayalsofprotesterstypicallyfoundintraditionalmedia,socialmovementsandactivistsoftenturntoalternativemediaoutletsorcreatetheirownmedia(Downing,2001;Rodriguez,2001;Padovani,2010).Mostrecently,protesters,suchthoseasinTunisiaandEgypt,haveturnedtoonlinesocialmedialikeFacebookandTwittertomobilizepro-democracysocialmovementsandstartrevolution,illustratinghow,intoday'sDigitalEra,theInternethasbecomeakeyalternativemediatoolforactivism(Kenix,2009;Raghavan,2009).
1
TheauthorswouldliketothankUniversityofTexasdoctoralstudentsIngridBachmannandJ.IanTennantfortheirhelpincodingcontent.Copyright
©
2011(SummerHarlow,summerharlow@hotmail.comandThomas
J.
Johnson,tom.johnson@austin.utexas.edu).LicensedundertheCreativeCommonsAttributionNon-commercialNoDerivatives(by-nc-nd).Availableathttp://ijoc.org.
 
1360SummerHarlow,ThomasJ.JohnsonInternationalJournalofCommunication5(2011)Whetherthroughblogsorsocialmedia,theInternetallowsprotesterstocircumventthegatekeepingoftraditionalmediaandtakecontrolofthemessagetheywantpresentedpublicly(Postmes&Brunsting,2002).FortheprotestersinEgypt,theZapatistasinMexico,andahostofotheronlineactivists,"newcommunicationtechnologiesarefundamentaltotheexistence"ofthesesocialmovementsthatarecharacteristicofwhatCastelisreferredtoasthe"networksociety"(1997,p.164).TheInternet,infact,canbeseenasacounterpublicsphereforvoicingalternativeviews,buildingsolidarity,andencouragingempowerment(Downing,2003;Fraser,1990;Kellner,2000)that,ultimately,canleadtoarevolutionandtheendofa30-yearautocraticregime,asevidencedbytheFebruary2011resignationofEgyptianPresidentHosniMubarak.Inlightoftherecentsocialmedia-ledEgyptianrevolution,itisworthconsideringwhetherthenegative,de-legitimizing"protestparadigm"foundinmainstreammediacoverageisreplicatedinsocialmediaandblogs.Orhavesocialmediaandblogsadoptedadifferentnarrativestructurethatoffersmorein-depthandcontextualizedinformation,morealternativevoices,andmoreofabottom-up,participatoryapproachthatcouldpromptgreatercredibilityamongreaders?Withinatheoreticalframeworkofsocialmovementandcredibilitytheories,thisstudydrawsonacontent
analysts
ofcoverageoftheEgyptianprotests
inTheNewYorkTimes(NYT)
online,
NYT
reporterNickKristof'sTwitterfeed,andtheGlobalVoicesblog,toexaminetheframesused,portrayalsofprotesters,sourcescited,amountofuserinteraction,andlevelofauthorinvolvementtoshowwhetherthemediummatterswhenitcomestotheprotestparadigm.Thisstudyisnotaboutwhetherthesemediainfluencedmobilization,butwhethernewmediaarecreatinganewprotestparadigm.WhilethetraditionalprotestparadigmandothersocialmovementtheoriesweredevelopedwithWesterndemocraciesinmind,theystillcontain"powerfultheoreticalfoundationsthatcancrossregionalboundaries"(EI-Mahdi,2009,p.1016).
TheoryandLiteratureReview
The"ProtestParadigm"
Studieshaveshownthathowthemediaportrayprotestersinfluencesnotonlyhowthepublicwillperceivetheprotestersandtheirclaims,butalsowhetherthepublicwillsupporttheprotesters(DetenberetaI.,2007;McLeod,1995;McLeod
&
Detenber,1999).Whenitcomestocoverageofprotestevents,thetraditionalnewsmediatendtofollowasetroutineandpatternofcharacteristicsreferredtoasthe"protestparadigm"(Chan
&
Lee,1984).McLeodandHertog(1999)extendedthisideaofanewstemplateforprotestcoverage,specifyingelementssuchasnarrativestructure,orframing,andarelianceonofficialsources-elementsthatlead,ultimately,tothede-legitimization,marginalization,andevendemonizationofprotesters.Further,thisroutinizedparadigmfocusesonthespectacleoftheprotest,highlightingsensationaldetailssuchasviolence,visibledrama,anddeviantorstrangebehavior(Gitlin,1980;Hertog
&
McLeod,1995;Kielbowicz
&
Scherer,1986).BayatcontendsthatWesternmediaportrayprotestsintheArabworldeitheras"irrational"and"aggressive,"oras"apathetic"and"dead,"meaning"the'Arabstreet'isdamnedifitdoesanddamnedifitdoesn't"(2003,para.4).
 
