SJMC students: Any reactions to this week’s historic media events?

Photo Credit: SJMC graduate student Brian Ekdale

With major news organizations around the country covering the debate and protest concerning Governor Walker’s proposed “budget repair bill” — and its implications for public employees both at UW and around Wisconsin — I know that many SJMC courses have been treating this week’s news as a “teachable moment.”  For example, in J201, “Introduction to mass communication,” I scrapped my scheduled Wednesday lecture (on video games, no less) for a less-polished, more-tentative, just-in-time lecture on the recent history of protest in the Middle East, especially Egypt.  We discussed the ways that, especially in societies lacking many of the press and speech freedoms that we enjoy in the US, the use of “new media” tools like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter worked together with the power of “old media” infrastructures of broadcast radio and television to combine into the oldest mass communication strategy of them all — getting lots of bodies in the same place at the same time — in bringing down a decades-old, single-party, authoritarian government.  Clearly the situation and the stakes are different here in Wisconsin this week.  But this is still an important moment to consider how media organizations, infrastructures, and strategies work (and fail) when members of a pluralistic, democratic, and open society must debate divisive political, economic, and cultural issues.  So in an attempt to energize our humble SJMC blog a bit, I invite all SJMC undergraduate and graduate students to respond to this post with their experiences and reactions, photos and ideas, concerning this week’s media and policy action.  (Asking questions is OK too.)  Just use the “comments” link under the title of this post.

10 thoughts on “SJMC students: Any reactions to this week’s historic media events?

  1. One of the most striking differences I have noticed this week is the difference between how “old media” and “new media” are interacting with the events in Madison.

    The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s coverage lacks any sort of investigative journalism, failing to ask questions about the deficit, the causes or the effects of the changes on the people. In a straight up reporting of “just the facts” which also seems to include a series of Walker administration statements that go unchallenged, the Journal Sentinel has failed to ask the ever important question of the relationship between making these changes to solving the policy problem.

    Meanwhile, Social Media is showing its strengths. Quick to update, and with interlinked networks of like minded people, information is moving quickly to the people who want access to it. Importantly this includes the obvious organizational communication which is sustaining the protests across the state, but this exchange of information also includes relevant policy information like the leaked letter from the legislative finance bureau seen here .

    The dynamic between the two is unmistakable, and I think its a clear demonstration that the convergence phase is over.

  2. Hey Professor Downey,

    I’m in the J school, and just wanted to say thank you for posting this. With both parents and a sister who are public educators in Wisconsin and my other sister a publicly employed nurse, this bill means A LOT to my family. I’ve been up at the Capitol all week, but that was because of social media. With Facebook, YouTube and sharing news articles, I’ve known exactly when and where to show up, and how to understand the greater specifics on the bill, as well as politicians responses. It’s been a difficult bill to deal with in terms of my family, but an amazing experience to demonstrate the power of social media in politics. Thanks!

  3. Focusing on the social media element of both the Egyptian uprisings and the protests at our own capitol is a refreshingly legitimate comparison (much more so than Paul Ryan’s comparison, which you can read here:

    The Egyptian Facebook page We Are All Khaled Said ( played, and continues to play, a major role in informing everyday Egyptians about demonstrations occurring around their country.

    As for Wisconsin, I personally have gotten at least 10 emails in my WiscMail inbox imploring me to come protest at the capitol, and Facebook pages, both for and against Scott Walker, have sprouted up like daisies.

    Word-of-mouth will always be the most powerful aggregating and motivating force in political action. Social media is unique in that it emulates the word-of-mouth process, effectively transferring it over to the digital world. The difference? Digital media reaches more people faster, making it a powerful mobilizing force in today’s political world.

  4. Love the discussion going on here. Thanks for creating this post Downey

    I’m not in the J-school (I’m applying towards the end of this semester) but I created the post “Imperial Walkers and the War on Unions: A Student Guide to the Chaos at the Capitol” on my blog. Trying to put all the big stuff in one place for students who want to learn more. Updating it throughout the day! I’ll be tweeting the updates and you can follow me @mikekujak. I subscribed to the comments feed so keep the convo going!

  5. This week turned my teaching into Journalism Real Time. Began my lab yesterday with the Madison story that appeared on the front page of Thursday’s New York Times. Discussed a “local” story in a national publication, critiqued the story (we all agreed the lead was lame), then we switched to an ethics discussion. That is, how can a student back a cause that encourages not attending class as a protest and at the same time take part in the educational process? Most students admitted wrestling with the question whether to come to class or not. Many had actively supported the protests, marching, joining rallies, but felt the classroom was somehow sacrosanct and should stand apart from the debate. One student made this point: “If we don’t come to class isn’t that supporting those who devalue the importance of education by undercutting its funding?”

  6. The most interesting thing for me has been learning the value of perspective and restraint. For anyone who on the left who has criticized the Tea Party as extremist, delusional, racist, etc. for some of the signs you’ve seen at their rallies, you need to watch this video: I’ve been at the Capitol many hours and found the demonstrators to be positive, energetic, and reasonable. But the handful of signs demonstrating the most extreme views are being used against the cause to dismiss it. This is frustrating when it is your cause being dismissed, and it is also frustrating when done to those who disagree with you. Like this Cap Times article says, Walker is not Hitler, he is not Mubarak, he is not “Osama bin Walker” (as one poster said). Perspective could serve demonstrators well in being clear about their message. Restraint could serve the rest of us well by keeping us from confusing an extreme minority for the totality.

  7. >#9
    That’s a great video. I first got the link to the video from my professor in Japan, curiously enough.

    A few thoughts about media and the protest:

    1) The “street chaos” (and “angry protesters”) frame
    Some national media have been framing the protest in a conventional way (e.g. “angry protesters”, “dueling protest”) that doesn’t fit the reality of the situation. But it seems that social media, online comments and the sharing of personal videos are making it easier for people to effectively provide a counter-discourse.

    2) Where is investigative journalism?
    Today, State Journal had an article titled “Is the state budget really in crisis? Depends on who you ask” – and that really summarized the article. While there’s a lot of coverage of the protest, there isn’t nearly enough media attention paid to the details of the state budget. Most media seem to either simply quote the deficit figures Gov. Walker has been repeating or “balance” it by quoting “the other side”. As a result, the opponents and the supporters of the budget repair bill cannot agree on the facts, and so the debate on the budget portion goes nowhere.

    3) Opinion polls?
    Is there a credible large-scale opinion poll on the budget repair bill yet? That seems necessary to test the governor’s claim that he’s representing the “silent majority”…

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