Protests in the news

Posted on January 7, 2013

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It’s very interesting to see how the media covers (or fails to cover) protests. I read in headline from a large international news source today that “hundreds” demonstrated for press freedom in China. Funny thing is, “hundreds” is actually not very many people. I have seen protests with 200-500 people and they barely made a blip in the local news, let alone get international coverage.

These reports raise interesting and important questions, well beyond the content of the article. It makes you think, what is the logic behind the choice to report certain events. Is it merely a case of what events filter into the news office? Unlikely – in this case the choice to report even this comparatively small protest is in line with the outlet’s interest in press and individual freedom in China. Which is not a bad thing. But it does throw into sharp relief the power of large news outlets in shaping, maybe not automatically public opinion, but certainly the public story and dialog.

News coverage of your protest action accounts for nearly all it’s impact unless you are bringing in many thousands of people – and even then if several large outlets choose to minimize the event (which they can and sometimes will do, for diverse reasons) it will slip very quickly from the public eye and collective memory.

*I’m talking here of big written-news outlets – newspapers and their online counterparts. I discount TV news since it’s rarely more than cut-down fluff to entertain people after dinner.

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