What’s the Media Strategy of #Ferguson Protesters? The Police Have One.

Does it seem strange I want to know the “media strategy” of the protesters in Ferguson?  I mean, they’re just a bunch of random people, catalyzed by an event, right? What are the protesters on the ground thinking? Do they know how they look to the world via the media? Who’s in charge? Is it the father?

 “I just want justice for my son, I really do … I need everybody to come together so we can do this right, so we can get something done about this. No violence.”

 Michael Brown Senior 

Aren’t they listening?

Although they don’t know it, the Ferguson protest and protesters do have a media strategy and a narrative. It was provided to them free of charge by the police and the media. It might change if you help.

You see, if a group or organization doesn’t have a media strategy or narrative someone will give it to them.  Often the very group they have an issue with, like the police. Other times by the “impartial” media. Definitely and vigorously by the RW media. Occasionally and timorously by the LW media.

So what if you are part of a group getting an assigned narrative you feel is biased? What if you are part of a “leaderless group” who isn’t in the loop but are on the ground? Can you do anything?

Yes! Methods can range from the easy to the complex. For some easy ones Kara Brown at Jezebelle has a nice piece about how people on Twitter can help journalists and amplify certain stories and viewpoints. For example I liked this tweet because it showed it was a story about black and white people standing together. I retweeted it.

— Say Less. (@MVPGO) August 14, 2014

In 2011 I wrote some posts suggesting what people at home could do to change the assigned narrative using all the footage available from Occupy Oakland live streams and media coverage.

What to Do When the Media Says a Protester Attacked a Cop

I anticipated an action, how the media would cover it, and also what could flip the official narrative.

The protests move so fast and the news coverage will be instant. Therefore our response to all ‘violence from protesters’ news stories needs to skeptical. We should be asking the media if they can answer these questions.

  • Who threw that first rock, punch, bottle?
  • Do you have their identity? If not, why not?
  • Do you know their motivation?

I listened to Jay Nixon’s press conference today and read some stories about the reason the police needed to launch tear gas. I read stories that stated protesters threw Molotov cocktails. I looked at the photos. I found a photo that looked like someone throwing a famous cocktail.  My mind shifted, “hmm that’s not good.” But then on twitter someone talks about this same photo.

It turns out it was a smoke bomb thrown BACK at the police. But by then the narrative is set, the damage is done. Or is it?

In 2011 KTVU Fox Channel 2, ran an Occupy Oakland story about how the protesters were “throwing bottles at the police.” The TV coverage took the word of the police officials as truth.  This is SOP because they work with them all the time and there were no Occupy leaders to dispute the narrative. Plus deadlines!

The media need people who can define actions and reactions, often the police provide it, with no counter.  But in this case Matt Kresling, a citizen, just like you or me, found that KTVU actually ran video footage that proved that the POLICE were the ones throwing a flash bang at an unarmed crowd.

That footage got 1.5 million views and turned the narrative around, using the MSMs very own footage. No doubt it lead to consequences for the the officers who acted and their future tactics (Hopefully beyond, “Bad boy, don’t get caught!’) It also leads to monetary settlements which is real leverage for change these days.

The thing is there often are no “narrative professionals” challenging a story. It is important for people to understand how stories get created, focused and directed and how to challenge them.  You hear people always talk about how the RW controls “the narrative” and framing and it can make you feel helpless. But you aren’t. It’s 2014 now and most of you have a mobile TV studio in your pocket.

We have computing horsepower to create the worlds best cat videos and a place to show it. The media know this, as do the police. That is why they hate to be recorded.

But raw footage doesn’t tell a story.

The police have a media strategy and a default narrative to use. “He was resisting. He drew an object that looked to be a weapon. I felt in danger for my life. He was coming right at me.”

The media LOVE the Ferguson story even without an accurate narrative. It’s flying peacocks, costumed super heroes and exploding bombs in a Michael Bay movie.  “Just look at the photos Bob! Award winning, all of ’em!’

We can do four things. 

  1. Create our own media 
  2. Work with the main stream media to bolster the view point they are ignoring or skating over
  3. Bitch at the MSM for not getting the whole story 
  4. Share stories, images, videos that are better

The RW has spent decades browbeating the mainstream media until they got their own media. They haven’t stopped attacking the MSM, it’s just internalized now. The MSM is still cowering in a world of “he said, she said, both sides do it, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, we’ll leave it there.”

But the media don’t always have to default to presenting a standard authority figure, especially when alternatives are available.

In this case the media is not “embedded” in the authority figure’s world, so they are more open to seeing things with their own two eyes, let’s encourage them when they do, and help them see it when they don’t.

The eventual pay off can be action in areas we see problems in now. Like figuring out how to deescalate a dangerous showdown. Getting the whole story out and justice being served.



First posted Aug 14, 2014 at Hullabaloo  

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