Guide Suspicion Nation: Trayvon Martin-Zimmerman Trial

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George Zimmerman found not guilty of murder in Trayvon Martin's death - CNN

Popular on Variety. Close Menu. Variety Intelligence Platform. Variety Mobile Logo. Premier Logo Created with Sketch. Login Follow Us. We use the term ecosystems rather than environments to emphasize that they are not monolithic or strictly hierarchical — instead, they are dynamic networks of media linked together by transmedia audiences coalescing around particular stories at particular times, as well as by literal hyperlinks seeking the most influential source at a given moment.

The implications for this view of a media ecosystem are that participatory media have potentially equal standing as gatekeepers and agenda—setters with mainstream media sources. Critics of the pure networked public sphere view have pointed out that less than democratic hierarchies still evolve Hindman, Rather than take sides on this theoretical discussion, we refer to our collection of stories and interactions with stories as a media ecosystem, respecting the idea that a networked public sphere exists in that every media source may act on the other media sources in particular ways.

Gates represent individuals, media sources and institutions, or cultural boundaries that act on information at the gates in some way, such as displaying or repeating versus withholding or deleting; these acts constitute gatekeeping. The gated are those nodes in the network affected by gates and gatekeeping. Networked gatekeeping is governed by the salience of the gated from the perspective of the gatekeeper. Importantly, this theory of gatekeeping does not view gatekeepers as monolithic, instead it respects the inequities of power that exist in contemporary media ecosystems and theorizes the dynamic mechanisms of gatekeeping power.

This is the idea that framing is crowdsourced and arrived at through iteration and discussion. Studying this contemporary, networked media landscape demands multi—methodological and multiple media source analysis. Recent studies and theories of media framing and gatekeeping have argued for the need to look both at multiple media sources as well as the dynamic and interactive relationships between news producers, political institutions, and social movements Oliver and Maney, ; Ferree, et al.

In particular, some agenda—setting research has focused on measuring the salience of an agenda item in terms of attention or visibility calculated by summing the number of stories that address it in total as well as in prominent locations like the front page of the newspaper Kiousis, Additionally, some scholars of contemporary social movements have observed the need for new theories and methodologies to comprehend new forms of media activism using attention as a critical resource Tufekci, ; Costanza—Chock, Media Cloud is a toolset for rigorous, quantitative study of media agendas and frames.

Ongoing Topics

Media Cloud offers a very broad view of online media, collecting stories from a corpus of more than 27, mainstream media and blog sources, and using a link—following methodology to expand the corpus to other relevant sources. Using network maps of interlinked stories from mainstream media and blogs in the Media Cloud corpus, Benkler, et al. However, the story of SOPA—PIPA may have simply played out in online participatory media because the issue at hand was the Internet itself, and the activism that ensued was organized and performed online. In contrast to SOPA—PIPA, the Trayvon Martin story occurred and unfolded substantially off—line: the shooting of a black teenager eventually sparked a national debate across multiple media channels, in rallies and marches, and in the speeches and actions of major political figures.

Initially, the story passed with little notice, but the efforts of a small pro bono team of lawyers and publicists attracted the national limelight. From there, the Trayvon Martin story spread to broader audiences through a widely signed online petition, 24x7 cable news coverage, multiple activist campaigns including competing political agendas pushed by participatory media, a deeply emotional response from President Obama, and a widely televised criminal trial.


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To understand the full arc of the Trayvon Martin story, we extended and refined Benkler, et al. Conceiving of the media ecosystem as a network demanded a network analysis approach to influence, for which we used the PageRank algorithm Page, et al. We complemented and informed the direction of our quantitative analysis by interviewing media activists involved in the early stages of the Trayvon Martin controversy. Our goal was to thoroughly document the spread of the Trayvon Martin story in broadcast and participatory media and to understand the role activists had in spreading different interpretations of the story.

We corresponded with Change. To create our stories dataset, we used Media Cloud [ 6 ], a platform that continually collects stories articles and blog posts from a growing list of RSS feeds from sources around the world. We collected stories from 26 February to 30 April through three existing U. Benkler, et al. We then used Media Cloud to identify the hyperlinks in each story and crawl the Web, downloading those linked—to stories, identifying their links and spidering again. We cleaned the data through automatic de—duplication based on query strings in the URLs, hand de—duplication to correct for unusual URLs or incorrectly processed posting dates, and removal of irrelevant stories in which our string query matched text outside of the article body or the date of the article was parsed incorrectly.

This produced the final subset of Media Cloud data, which comprised 8, stories from sources. We collected two complementary measures of mainstream media coverage: national front page newspaper stories and broadcast television news mentions. Broadcast television mentions were collected using Archive.

George Zimmerman Trial & Trayvon Martin Case

The closed caption corpus contains , news programs collected over three years from national U. Finally, bitly provided us with click analytics for any URLs in their system associated with our Media Cloud stories. A summary of all data collected can be viewed in Appendix 2. In order to directly compare volumes of attention to each other and appreciate the general pattern of ebbs and flows in attention paid to the story, we normalized the volumes of each media type per day according to their own peak and then graphed them along a timeline see Figure 1.

