Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week

Why is it sometimes difficult to speak, and harder still to listen? An introspective look at Black Lives Matter after Sterling, Castile and Dallas.

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People are being killed more quickly than we can react. Tugged from one tragedy to the next, it’s difficult to contextualize and reflect.

But we’re trying, even if it reads like whiplash. My friends have been vocal on social media. Politics and prayer. Anger and anguish. Hopelessness and hope.

It’s not just the news junkies, the political commentators, or the trolls. People who use Facebook primarily for relationships, photo albums, and cat videos are entering the fray. Speaking out is stretching out.

I respect the heck out of them.

I love to teach about the First Amendment, but we self-censor way more than the government ever will. We worry what others will think. Speaking out is stretching out our neck to get guillotined by our friends, family, faith body, coworkers, or prospective employers. Maybe by people we don’t even know. And so we stay silent.

[Related: Hate speech, social media and the marketplace of ideas]

We carefully curate our digital presence. For many of us, stepping into controversy isn’t part of the life we want to portray. That message we want to get off our chests is held down by social pressures, both external and of our own creation.

I’m talking about this today in the context of one perspective on one issue, but the principle is transferable. Continue reading “Self-censorship, speaking up and showing empathy: Reflections on a tragic week”

Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy

There will never be a n*gger at SAE
There will never be a n*gger at SAE
You can hang him from a tree
But he’ll never sign with me
There will never be a n*gger at SAE

Some ignorant frat guys from the University of Oklahoma sang this on a bus. It was filmed and shared online. Within 24 hours, the university severed ties with the fraternity and shut down their campus house. Within 36 hours, two students appearing to lead the song had been expelled.

They deserve it. The existence of this line of thinking, much less the existence of a welcoming audience for such a message, makes me angry.

They deserve it. But they cannot be expelled, because it runs counter to the purpose of institutions of higher education and foundational American beliefs about expression.

Continue reading “Reviling racism and protecting free speech: PR, education, and the First Amendment in Oklahoma’s SAE controversy”

Institutional Isomorphism and the Community Structure Approach in Visual Framing of the Trayvon Martin Shooting

jpcover#ICantBreathe. #BlackLivesMatter. #Ferguson. One does not have to look far lately to find prominent discussions of race and social justice. You could argue that the present movement began in 2012, with the shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman. I looked at how elite and local newspapers covered the shooting and its aftermath, specifically in terms of the images used to represent the story.

I wrote more about the findings back in May, when an earlier version of the paper was presented at the International Communication Association annual conference in Seattle.

The article has now been published in Journalism Practice. You can access it here.

 

The published version provided a chance to think a great deal more about sociological explanations for news framing. In particular, it argues that institutional isomorphism offers a well-developed, multidisciplinary theoretical framework in which intermedia agenda setting can be positioned and strengthened. From a theory-building standpoint, the Martin shooting left something to be desired, but nevertheless demonstrated the functionality of the approach. I’m hoping to replicate the design in the future.

As a heavily quantitative media effects guy, this project began outside of my comfort zone. But I’m glad I was encouraged to follow it through to publication. It made the process of mass communication become that much bigger – thinking not just about the sender and receiver, but about the entire ecosystem surrounding them. And for that, I owe Wilson Lowrey a great deal of gratitude. He (and the tremendous number of books and articles he recommended) stretched me as a scholar, and made my approach more well-rounded as a result. Truly the sort of experience doctoral programs are meant to foster.

Access the full article.

Institutional Isomorphism and the Community Structure Approach in Visual Framing of the Trayvon Martin Shooting

icaPresented May 25, 2014 at the annual conference of the International Communication Association, Seattle, Wash., Journalism Studies division.

To request the accompanying visual aids for this paper, email Dylan.

To read the abstract, go to the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

UPDATE: This conference paper has since been published.
DOI: 10.1080/17512786.2014.988993

 

The Trayvon Martin shooting and the legal (in)actions that followed, became perhaps the first major American news story of 2012. Narratives surrounding Martin and George Zimmerman widely varied, as did the images available to depict them. There’s a big difference between Zimmerman in an orange prison jumpsuit (for an unrelated charge for which he was never tried) and Zimmerman smiling in a suit and tie. Images of Martin depicted a boy much younger than the 17-year-old involved in the incident. Given the impact of imagery on the framing of a news story, this study considered competing explanations for why editors from newspapers serving racially distinct communities may have selected particular photographs to represent Martin and Zimmerman in their coverage. The method specifically sought to measure institutional isomorphism – a field-level homogeneity fed by stabilization and risk-reduction – and the community structure approach – variances at the local level based on the demographics of the market.

Among the findings:

– The story was far more likely to be depicted visually with images of or relating to Martin in the sample period (Feb. 27-Apr 27, 2012, or, from the day after the shooting to four days after Zimmerman’s not guilty plea in court).

– These depictions of or relating to Martin were overwhelmingly positive, while portrayals of Zimmerman were neutral-to-negative. Image valence held true across publications.

– Images of Martin himself quickly gave way to images of his family, and supportive demonstrators around the country. This initial spike of intense visual framing toward Martin diminished over time, and an increase in images of Zimmerman became apparent as he made more public appearances. Once again, these trends were consistent across publications.

What does it mean?

The findings observe a fairly homogenous media depiction of the Martin shooting. This is indicative of institutional isomorphism, though clear evidence of mimetic inter-media agenda setting was not identified. The results may be better explained by normative isomorphism, as media outlets quickly moved away from images captured outside of the context of the story. The apparent strength of journalistic norms in the face of a story that presented so many salacious angles offers some comfort to those concerned with the profit motive of the press affecting editorial decisions.

No support was found for the community structure approach. Despite the availability of images that portrayed Martin and Zimmerman in starkly different ways, newspapers serving predominately Black, Hispanic, and White communities employed similar presentations. Across the board, Martin was portrayed more frequently and more positively than Zimmerman, though Zimmerman’s legal battles seemed to be developing more frequent and nuanced coverage, a trend that should be followed beyond the sample in this particular study for a fuller understanding.