The media today is a prime component of our society. Its role is to provide the public with an extensive network of news information that focus specifically on social justice issues. It is also a signature influence in today’s societal teachings. It is no surprise that the advancement of technology has emphasized the way in which media coverage has evolved and changed. With online social networking sites such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr, as well as technological devices like laptops, tablets, cell phones, and even smart watches, the ways in which people get their information has expanded.
In this blog, I will examine the 1963 Birmingham campaign that centered on civil rights movements, as well as the 2015 Baltimore protests which centered on police brutality and race in America. After giving brief background information on each event, I will delve into their coverage in the media and the effects of that coverage on the public’s general views. This all ties in with the purpose of this blog; to examine the ways in which the media’s coverage of these events [and events similar to these] influenced the way the public views the world and how they view society as a whole. The next couple paragraphs will analyze the way in which these two decades-apart events set the stage for the conversation on not just the issues that sparked their beginnings, but the distinct ways in which the media covered them both. The point of this blog is to illustrate that not many people seem to realize the importance of their exposure to the media and how this correlates with their understanding of and beliefs within society.
The 1963 Birmingham campaign was a series of demonstrations led by the Southern Christian Leadership Committee in April 1963. This event called for the recognition of the integration efforts of African Americans in Birmingham, Alabama. This [intended] nonviolent direct action campaign was led by civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr., James Bevel, Fred Shuttlesworth, and many others. The widely talked about protest was highly publicized specifically for its confrontations between young African American students and white civic authorities (Birmingham police officers). The outrage from African American citizens and civil rights activists increased immediately, later on that same year, after the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing that left four, young African American girls dead. Many suspects were apprehended in relation to the crime. But to this day, it is unclear who was truly involved. In the end, these demonstrations led to the municipal government’s change to the city’s discrimination laws; breaking ground for the Civil Rights Act of 1964 which ceased racial discrimination in hiring practices and public services throughout the United States.
The media coverage of this event was very limited, as one would imagine considering the lack of technological advances during the time in which this occurred. But that in no way meant that there were not any alternate forms of resources available to relay information. Since the idea, or existence, of social networking sites and cellphones were far from the minds of these early 20th century individuals, media coverage of this event was left primarily to photographers who hit the streets of Birmingham, Alabama to photographically document the happenings. Photographs of the hundreds of protesters covered the pages of local and national newspapers. The most popular photographs, though, were those of the violent outbursts between the African American youth and the Birmingham police department. Pictures of the unleashing of police dogs and high pressure water hoses on young protesters, were some of the highlights of the Birmingham incident. This helped to further influence the ways in which citizens viewed the behavior of both sides of the debate.
The 2015 Baltimore protests were a series of demonstrations held by Baltimore citizens, civil rights activists, and Baltimore youth as a result of the death of Baltimore resident, Freddie Gray by the hands of Baltimore police officers. On April 12, 2015, Gray was arrested for what the Baltimore police department say was possession of an illegal switchblade. He was put into a police van with the intention of being placed in a jail holding cell. What truly happened no one has yet to conclude, but Gray ended up in a coma [rather than in a D.O.C. jumpsuit] with serious injuries to his spinal cord. He succumbed to these injuries on April 19, 2015, one day after the initiation of the protests. Many participants rallied in efforts to bring attention to the issue of police brutality, specifically towards African Americans. With this call of action, the “Black Lives Matter” movement was intensified. Many supporters of the movement believed that this was an effective way in getting their message out: African Americans were not being treated as equally as believed to be, especially in the eyes of the law. Others argued that the statement “Black Lives Matter” was insinuating that only colored people’s lives were important. Of course this scrutiny was met with many responses — both peaceful and violent — and the protests continued. As the violence in Baltimore grew, so did the tension between the Baltimore police department and civilians, and more attention was brought onto the issue of race in America.
