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12AD.8.4 Coverage of the Trayvon Martin Case

Transcript (Audio)

Coverage of the Trayvon Martin Case, CSPAN, May 4, 2013, 10.00 p.m. -11:21 p.m. EDT. Internet Archive. Accessed April 5, 2021.

Charles Blow, the presenter for this source, is an op-ed writer. This means, as Blow articulates in the transcript, that he is not an objective journalist. His job is to present his perspective on social issues. While it is important to acknowledge his perspective, it is also important to remember that Blow is citing credible evidence. Think about how Blow found out about Trayvon Martin’s case. How might social media and the internet affect what news we hear about? Would Trayvon Martin’s case have become such big news if the coverage was limited to reporters for newspapers, magazines, and basic television, as at the time of Emmett Till’s murder?

This transcript also discusses Blow’s reflections on how people ingest media. He states that “the appetite for neutrality is changing” and implies that people seek out information they agree with instead of objective news coverage. Consider how that might affect people’s opinions on the Trayvon Martin case. As you investigate the comparisons between the coverage of Till and Martin, think about how this polarizing effect shapes media coverage now as opposed to the 1950s.

This is a transcript of a presentation given by Charles Blow, an op-ed writer for the New York Times. He is presenting on his experiences regarding coverage of the Trayvon Martin case. This presentation was given to audiences at the University of Florida Law School. Blow speaks candidly about how he became aware of the Trayvon Martin case and then goes on to discuss the influences of social media and the internet on modern media coverage. If students are unfamiliar with the reference to the 1995 O.J. Simpson trial, it may be helpful to discuss with them how the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman was also a moment in which questions of racial discrimination and violence were at the center of a national conversation.

This source serves as a great anchor document for this lesson. On its own, it answers the investigative question and addresses the core issue in the standard, which is how the internet has influenced media coverage. Blow discusses how he learned about the Martin case through Twitter. As the transcript proceeds, he broadens his discussion to inform his audience about how the American public has become more polarized as consumers of media. People are looking for news that reinforces their view and have become less tolerant of diverse opinions.

This lesson suggests allowing students to conduct a bit of research on their own to find actual coverage of Trayvon Martin’s death. Note to students that the comparative lack of investigative journalists, and the growing number of social media and opinion pieces, are key to understanding how events get portrayed in the media. Also note that those sources can serve as direct comparisons to the coverage of Emmett Till, but this source gives students some reference of what to look for when comparing media coverage from then and now.

Another issue raised is about the role of social media and modern journalism. The closest comparison to this case, and I can’t find a real comparison to this case, but the closest one maybe the O. J. Simpson case... But during that case there was no social media; there was no Facebook; there was no Twitter; there were no real blogs to speak of; the environment was completely different. In fact the way I first heard about this case was people started to tweet to me and say “Are you going to say something about this Trayvon Martin case? What do you feel about this kid that got killed in Florida.” But people continued to put that into my Twitter feed. And, one week, on a fluke I just Googled his name. And it seems to me a very interesting case, but I’m not sure... what I can bring to this case...

During the O. J. trial, in addition to there being no blogs to speak of, there was little partisan cable T. V. There was no Fox News. There was no MSNBC. People got their news from newspapers, network news stations, and CNN Headline news and all of those places who were trying as best they could to just be objective and down... the middle of the line. That has changed. And the lawyers from both sides of this case took advantage of that change and sought out sympathetic media coverage. The lawyers for Trayvon’s family hired a PR agent. When I got to interview his mom, we went through a PR agent to get that interview. And his lawyers and many liberal commentators became fixtures on MSNBC discussing the case. Zimmerman directly reached out to Fox’s Sean Hannity and gave Hannity his first interview... that was his venue of choice. And to the degree that there was [sic] different... parts of the media that covered this case... Pew found in a poll on April 3rd twice as many Democrats were following the case closely as Republicans, and more than twice as many Republicans thought the case was getting too much coverage as Democrats.

And then there were the cases where the media just crossed the line completely. NBC fired a producer for editing Zimmerman’s 911 tape to suggest that Zimmerman had volunteered the description of Trayvon as black rather than a response to a question. On Fox, Geraldo said “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon’s death as George Zimmerman was.” Which is ridiculous. This is the classic rape defense. What the victim was wearing invited the violence. There is nothing that you can wear that is an invitation for someone to rape or kill you. A post on Resdate (?) dot com, which is a big conservative site said “The left is in full spin mode now that the crazies of the New Black Panther Party has assumed the spotlight in the Trayvon Martin controversy. They are in fact an arm of the Democratic party.” I have never met a member of the New Black Panther Party. I have never met anybody who has met a member of the New Black Panther Party. I have never met anyone who has ever defended anybody in the New Black Panther Party. Some outlets like NPR’s Newshour initially labeled Zimmerman as white, although it is unclear if that’s how he self-identified...


... but the number of people reading newspapers continues to drop. According to the Pew Research Center, the number of people who say they got their news yesterday from newspapers fell from 56% in 1991 to 31% in 2010. Increasingly people say they get their news online, although not nearly in the numbers that they once got from newspapers. But online the line between news and opinion journalism can get even more blurry. Many people don’t go to a home page and navigate from there to the opinion section. They just follow a link that somebody sent to them on Twitter, and they just land there paying very little attention to where they are, whether they are in news or opinion or wherever, they just know that they’re on the site. And in the heavy social media environment, news articles and opinions often live side by side. Hard line journalists, opinion journalists, advocates, activists are equalized in social media. And to many readers and viewers they begin to blend together...


Stephen Ward, a writer on Media Shift, a blog that tracks how the media evolution is changing the media overall... he said, and I’ll take this as a quote, “The amount of opinion and perspective journalism in programs today is much greater than in the past. And media formats for the expression of this journalism multiply. One problem is whether the ideal of journalistic objectivity should be emphasized in these changing curricula. The new journalism tends to be more personal. It prefers transparency to objectivity or self-effacing neutrality. Across journalism programs there is a trend towards teaching a perspectable [sic] journalism that draws conclusions and argues for interpretations. This challenges the previous dominance of objectivity as an ideal.” And that is a huge shift in how we get our news...

85% of MSNBC’s coverage is now opinion driven material according to that Pew report. The only place that still has about the same balance of opinion and straight news is CNN. That is a real shift in how we are getting our news. People are drifting away from wanting, the appetite for neutrality is changing. We want to live in a cocoon, in an echo chamber where we just hear our own thoughts reinforced over and over again... What does that say about us as a nation.... how that reflects on this particular case where people tune into particular places so that they can have confirmed whether or not they believe that Zimmerman was innocent or guilty.