There is the potential for distortion when normalizing and comparing data, particularly when data are on significantly different scales. However, we justified the risk of exaggerating the prominence of a media source like front page newspaper coverage — which had a small sample size — because our interest was in relative trends over time, as well as using the attention volumes as guides to further quantitative and qualitative analysis of the raw data and content. We will examine those five acts in the Chronological analysis section of the paper.

We used PageRank Page, et al. The PageRank algorithm produced eigenvector centrality scores for each media source based on the network topology, which we used as proxies for their authority influence. We created subgraphs of the source nodes and their links for each act according to their date ranges, and for several secondary search queries to understand usage of keywords and phrases associated with particular framings that we had found while doing close readings of highly cited stories.

We used Gephi to perform our analyses and visualize the networks [ 9 ].

We used our network visualizations to find the most authoritative nodes indicated by their prominent size, as well as to trace the links back from these authoritative sources to hub—like sources and then on to lesser authorities. In our networks, major blogs and mainstream media sources serve as both authorities and hubs and fulfill key roles in the hyperlinked chains of reference across the ecosystem. This is based on the assumption that online media ecosystems generally conform to the scale—free network characteristics of the Web — i. Consistent with our view of media ecosystems as evolving and ever—changing, tracing these networks was an attempt to locate authority on a topic in the moment versus authority purely as a function of accrued in—directed edges, which will always be skewed toward established sources like the New York Times with a history of preferential attachment, i.

The day after Trayvon Martin was shot by George Zimmerman, 27 February, the shooting death was covered, like many crime stories, by a local television news channel. On 29 February, the Orlando Sentinel ran a story [ 12 ] for their circulation of , [ 13 ]. On 2 March, the Miami Herald picked up the story [ 14 ] and published it to a circulation of , [ 15 ]. After that, nearly a week passed without any additional press mentions.

The news story, initially framed as a fight between two people in an area known for occasional violence, stood little chance of attracting significant media attention. After this small amount of local coverage, we would expect the story to be over, as the news cycle had moved on. But as will become apparent over the course of the remaining four acts, the Trayvon Martin case took on a very different shape, and received vastly more attention long after most breaking news stories would have disappeared from view.

This resurgence in interest was the direct result of efforts to publicize the story. Crump had taken on a previous civil rights case and failed to convict, which he attributed to an inadequate media strategy prior to the trial itself Caputo, Crump brought on local lawyer Natalie Jackson, who enlisted the pro bono services of publicist Ryan Julison. Julison was particularly struck by the fact that a neighborhood watch captain would be carrying a firearm with no training of any kind other than a concealed weapons permit Julison, Later, Crump, when interviewed about the case, introduced racial framing around the story as the national media began to pay attention Boedeker and Comas, Within a day of joining the effort, Julison attracted significant media coverage.

He began reaching out to the largest national media sources as measured by audience reach and worked his way down until he found interest from Reuters and CBS This Morning. The mainstream media coverage helped Julison and Crump generate additional stories Julison, , but also brought the story to the attention of an activist online audience. Frustrated by the relative paucity of media coverage and incensed by the lack of justice, he began a Change. One of his first updates on the petition page explicitly cited the lack of media attention to date.

The initial signatures came from sharing the petition with other members of the Howard University community over e—mail [ 19 ]. Our graphs show that alongside local coverage of the now national story — most prominently NBC affiliate WESH [ 20 ] — Race—based media led by Global Grind [ 21 ], and to a lesser extent activist outlets ColorOfChange [ 22 ] and the Black Youth Project, played key roles during this act.

Black Youth Project [ 23 ] and Huffington Post [ 24 ] were both important early amplifiers, and both misreported that Zimmerman was white and that the shooting occurred within a private gated community. The Change. On 14 March, while other media channels were still relatively quiet on the story, there was a strong increase in signatures on the Change.

The surge continued on 15 March. Using Change. Starting around 14 March, Change. In Act III, mainstream media strengthened their positions as the predominant authorities. The energy building around the story accelerated sharply on 16 March, when Crump was successful in his quest to secure the public release of the audio of the call Zimmerman placed while he pursued Martin with a gun.

The audio of the call established that the operator asked Zimmerman not to pursue Martin. Zimmerman ignored this advice and confronted Martin. While television had helped spread the Trayvon story in Act II, Broadcast Television took up the story in earnest after the release of the tapes. Strong televised coverage, including the personal involvement of Reverend Al Sharpton, preceded a second wave of sharp growth in Change. Despite the heavy attention in other media, no stories about Trayvon Martin made the front page of the New York Times, New York Post, Los Angeles Times , or Washington Post until 22 March, perhaps because mainstream and broadcast media prefer the easily covered actuality of a march — and in this case, they waited until after it was a fact.

Zimmerman supporters, finding legitimation in mainstream media coverage, fought back, arguing such clothing was representative of thugs who commit crimes. Nearly a month after Martin was shot, a reporter asked President Obama about the case during an unrelated press conference in the White House Rose Garden. On 26 March, the Change. Given the broad media attention paid to the case, what started as a battle for justice around an event became a political battle, with pre—established sides harnessing the attention trained on the story for political gain.

