Historical Drifts Without Paradigm Shifts: A Historical Analysis of Newspaper Coverage of Social Protest
Unformatted Document Text:
Protest Coverage in Wisconsin Newspapers 1960-1999 -7-
RQ1: What patterns of protest activities and social movements emerge over these four
decades in Wisconsin as reflected by their coverage in Wisconsin newspapers?
Location. Location. Locality.
One of the “rules” of the newspaper game since the late nineteenth century has been an
emphasis on local news (Baughman, 2001). Editors have invested heavily in local events to
provide an advantage over rivals in nearby communities, at the same time reducing coverage of
national and international happenings. Readers’ positive reactions to this trend has bolstered the
emphasis on the local community.
Beyond the focus on the local community, there are other reasons to expect that small,
local papers will be reluctant to cover protests. Breed (1958) asserted that newspapers in smaller
communities are less likely to report on controversy in public affairs, and may omit or bury items
that might jeopardize the socio-cultural structure and the public’s faith in it. Olien, Donohue and
Tichenor (1968) found that newspapers in larger communities were more likely to report on
conflict than newspapers in smaller communities. These authors argue that smaller communities
have fewer mechanisms for protecting the social order against the total disruption that might
result from uncontrolled public dispute, and the community may look to the press as an
instrument for tension management.
Journalists at smaller newspapers may have different views about their roles than
colleagues at larger newspapers. Much of that may be tied to their perception of where they fit
within the smaller communities. Editors at small-town newspapers are much more likely to
identify with the community and work to protect the community’s image than editors or