Coverage of Black Anti-Police Protests

I’ve just posted a new working paper to SocArXiv. Current title is “Unarmed Violence, Police Perspectives, Community Struggle:  Black- and White-centric news accounts of Black Protests about Policing in the U.S. 1994-2010” although the title will probably evolve as we decide how to shape the discussion. We compare mainstream White-centric newswires to Black newspapers in which protests they cover, how many articles they write about them, and the prevalence of some keywords. We challenge the idea that mainstream news sources should be viewed as neutral or unbiased. Instead, we argue that even news sources devoted to printing only the truth as they see it necessarily make choices about which things are important enough to put into a news source and provide their readers with interpretations. Comparing news sources to each other reveals the selective attention of each. The main findings are:

  • Black anti-police protests were common in the 1990s and 2000s. We identified 1,037 events about 279 issue clusters about policing between 1999 and 2010, with 64% of the events and 40% of the issue clusters involving fatal incidents of police brutality. Although most of the identified events were in a few large cities with large Black populations and Black newspapers, we identified episodes of police violence in 80 different cities.
  • Newswires give much more attention to police perspectives and police actions than Black newspapers. They are more likely to publish articles mentioning police involvement in events and use more keywords capturing the idea that “police said” something.
  • Newswires focus much more on events involving violence and disruption. They are more likely to cover such events, publish more articles about them, and use more keywords capturing violence. Black newspapers do not give more attention to such events. The result is that 25% of the events mentioned by newswires involve violence or disruption, versus only 7% of events mentioned by Black newspapers.
  • Black newspapers give more attention to systemic issues of police brutality, discrimination, and injustice than newswires, while newswires focus more on a few high-profile dramatic cases.
  • Black newspapers give more attention to Black collective action and to words signifying the community.
  • Link to the paper. Comments are welcome. Let us know if you read the paper.

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