Peace Journalism approach needed in protest coverage
As the resistance to the Trump administration continues, with major protests seemingly every few days, some media outlets, faced with how to cover the resistance, seem to be lapsing into familiar patterns of coverage.
A recent mini content analysis of news about the anti-Trump protests shows most notably a gap among different media in the way the cover the grievances that underlie the protests.
A Lexis-Nexis search of newspaper articles about the anti-Trump protests from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20 showed that many stories discussed the root causes of the protests. Of the first 1000 articles that came up in a search, 389 discussed racism, 63 sexism, 44 Islamophobia, and 373 xenophobia. Thus, there were 869 total mentions of these grievances. Fox News coverage was different. During the same time period, for the first 1000 hits generated by the search, 157 stories mentioned racism, 16 sexism, 6 Islamophobia, and 125 xenophobia. The total Fox mentions of these grievances fueling the protests were 304—much less than half the 869 mentions in the same number of newspaper stories.
This result, while not surprising, provides yet another justification for peace journalism, the first tenet of which implores journalists to examine the causes of conflict, and to lead discussions about solutions.
Also, media of all stripes seem intent on labeling the protests and protesters. The newspaper search showed mentions of protesters as angry (125), violent (137), and bitter (14). Fox also reinforced the stereotype of protesters as angry (158), violent (165), and bitter (27).
Peace journalism encourages journalists to reject such superficial labels that reinforce stereotypes, myths, and misperceptions. Are the protesters more than just bitter losers, angry that their candidate lost the election last fall? Are isolated incidences of violence being overplayed and exaggerated, creating negative misperceptions about 99.9% of the protesters?
Indeed, peace journalists must provide depth and context, rather than just superficial and sensational “play by play” of events like protests, which after all are merely the visible surface manifestations of a roiling sea of underlying discontent.
In my book Peace Journalism Principles and Practices, I encourage journalists to report counter-narratives that provide different perspectives on the protesters. One such example can be found in the Kansas City Star.
The Star’s article (Feb. 16) on the “Day without Immigrants” protest, for example, centered on Marisol Cervantes, who crossed a desert to enter the U.S. but now “lives in fear” of the Trump administration.
In another example, Al.com, which features articles from three Alabama newspapers, profiles undocumented immigrant Cesar Mata and his impressions about Trump’s plan to build a border wall.
If journalists are really interested in rebuilding their wobbly credibility, a good place to start would be with articles like these that offer stereotype-busting, contextual counternarratives that go beyond superficial labels and breathless “play by play” descriptions of protests and protesters.