by Deborah MathisAugust 01, 2017
It would have taken extra effort for anyone in the U.S. on January 21 to avoid news of the massive women’s marches and demonstrations ballooning across the country that day. Media were all over the event – broadcast, cable, radio and social – encamped for day-long coverage of the throngs weaving through big cities like Washington, D.C., New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Boston and Atlanta, and small ones like Key West, Florida.
Like the Iranian uprising of 2009, the Arab Spring of 2011 and, decades earlier, the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989, the nationwide women’s marches in the wake of the 45th president’s ascent were not only history-making and, therefore, newsworthy, but were slam dunks as far as media attractions go, offering feasts for the eyes and ears that even the most aloof viewer or reader would be challenged to ignore.
No question, television, newspapers, Twitter and Facebook delivered the news that day. But they did not necessarily deliver the story. They would have had to go back months, years, decades – even generations – for that.
Though their reporting may not always reflect it, most reporters understand what activists, movement leaders and social scientists know so well: that acts of collective resistance are rooted in common grievances that are left unresolved (and sometimes unacknowledged) past the point of tolerance. While the better-late-than-never maxim may apply to news coverage that appears once the distress reaches critical mass and is manifested by direct action – a strike, a march, a boycott, etc. – there is nothing new about the problem, practice or condition that fuels the resistance. In most cases, the story began long before the multitude poured into the streets.
Unfortunately, few news media can give complex, long-running, deeply rooted matters the attention the full story requires. The mission for most is to cover events, not issues; effects, not causes. Exceptions, though wonderful, are rare.
As a former working journalist for more than 30 years, I often sensed that there were multiple layers to a story I was assigned to cover and did what I could to plumb the depths within the restraints of 14 inches of newsprint or one minute and thirty seconds of airtime. I can only imagine how frustrated some of the people I covered were by what amounts to a Cliff Notes version of a complex issue.
Which is why a forum like this blog is more than merely an outlet for expression. As civil resistance becomes more popular, more ubiquitous, more organized and more effective worldwide, it is important that we get a fuller or deeper story. Each “Minds of the Movement” contributor helps shed a little more light on a movement, campaign or study and takes readers a little deeper into the foundational issues, allowing them to better imagine themselves in those shoes, allowing an objective truth or personal perspective to wash over them, and perhaps move them to join the chorus for change.
And, who knows? Maybe a curious journalist becomes intrigued by the accounts herein and decides to take a look beneath the first layer or two. Thus exposed to the full story, he or she may be compelled to report more than crowd sizes and placards and official reactions, realizing that not all motions are movements and all movements are more than motion.
The responsibility to enlighten not only the masses but the media too is an important one, but need not feel like a burden. We only ask our contributors to tell their truths, insights, or the findings of their research, and allow such revelations to work their timeless magic by seeping into the consciences of a public sorely in need of context.
Deborah Mathis is a senior journalist. Previously as ICNC’s Director of Communications, Deborah developed, executed and coordinated ICNC’s communications, marketing, and media relations, working in collaboration with the organization’s staff and advisors. She helped develop the Minds of the Movement blog and served as co-editor.Read More