From mass to elite protests : how journalists covered the 2013 and 2015 demonstrations in Brazil
MetadataShow full item record
This dissertation uses a media sociology approach to untangle how multiple influences shaped journalistic coverage of two waves of protests in Brazil. In 2013, small demonstrations against bus fares evolved into a series of large protests expressing generalized dissatisfaction with conditions in the country. Following the reelection of center-leftist Dilma Rousseff, another wave of protests returned in 2015, this time with a clear agenda: the removal of the President. Communication research has long examined the “protest paradigm,” a pattern of news coverage that delegitimizes social movements. The Brazilian context provided a chance to assess the extent to which the paradigm holds when protests take on an elite-driven narrative contesting a government in crisis. This project uses a quantitatively-driven mixed methods approach to provide a holistic understanding of how journalists went about covering the demonstrations. First, content analysis presents an overview of how coverage evolved over time. Then, a survey of journalists reveals their newsgathering routines and political attitudes. Finally, 23 journalists were selected for a matched data analysis linking survey data to the content they produced. Results reveal that when grievances evolved into coherent anti-government demands, official sources from opposition parties served to legitimize the movement, even when journalists themselves viewed protestors with skepticism. In fact, findings suggest that the more journalists supported demonstrations, the less favorably they covered them. This holds true even when controlling for their outlet’s editorial line, as measured by journalists’ own perception of their employers. Through in-depth interviews, journalists described how they continually self-assessed and corrected for bias, citing professional norms as the basis for critical coverage of protests they personally supported. This study departs from an understanding of protest coverage as paradigmatic towards a more complex view of the relationship between protestors and the press. The analysis helps elucidate the conditions under which the protest paradigm fails and how favorable coverage can occur. The experience of Brazil shows that when an elite opposition supports protests, journalistic norms and routines validate demonstrations, regardless of journalists’ own attitudes.