Whose Death Matters? A Quantitative Analysis of Media Attention to Deaths of Black Americans in Police Confrontations, 2013–2016

Zuckerman, Ethan; Matias, J. Nathan; Bhargava, Rahul; Bermejo, Fernando; Ko, Allan
International Journal of Communication; Vol 13 (2019)

Media coverage of deaths of unarmed people of color at the hands of police sharply increased after the high-profile death of Michael Brown. We analyze a novel set of media data to understand reasons for this rise and to postulate a shift in reporting that treats these deaths as part of a larger pattern, crystallized around the “key event” of Michael Brown’s death rather than as unconnected incidents. We see a “news wave” that resulted in increased coverage and sharing of stories about deaths of people of color at the hands of police that aligned with activist efforts such as the Black Lives Matter movement. Our quantitative methods suggest a mechanism for tracking effectiveness of activist efforts to change the framing of important social phenomena in the news.