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Historical Drifts Without Paradigm Shifts: A Historical Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Social Protest
Unformatted Document Text:  Protest Coverage in Wisconsin Newspapers 1960-1999 -22- There are also slight differences between urban and rural newspapers in the prominence of stories about social protest, as well as the valence of those stories and their headlines toward the protest. While both urban and rural newspaper stories wereprimarily neutral in valence over the decades, they fluctuated in the number of protests they treat positively or critically. Rural papers were less critical toward protests across all of the decades, but that may reflect coverage of protests that are outsie the local community and thus are not posing a threat to the local community. Protests remained prominent in the front section of the newspapers in both urban and rural papers across all four decades. However, in later decades, the papers started giving more weight to protest articles by writing longer articles. In urban papers, the increase in medium-sized articles started in the 1980s. Rural papers started writing more medium-sized articles in the 1990s. The increased prominence coupled with the neutral valence of protest articles could reflect a maturing relationship between activists and media. The activists have had half a century of history from which to learn methods for successful protests. If indeed the success of a protest hinges upon effective media coverage, protest groups must learn the preferred tastes of the press. In turn, the press knows what kind of story will bring in readers, which often includes stories about social conflict. The trends through history suggest that the elements that make a prominent story are not only the activities occurring at a protest, but other elements such as the topic of the protest, the target, and location. There are likely to be many complex interactions that determine why certain aspects of protests form different trends from decade to decade. For example, there is a question of whether certain protests received more coverage because they are part of a larger trend. Different decades

Authors: Devanathan, Narayan., Boyle, Michael., Shevy, Mark., McCluskey, Michael., Stein, Susan., Hillback, Elliott. and McLeod, Douglas.
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Protest Coverage in Wisconsin Newspapers 1960-1999 -22-
There are also slight differences between urban and rural newspapers in the prominence
of stories about social protest, as well as the valence of those stories and their headlines toward
the protest. While both urban and rural newspaper stories wereprimarily neutral in valence over
the decades, they fluctuated in the number of protests they treat positively or critically. Rural
papers were less critical toward protests across all of the decades, but that may reflect coverage
of protests that are outsie the local community and thus are not posing a threat to the local
community. Protests remained prominent in the front section of the newspapers in both urban
and rural papers across all four decades. However, in later decades, the papers started giving
more weight to protest articles by writing longer articles. In urban papers, the increase in
medium-sized articles started in the 1980s. Rural papers started writing more medium-sized
articles in the 1990s.
The increased prominence coupled with the neutral valence of protest articles could
reflect a maturing relationship between activists and media. The activists have had half a century
of history from which to learn methods for successful protests. If indeed the success of a protest
hinges upon effective media coverage, protest groups must learn the preferred tastes of the press.
In turn, the press knows what kind of story will bring in readers, which often includes stories
about social conflict. The trends through history suggest that the elements that make a prominent
story are not only the activities occurring at a protest, but other elements such as the topic of the
protest, the target, and location.
There are likely to be many complex interactions that determine why certain aspects of
protests form different trends from decade to decade. For example, there is a question of whether
certain protests received more coverage because they are part of a larger trend. Different decades


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