by Brian Martin
For major protests today, it is standard to have a media strategy. For example, there can be individuals assigned to media liaison. The location and timing of an action can be chosen with an eye toward media schedules. Some actions are designed specifically to attract media attention.
However, there are many factors that complicate activist efforts to reach the mass media. Major outlets choose what to report based on news values such as conflict, prominence and proximity. A politician will be quoted rather than an activist, and a scuffle at a rally will be reported rather than what the protest is actually about.
Activists can try to sidestep the mass media by using social media. Another option is simply to not worry so much about media coverage and focus on making actions meaningful for participants. After all, protesters are part of the audience.
There is lots of practical advice on how to send the protest message, and it is definitely worth understanding media dynamics and taking them into account. However, protesters will nearly always be at a disadvantage when trying to compete with dominant groups. A useful perspective for understanding this challenge is provided by Tim Wu in his engaging book “The Attention Merchants.”