Local Media Responds to George Floyd
Published June 2021
In the days after George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin on May 25, 2020, cities across the U.S. broke out in protests and local and national media raced to cover the events as they unfolded. This study seeks to illustrate how the breaking news reporting of Philadelphia’s media ecosystem presented these protests and related events to the city’s residents in their immediate aftermath. To do so, this report analyzes articles related to the protests from 19 of the news partners of the Broke in Philly collaborative during the week of May 30 through June 7, 2020. The headlines, images, and article content in the corpus were examined through the lens of existing media scholarship on protest coverage. The results point towards how such events might be covered by local news outlets going forward, with an eye towards solutions, solidarity, and collaboration.
- The headlines of protest-related articles during the time period analyzed focused more on responses to protests (i.e. counter-protests, public officials’ statements, the future of two local symbols of former mayor Frank Rizzo) than on the source of the unrest or protesters’ demands.
- Of the people quoted or directly paraphrased in the articles, 37.5% were either public officials or members of law enforcement, while 15.8% were protesters. By contrast, 43.8% of images analyzed showed people protesting.
- Images included with the articles most frequently framed the unrest in legitimizing ways, emphasizing non-violent protests and written demands more than images of fires, looting or violence.
- The majority of coverage coded (71.4%) was episodic in nature, focusing on individual events and behaviors rather than systemic or thematic context.
- Keywords related to systemic reforms sought by protesters (such as “defund the police” or “abolish the police”) were found infrequently among the corpus compared to those that describe the protests themselves and responses to them, including “looting” and “Target,” a retail store where counter-protesters gathered.
- Most importantly, newsrooms should look to provide ample context for the systemic causes of and solutions to a protest’s root issues during early reporting. In cases of protests against racist violence and police brutality, thematic context is abundantly available in U.S. history and the inclusion of such historical and contemporary context should be a standard in related breaking news coverage.
- Protester perspectives on the causes of and solutions to the issues they’re raising through protest should be included with more frequency and more prominence in breaking news coverage.
- Assigning editors must reimagine traditions of reporting on official statements from public figures and celebrities. Amplifying the words of those in positions of authority without significant context shifts focus away from the protests themselves, participants’ goals and demands, and the perspectives of other community members.
- This analysis shows a clear opportunity for local news collaboration. The publications studied often covered the same response-focused events in similar ways (i.e. the removal of the Rizzo statue or release of a statement by Mural Arts). Local newsrooms, especially those that already collaborate elsewhere, should share resources for episodic, response-focused coverage in order to free up reporters for coverage that highlights thematic context and meets additional information needs.