Protest or Riot?: The Role of News Media in Characterizing the Unrest in Ferguson

April 5, 2021   /  

Student Name: Emma Reiner
Major(s): Political Science (concentration in US Politics) and English
Advisor(s): Dr. Désirée Weber and Dr. Susanna Sacks

This project focuses on how the terms “protest” and “riot” are used in articles about the Ferguson protests in 2014. Michael Brown was shot in August of 2014, resulting in protests against police brutality and racial injustice. Past research shows that the news media describe protests and riots negatively. I will be using a mixed methods approach, using both quantitative and qualitative analyses. The quantitative analysis showed that the terms were used similarly, while the qualitative analysis showed that the terms were used differently. This project is important to how we discuss other protests about police brutality, such as the ones that occurred in the summer of 2020.

Emma will be online to field comments on April 16: 2-4 pm EDT (PST 11am-1pm, Africa/Europe: evening).

52 thoughts on “Protest or Riot?: The Role of News Media in Characterizing the Unrest in Ferguson”

  1. Fascinating project, Emma, congrats on combining your majors to create a very important project.

  2. Interesting project, Emma! Do you have any thoughts about why the results of your qualitative and quantitative approaches were at odds?

    1. Hi Zach! I think that the way I approached each method gave me different results. The quantitative methods took a broader approach, showing that from a broad standpoint, the words are used in a similar way. However, when closely reading the articles for the qualitative methods, I found that the language used with the terms was different.

  3. This is such an important topic and your findings are intriguing. Great work! Congratulations, Emma!

  4. Hi Emma – Great work! It’s so great to see how you have developed this project since PSCI 40101 (Junior IS). I only wish that your study was not so timely… I know that your study focused on the coverage of Ferguson and the events of five to six years ago, but I wonder whether you see similar patterns in how the media, and how people more generally, have talked about the recent wave of protests?

    1. Hi Dr. Krain! I started this project based on last summer’s media coverage of the protests. I was noticing that news stories that used the word “protest” showed images of people holding signs, while stories that included the word “riot” showed images of burning. I wanted to see if these differences also existed in the coverage of Ferguson. I also find it unfortunate that this is still a relevant topic, especially given what has happened these past two weeks.

  5. Emma, I knew from Political Rhetoric in the fall that you were working on this topic, so it’s nice to see your summary of your results. Using both quantitative and qualitative methods can bring interesting insights. How did you carry out the qualitative part of your analysis? And, more importantly, congratulations!

    1. Hi Dr. Bostdorff! I conducted a close reading analysis, which is similar to my past coursework in English classes.

  6. Fantastic work, Emma! It’s so interesting that the different methods yielded different results. Was this a surprise? Congrats!

    1. Hi Cara! Yes, this was very surprising. I expected there to be more differences in word usage because I associated “riot” with more negative language than “protest”. I think this research helps to show that protests are more often described negatively by the news media.

  7. Congratulations. Your topic is really important. I’m a little surprised that you found the words protest and riot used similarly in your study. How media frame an event is important to how we interpret it. Look at the Jan. 6 event at the Capitol. Also, how we frame BLM events and other encounters between police and protestors/rioters.

    1. Thanks, Bill! I was interested in studying Ferguson based on current events, and I recommend studying similar protests like the ones you mentioned for future research.

  8. Congratulations Emma! This topic is so important, especially with world we’re living in today. Thanks for sharing, and great work!

  9. This is really important work, Emma. Congratulations on a successful I.S. project and all good wishes for the future!

  10. Congratulations, Emma! Thank you for sharing this presentation of your research and important findings! I have been so happy to see this project at the intersection of PSCI and English progress since the fall. What was your favorite part about completing this project?

    1. Hi Carly! My favorite part was combining two different backgrounds and methods because I was able to have a wider breadth of results.

  11. Emma, your research provides great insight into the ways that language effects our perception of events. Thank you so much for sharing with us and for everything else you have done in your time here at Wooster. Best of luck as you move on to future plans!!

  12. This is such an awesome research topic Emma! Congrats and it’s been so fun becoming your friend through Moot Court. Best of luck at grad school next year!

  13. This is a really cool topic and I’m impressed with the amount of work and analysis that went in to it. I’m proud of ya gal!

  14. Congratulations, Emma! I know how much hard work went into this IS <3

    What part of the process was most interesting/most fun?

    1. Hi Riley! I think the most interesting part was how similar “protest” and “riot” were used since my hypothesis was that they would be more different.

  15. Hi Emma! What a fascinating study. I had a similar question to Dr. Krain, so, building on your answer there, do you feel like you have anecdotal evidence of a shift in news coverage since Ferguson? I guess now you need to do similar studies of separate events over time, or a longitudinal survey! Thanks for the great work and congratulations!!

    1. Hi Dr. Eager! What I described to Dr. Krain was more of what I glanced at in the news. It would be very interesting to look at different events and/or to conduct a longitudinal study!

  16. Congratulations on this study Emma! I appreciate all these timely projects to have us reflect on the “chaos” our time and our conscious role in historicizing/understanding it.

  17. Hi, Emma! Your project has such great topic and research question, and I was intrigued that your qual and quant research yielded different results!

  18. Hey Emma! Great job! I can tell you put a lot of time and effort into this. I think it’s interesting to look at the differences between the usage of protest and riot, especially in how the media represents these demonstrations. Did you observe political party differences between the usage of riot and protest?

  19. Congratulations, Emma! I really enjoyed seeing how you blended English and PSCI to research such an important topic!

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