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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Local News Coverage of a National Movement: An Analysis of Same-Sex Marriage Campaigns in 8 States

  • Author(s): Motes, Alice
  • Advisor(s): Polletta, Francesca
  • et al.

Scholars consider news media coverage an important factor in understanding social movements' success. Some organizations are more successful in gaining coverage than others. Scholars suggest this relates to organizational characteristics, political contexts, and journalists' media routines and news values. Media coverage can be further distinguished into substantive or favorable coverage as defined by organizations getting not just mentioned, but quoted and getting their claims or demands in coverage. Moreover, local media differ from national media in their focus on local voices and actors. But, what does local media coverage of a national movement look like in local contests? When reporters have access to national, state affiliated, or local organizations, which organizations speak for the movement? Do journalistic news values and routines apply uniformly to all movement actors in coverage?

This study addresses these questions using a content analysis of 1113 newspaper articles appearing across 8 daily capital city newspapers ranging in dates from 2000-2011. Using data from the content analysis a small dataset was created for statistical analysis. This study finds that organizational characteristics, tactics, political contexts, and journalists' routines and news values influence the quality and quantity of coverage that organizations receive. Overall, local organizations dominate coverage, especially during legislative and public referendum fights. However, coverage tends to focus on just a small handful of local organizations and coverage is subject to a rigorous balancing norm. These are either established local organizations or newly formed issue specific coalition organizations. National organizations appear more consistently than state affiliated organizations, but the quality of their coverage is best in judicial contests and limited in legislative and referendum contests. An examination of other actors in coverage reveals that not all movement coverage is rigorously balanced like organizations' coverage. Religious organizations, bystanders, and the photographs accompanying coverage are unbalanced. These results indicate that organizational characteristics, tactics, political contexts and local journalists' priorities influence local news media coverage outcomes. Further, some elements of a movements' coverage can escape the strong balancing norm to provide valuable opportunities for favorable coverage.

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