On Thursday Jan. 15, many commuters saw their morning drive severely disrupted by a highway protest in the Boston area. #BlackLivesMatter activists aimed to maximize disruption by chaining themselves to cement barrels and forming a barricade on Interstate 93, causing massive traffic jams with delays of over two hours. The protest was done as a part of the greater #BlackLivesMatter movement and was timed to coincide with Martin Luther King Jr. Day. However, coverage of the event, and other similar demonstrations, has been largely focused on the disruptions faced by commuters rather than on publicizing and exploring the actual issues being protested and the reasons behind them. The issue of the validity of the protest’s strategy is definitely an argument to be had; however, as media, it is our job to cover events in the most fair and balanced way possible, exploring all sides of a story and providing the facts for the reader to make informed opinions.
The Boston Globe, the area’s largest and most popular local newspaper, focused their coverage of the protest mainly on the statements of the commuters and law enforcement officials. For example, the main article’s subtitle included the phrase “commuters fume as highways are blocked” and the beginning of the article uses negative language in its descriptions of the protesters’ arrests and scolding statements from police and ambulance drivers. Furthermore, coverage of the event was located in the Metro Section of The Globe rather than the more widely read News section, framing this breaking news in a local and commuter-focused light.
Other news sources such as Reuters and The Boston Herald focused their coverage primarily on the fact that an ambulance had to be diverted to a smaller hospital and CBS Boston began its on air coverage with the tagline “a nightmare on 93.” The CBS broadcast also concentrated on describing the extent of the delays and how people’s lives were endangered. Altogether, this reporting clearly presents some bias against the protesters, framing the #BlackLivesMatter movement in a negative light and leaving little room to empathize with and understand the goals of the movement.
Furthermore, although The Boston Globe did include videos and statements from protesters, there was little to no in-depth analysis or explanation of the #BlackLivesMatter movement or why activists were amplifying the level of disruption. This disappointing angle also characterized coverage in early December 2014, when Tufts students led a march from the Medford campus to downtown Boston; much of the immediate coverage was focused on traffic delays and which roads were open.
Admittedly, the bias of such media coverage of the #BlackLivesMatter movement raises questions relating to the effectiveness of disruptive protesting on actually bringing awareness to the issues at hand and creating more allies. The fact that reporting is painting a negative picture of protesters by focusing on the damage they create could indicate that disruptive protests alienate potential allies to the movement, emphasizing the fact that protests such as these interrupt flow of daily life. But whether or not the #BlackLivesMatter activists used effective protest tactics, the media’s framing of the Jan. 15 event clearly had an impact on the way it will be perceived by the public — something News organizations should clearly seek to avoid.