Historical Drifts Without Paradigm Shifts: A Historical Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Social Protest
Unformatted Document Text:
Protest Coverage in Wisconsin Newspapers 1960-1999 -5-
smaller communities cover events in their community differently than regional or national media,
suggesting that the size of the community plays a role in how news events are covered (Breed
1958; Donohue, Olien & Tichenor, 1968).
This case study looks at protest activities in the state of Wisconsin over four decades—
the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s and 1990s—to identify similarities and differences in newspaper
coverage of these protest events across a range of variables from a historical perspective.
Researchers in the past have operated under the assumption that patterns of narrative structures
or news media selection of events are relatively stable across time and issues. Many of their
studies have examined media coverage of social protest within a relatively limited time frame.
This study attempts to examine trends in the nature of protest coverage across a broader time
period, while also examining differences between urban and rural newspaper coverage of social
A brief history of contemporary social movements in America
Though social movements have a long history in the United States, this discussion
focuses on movements contained within the time frame of this study. Most social movements in
the United States have been extremely heterogeneous, fragmented and scattered. Yet, at the same
time they have often been oriented toward participation in the American Dream. Mayer (1991)
identifies three characteristics of contemporary American social movements: an uncomplicated
emergence, a relatively accelerated proliferation, and finally an equally quick dispersal into
disparate and often rapidly declining movements.
The student movement, born in the mid-1960s was preceded and greatly influenced by the
civil rights movement. The student movement was a fundamentally antiauthoritarian movement
focused on opposition to the Vietnam War, but also aimed at achieving university reforms,