In Sarah Sobieraj’s article, “Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists, and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility,” she examines the relationship between political journalists and activists and the manner in which activism is perceived to be newsworthy by the media. The core problem between these two actors, Sobieraj argues, is that activists go out of their way to conform to the norms of routine political reporting, which actually lessens journalists’ opinions of their authenticity. She asserts that authenticity is crucial for journalists when determining whether or not an activist or activist event should be deemed newsworthy and therefore covered.
Sobieraj conducted a study around the key campaign events of the 2000 and 2004 presidential elections and the activism that surrounded them. One element of her study examined newspaper coverage of these activist groups’ attempts to create events to gain media coverage. Overall she found that these groups were rarely covered in a meaningful way by newspapers and were often not even mentioned by name. Sobieraj goes on to say, however, that activist groups that drew on the crime story model (presenting the activity as a threat to order) were taken seriously by the media and considered newsworthy. Sobieraj’s argument then begs the question: Do activist groups have to pose a threat to order or create heated conflicts in order to be considered newsworthy?
Gun control activist group, “Everytown for Gun Safety,” was created in 2014 to counter the National Rifle Assocation and other gun-rights groups. The group was formed when former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s organization Mayors Against Illegal Guns joined with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, a grassroots campaign that began the day after the devastating school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
In June of 2014, Everytown organized a postcard campaign urging for people to send postcards with the phrase, “Not One More” to each individual’s U.S. House Representative, Senators and governors. According to Everytown’s website, an estimated 2.4 million postcards were delivered with the message.
When searching for coverage of this event, however, the number of stories was slim. Arizona newspaper, The Republic, did publish a story on the event in which the name of the activist organization was mentioned. However, the story did not mention the group’s goals or mission and focused mainly on the emotional and personal aspects of the story, or as Sobieraj might argue, the “authentic” aspects.
Stories by other news organizations across the country, for example in states such as Arkansas, Texas and Oregon mirrored that of Arizona, a brief mention of the organization, but a focus on personal and emotion anecdotes. National news organization, MSNBC, wrote a story on the event, but it too only briefly mentioned Everytown and then went on to focus on other aspects of the story, such as current gun-control policies, rather than the organization itself.
This is just a small example of an activist group event’s coverage in the news, but it seems to be somewhat in accordance with Sobieraj’s argument. However, this event did get coverage, even if it wasn’t explicitly about the organization and its mission. It would be interesting to see how Everytown viewed the media coverage they received and whether or not the organization as a whole was pleased. Overall, news coverage is clearly important to activist groups like Everytown, as shown by page dedicated to it titled, “In the News” on their website. If this small example is any indication, Sobieraj’s argument continues to be extremely relevant.
Sobieraj, Sarah. “Reporting Conventions: Journalists, Activists, and the Thorny Struggle for Political Visibility.” Social Problems (2010): 505-28.