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Folks, because it will keep happening, we need to have a chat about Power Dependence Theory and media/social movements. A thread.
As an activist, I’m often frustrated by convos with journalists - and they are too. “Send my message” I say. “Create some news” they reply.
What I often forget is that this is a transaction between two complex systems, between two actors with very different agendas.
It is, as Gamson & Wolfsfeld wrote in 1993, (ableism alert) a “dialogue of the deaf” with no one making an effort to understand the other.
The hard truth is, my activist friends, that we need them more than they need us.
We need them for 3 major reasons: mobilisation, validation, and scope enlargement (thx again Gamson & Wolfsfeld!)
Mobilisation because, to enact large-scale change you need a large-scale movement, and most people aren’t in our own spheres.
We need to appeal to the ‘mass media gallery’ rather than the specific, cause-oriented audiences with which we interact every day.
Validation because, like it or not, when the media spotlight focuses on a cause it is given legitimacy & leverage to sway those in power
Scope enlargement because making a cause/conflict more public offers us the chance as activists to rebalance our relative power
We all know how much third party sympathy matters to a social movement, right? It can even act as a shield against the authorities
Switching the analysis around, then we can see that social movements can make great copy for news outlets, sure
What reader doesn’t like the drama & outrage? The photos of attractive hippies gallantly facing armed police (wait, what era are we?)
But that’s about it. The media, sad though it is, don’t tend to have a moral obligation to cover the causes we care about as activists
Remember: the relative power of actors is determined by the ratio of their *value* to their *need*
For our social movements, that’s not good news. We don’t have automatic standing in them media, unlike politicians
We don’t often have already-established relationships with journalists who have been assigned to cover our cause continually
We don’t even have access to the finances to try and BUY good press
This is coupled with the fact that events do not speak for themselves & that media framing can have a HUGE impact on a cause's success
The way in which a journalist chooses to phrase a headline can be the kiss of life or death for a campaign
And it’s not even that some causes are rendered unpopular - some are made invisible entirely. Just imagine what we DON’T see?!
There is, then, a fundamental imbalance of power between the media and social movements. It’s one I’ve struggled with
It’s one I’ve seen so many of my friends, my colleagues, and my idols struggle with.

We must do a few things, I think...
First we must rely on our own resources. The #ISeeTara campaign was successful because of social media engagement, for example.
We must acknowledge that all actors intent on creating social change have to deal with the media’s interest in spectacle.
Finally, we must prepare. Draft that press release. Have interviewees ready. Make sure you are disseminating the images you like. PREPARE.
These aren’t surefire ways to either gain coverage or, if you do get it, ensure it’s positive coverage. I'm sorry about that.
But they might help. Every transaction takes place under its own set of circumstances. Just be aware, and be there for each other.
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