News Media and the Racialization of Protest: An Analysis of Black Lives Matter Articles

Leopold, Joy; Bell, Myrtle P
Equality, diversity and inclusion an international journal

The purpose of this paper is to examine coverage of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement in seven US-based newspapers to determine whether the protest paradigm, “a pattern of news coverage that expresses disapproval toward protests and dissent,” and other marginalizing techniques are present, and racialized.
Relevant articles published during a six-month period of 2014 near the death of Michael Brown were retrieved from the selected outlets, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the St Louis Post-Dispatch. Textual and content analyses were performed.
The articles heavily followed the paradigm. An additional characteristic, blame attribution, was also identified. Language of crime, lawlessness, violence, blame for nearby acts of violence, and inflammatory quotes from bystanders and official sources were often present. There was little discussion of key issues associated with the formation of BLM.
Mainstream outlets rather than social media or alternative outlets were examined. Future research should study coverage of BLM in other outlets.
Measures to avoid marginalizing protests and racialization of coverage, including increased diversity in the newsroom and monitoring for racialized language are suggested.
Racialization of news and coverage of BLM has widespread negative consequences, such as association of Blacks with criminality that may affect their quality of life. The protest paradigm has the ability to squelch participation in social movements, which have the possibility to bring about needed social change.
This interdisciplinary paper highlights the important role of mainstream media and news routines in affecting the BLM movement. It uses diversity research to make recommendations for media practitioners to avoid racialization of news.