The media coverage of the Gray incident and the demonstrations that followed was filled with an immense trail of bias, anger, realization, and bitterness. Due to the high volume of technology, news of this event was able to reach the American people (and even other countries) much quicker. With the use of cellphones, cameras, social media sites, blog websites, and online news sites, every minute of the Baltimore protests was covered no matter if television broadcast stations were reporting on it or not. That was one advantage of the use of advanced technology: always being up to date with an event. Citizens did not have to wait until the six or seven o’clock news, or keep an ear glued to the radio, or have to run to the nearest convenience store to buy a five cent newspaper in order to get the latest on the turmoil in one of Maryland’s major cities.
A disadvantage to having all that technology was the way in which some of the coverage of the event was conducted. For instance, with so many people having access to the internet, it was very easy for anyone (no matter what side they supported the most) to voice their opinion on the situation. Twitter, being the fastest and easiest way for individuals to share information with others, was one of the main forms of social media outlets used during the riots. Twitter users used their accounts to voice their appraisal of the protesters, as well as their disapproval of the manner in which one or both sides were behaving themselves. Other Twitter users, though, showed neither approval nor disapproval of either side, but rather showed their anger and disappointment for the attention this event was getting compared to other similar — much more violent — events.
Differences in Media Coverage of Birmingham and Baltimore
Although very similar in the topics they centered on, these events were covered very differently in the media. The era of occurrence of the two events is one main difference between them. In other words, the fact that the Birmingham campaign occurred during the early 1960’s while the Baltimore protests occurred during the 21st century, is a reason for why the media coverage was different.
This difference was emphasized through the ways in which people obtained information regarding the events and from where. During the Birmingham campaign, the resources people had at the time were very limited. The main ways people got news information was through newspapers they had to pay for, radio broadcasting, very brief television broadcasting (which was not effective if you could not afford a television or radio at the time), and of course incomplete [or ignorant] conversations from others. This caused many people to not be as informed on the issue. One advantage to that limitation of resources was that people during the time were not as blinded or distracted by other components of the media or internet as many are now. The news stories (especially from newspapers) were more neutral and informative and left no room for the journalists’ opinion that would ultimately taint the information.
During the Baltimore protests, however, people had at their disposal a multitude of resources to get their information from such as, extensive television broadcasting, radio broadcasting, free newspapers, social media websites, online news articles, blogs, magazines, and so on. This abundance of resources helped to influence the media coverage of Baltimore in the sense that it gave people the advantage of having a number of sources to get information from. But this free range to acquire news information from anywhere resulted in an even higher rate of bias within the journalism community in particular. Many journalists and columnists that I encountered centered their columns, articles, or editorials on their own personal beliefs and gave their audience no room to form their own opinions.
This is why I hold that when reporting on cases such as these, it is important for journalists to initially maintain a neutral standpoint and to simply report on the facts of a case so as to allow their audience to form their own opinions rather than corrupting their way of thinking before they even get the chance to think.
“2015 Baltimore Protests.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2015_Baltimore_protests>.
“Birmingham Campaign.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Birmingham_campaign>.
Siemaszko, Corky. “Birmingham Erupted into Chaos in 1963 as Battle for Civil Rights Exploded in South.” NY Daily News. NY Daily News, 03 May 2012. Web. 12 Nov. 2015. <http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/birmingham-erupted-chaos-1963-battle-civil-rights-exploded-south-article-1.1071793>.
Image Credits: https://www.flickr.com/photos/39908901@N06/6923408938/
For this installment of the project, I was tasked with interviewing someone who lived through the 1960’s and the 1990’s, and who also had access to different forms of media throughout those three decades. Since my mother was born in 1961, I decided to interview her and gain further perspective on media coverage of news events during those time periods. Though she did not arrive in the United States until about the late 1970’s, she was surprisingly still able to stay up-to-date on news events that occurred here from a different part of the globe. Thus, emphasizing the power of the media.
I conducted a second interview in which I sat down with my partner to ask her about her research methods and the interview she conducted with one of our professors. Below, she also talks about what she found to be most surprising from her findings of the media coverage of the events we focused on and her interview, as well as her opinion on the importance of social media in our society.