InternationalJournalofCommunication5(2011)OverthrowingtheProtestParadigm?1361Narrativestructures,orframes,arederivedfromGoffman's(1974)conceptof"schemas,"heuristictoolsallowingindividualstoprocessandunderstandnewinformation.Entman(1993)saidthatmediaframesconstructamessagethroughselection,exclusion,emphasis,andelaboration.Framesidentifyproblems,establishtheircauses,offermoraljudgments,andrecommendsolutions.Ratherthantellreaderswhattothinkabout,framestelltheaudiencehowtothinkaboutsomething(Reese,2007).Howsomethingisframedhasbeenshowntoshapethepublic'schoiceofwhomtoblameforsocial,political,andeconomicproblems(Iyengar,1991).Intermsofproteststories,thenewsmediacanemploy"injustice"framesthatassignblameandemphasizemoraloutrage(Gamson,1992).Framescaninvokesympathy,asWolfsfeld(1997)putitwhenarguingthatthemoresympatheticcoveragegiventothe"challengers"andtheirviews,themoreofficialandstrongtheircausebecomes.Framescanalsobelegitimizingorde-legitimizing,fosteringthepublic'ssupportforactivistsormarginalizingactivists'actions(Gitlin,1980;McLeod
&
Hertog,1999).BoyleandHoeschen(2001)offeratypology,includingtheconceptof"accountability"stories,whichdemandscrutinyofpolicyandgovernmentaction.Mostoften,newsstoriesaboutprotestsareframedtoemphasizedeviantbehavior,violence,andconfrontationsbetweenpoliceandprotesters,evenifthemajorityoftheprotestershavebeenpeaceful(McLeod
&
Hertog,1999).Suchspectacleframesobfuscatetheunderlyingissuesthathavefueledtheprotests,servingtodiscredittheprotestersandperhapsevendissuadepotentialsupporters(Gitlin,1980;Murdock,1973).Framingissoimportantbecauseithelpstodeterminewhetheramovementwillmobilize,andhowsuccessfulaprotestactionmightbe(Snow,Rochford,Worden,
&
Benford,1986).Aframe'scredibility(suchasconsistencybetweenamovement'sidealsandactions)andsalience(howessentialamovement'sidealsareineverydaylife)arefundamentaltoamovement'ssuccess(Benford
&
Snow,2000).Gamson(1992)articulatestheconceptof"frameresonance,"wherebypersonalexperiences,communitybeliefs,andmediadiscourseimpacthowtheaudiencewillunderstandaframe.
If
aframeresonatesinallthreeoftheseareas,mobilizationismorelikelytooccur(ibid.).ThisstudydoesnotconsiderhowframingwasusedtomobilizetheEgyptianrevolt,butrather,oncetheuprisinghadbegun,howdifferent'formsofmediaportrayedtheprotestersandtheiractions.Doingsoallowsforanexaminationofwhetherornottheprotestparadigmchangesbasedonthemedium,andofwhatthatmeansintermsofcredibilityforthenewsoutletandlegitimacyfortheprotesters.Consideringtheprecedingliteratureregardingframing,thefirstquestionsthisresearchwillanswerarethefollowing:RQ1a:Whatmajorframesareemployedin
TheNewYorkTimes,
NickKristof'sTwitterfeed,andGlobalVoices?RQlb:Howdoframesvarybetween
TheNewYorkTimes,
NickKristof'sTwitterfeed,andGlobalVoices?RQ2a:Howaretheprotestersportrayedin
TheNewYorkTimes,
NickKristof'sTwitterfeed,andGlobalVoices?

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