Talking to the media

Many of us who study collective action and social movements are interested in the processes through which preferred frames end up in the public sphere.  Sometimes we also play a role in this process by commenting on events as they unfold.  Often this commentary tends to be rather short – what one could call “talking heads” type of work.  An expert is needed to fill out or legitimize a story about protest.   Longer conversations get turned into a single quote from Professor X at the University of Y.  Although rewarding, this kind of work also poses a number of challenges. Newspapers tend to re-write.  Words put in quotations are not the same ones used in the actual conversation.  Sometimes questions are asked about movements or regions that are beyond one’s area of expertise.  Finally, there is the slippery slope between speaking about versus speaking on behalf of a group. 

Other times scholars do get the entire podium.  A great example can be found in a recent newspaper article about Bill C-309, the controversial law that criminalizes the use of masks in political demonstrations. The article is written by two sociology colleagues, Kathleen Rodgers and Willow Scobie, at the University of Ottawa.   This piece was originally published as a letter to the Toronto Star and then turned into an op-ed.  I would expect that, as the demands for 24 hour news increase, the opportunities for collective action and social movement scholars to provide analysis of this kind will also rise.

Finally, there are times when the media covers research by movement scholars.  An excellent example of this is the widespread coverage given to the Michael Heaney and Fabio Rojas 2011 Mobilization article on the anti-war movement (for an example see this ABC story).  For scholars interested in the media-movement relationship, this kind of coverage might even open up new possibilities for research.  How do the findings and framing in the original article compare to that provided in subsequent media coverage? What do the authors themselves think about this coverage?

If readers have other examples they would like to share, including media stories about their work, please send them my way at for use in a second Daily Disruption post on media coverage.



Filed under Daily Disruption

3 responses to “Talking to the media

  1. Don’t forget Sarah Sobieraj’s new book on the double-edged nature of movements seeking media attention, in her new book, Soundbitten. Sobieraj argues that not only do many attempts to gain coverage fail, the passion for coverage can undermine other movement goals.


  2. I think it’s important to keep in mind the different roles of academic reference and movement activist. Aside from how we consider what we’re doing, the comments and quotes serve different functions in the news coverage. When I speak to the press as an academic who studies social movements, I am less inclined to offer my opinion on, say, health care reform or same sex marriage, than to assess the causes and consequences of a particular action.


  3. Rima

    I agree in principle although I think this almost impossible in practice. They could ask why a group is protesting or for a comment on the policy that the group opposes. While one could refuse to answer a particular question it is also very difficult, unless one really has no attachment to the goals of a particular movement, not to seize the opportunity that the media provides.


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