Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Recently I've read this research made by Summer Harlow and Thomas J. Johnson from the University of Texas at Austin. They compared how mainstream media (The New York Times) covered the Egyptian revolution (the period from January 23 till February 14, 2011) compared to the coverage of Global Voices Online. They realized that NYT where adherent more to the “protest paradigm”, by highlighting the drama, violence, and spectacle of the protests and de-valuing the protesters since they tended more to quote official sources, while GVO (and to some extent Nick Kristof’s Twitter feed) tended more to legitimizing the protesters. GVO also tended more to put the protests into their context and give the reader idea why all this happened rather then only focusing on the ongoing drama. I'd like to share here this part of their findings:

Results showed that The Times adhered to the paradigm by emphasizing the spectacle, quoting official sources, and de-valuing protesters as reporters maintained an impartial role. In contrast, Global Voices and Kristof’s Twitter feed took different approaches, legitimizing protesters and serving as commentators/analysts, even actors, in the unfolding events. Global Voices also provided more opportunities for reader interactivity.
This study has shown that the NYT, in general, falls short in its protest coverage. Rather than adequately explaining why there is a problem that has driven citizens to protest, the NYT falls back on routine and formulaic reporting, highlighting the drama, violence, and spectacle of the protests and reducing protesters’ grievances to one or two sentences about Mubarak’s autocratic 30-year reign. Although many articles made it clear that the protesters were fighting for democracy—theoretically a good thing—in several cases, such as those stories about the economy, protesters were portrayed negatively, blamed for travel delays or rising oil prices.

While Global Voices and Twitter provided the commentary and analysis that The Times did not, Global Voices and Twitter still can do more. First, both must be careful that, like the NYT, they do not get caught up in the drama and report just about the spectacle of the protests. Additionally, Global Voices, with its writers stationed around the world, quoting from local citizen blogs and Twitter feeds, is in a position to better contextualize and explain the history leading up to the protests than it did. Further, authors from Global Voices and Twitter, free from the burden of impartiality, have the potential to serve more as actors, even catalysts for change, influencing others to get involved and right a wrong. They did not live up to this potential in Egypt.

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