George Zimmerman Jury Sees Slain Trayvon Martin Photos

To study the different framings of the Trayvon case, we used subgraphs of the linked Media Cloud network for this time period, which included only those stories that mentioned specific terms associated with a media frame. This allowed us to identify which actors were important in introducing the frames.


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In this act, we see evidence that actors on the political right worked to establish a narrative that undercut our understanding of Martin as an innocent victim. The network graphs allowed us to pinpoint the origins of this narrative in conservative blogs. On 25 March, Dan Linehan, lead author of the Wagist blog, asserted that Trayvon was a drug dealer [ 32 ]. This reframing of the shooting victim was then amplified by a number of right wing blogs.

Research has shown that restating a myth in order to negate it can actually produce familiarity and thereby help further propagate the misinformation Johnson and Seifert, ; Skurnik, et al. Still, key actors like Drudge Report aggregated and amplified some of these counternarratives, helping to set the media agenda themselves by leveraging their consistently large audiences of both bloggers and mainstream media journalists who repeated that framing, like those at the Daily Mail [ 35 ], seen more prominently in Figure 8 than Figure 9.

In Figure 9, we see Left—leaning blogs and organizations like Think Progress chime in to debunk the assertions while some alternative media like the Gothamist [ 36 ] join the conversation at the level of metanarrative, covering the coverage of the claim. Even CNN, via a commentator on race and policies, features a mention of the drug dealer frame in a piece on the battle over stereotypes [ 37 ].

This suggests a strategy for reframing a story — if an activist is able to gain mainstream coverage for a framing, opponents are likely to respond, perpetuating a debate that features the desired framing.

It’s not George Zimmerman, It’s the System

This problem is a good example of a challenge we face in quantitative media analysis of framing. It is difficult to detect framing by searching for short key phrases and difficult to detect patterns purely by hyperlinks. Searching an online archive of links posted on Drudge Report [ 39 ] revealed several links to news stories about Trayvon Martin posted on the previous day.

Ironically, a senior analyst at the Left—wing think tank Media Matters drove more attention to Drudge and the content and frame exposed by The Daily Caller, by wrongly castigating Drudge for featuring the photo from the Daily Caller, claiming the screen shot was faked [ 42 ]. We also identified concerted efforts to use the attention the story had attracted to connect the public to broader national issues behind the events. These pieces made arguments that were soon echoed elsewhere in the liberal blogosphere.

More activism followed, as over 50 Change. The Left successfully pressured several of the target ALEC sponsor companies to end their relationship with the lobbying council Scola, a. Finally, six weeks after Martin was shot, Zimmerman was taken into custody. In this final act of the narrative, news outlets played up a human drama angle, giving a tabloid tone to the stories.

While interest in the Trayvon Martin story largely disappeared from online media, television media covered the story day after day, as Figure 13 demonstrates. A poll found that national public opinion was split along predictable racial fault lines [ 48 ] following the intense media coverage. Television news channels reported heavily on the story throughout this phase, even as attention in other media decreased. The issue—based battle between political agendas took a backseat to developments in the criminal trial, and coverage shifted to trial outcomes for Zimmerman.

As April drew to a close, Google Search interest in Zimmerman spiked occasionally in tandem with the television coverage until all media attention ebbed away. To find relationships between media sources not obvious from the chronological and network analyses, we looked for statistical correlations in the volume data from each media source across the time period we studied. Because we have data by day, we also looked for correlations where the fit was offset by a day or two, suggesting attention or coverage paid by certain media sources led or lagged behind others.

To do this, we applied the cross—correlation function in the R statistical computing language [ 50 ] to our attention volume data from each media source. The correlation matrices show that the media sources are all correlated to some extent. The comparatively low correlation between Twitter and other sources appears to be a matter of not being out of a phase but out amplitude with the other media sources for example, see the spark lines in Appendix 2.

Interest on Twitter failed to rematerialize after its peak on 24 March , while the other media sources either peaked or approached the magnitude of an earlier peak later in the time period. The production of Media Cloud stories were sustained to a greater degree than bitly clicks on that content throughout the second half of the period of study, which suggests that while blogs and media outlets were reporting on the Trayvon Martin story, there may have been less expressed interest from readers. While we cannot measure engagement with television coverage, Broadcast Television attention to the Trayvon story late in our study period was also sustained at a much greater degree than engagement online, as shown by our set of online engagement metrics.

Another interesting finding from the time shift matrix Table 4 , was how Change. The strong correlations of Change. Perhaps in other cases, volume of petition signatures could serve as an indicator of general media attention to come, not necessarily because of the media event created by the petition itself — as Change. In the case of Broadcast Television, the reason it beats other media source in our volume—based model is likely due to its nature as a bundled product, which is produced on the same day and shown to a large audience.

A year after Trayvon Martin death, families reflect

This would have a ripple effect on the rest of the media ecosystem by stimulating feedback loops in the forms of Google searches and social media discussion that create demand for content production from faster media sources like Media Cloud, which all show up a day later in our matrix. Front Page Newspaper stories would follow a day after that, as we see, because of their next—day production schedule. Bloom is also the author of the bestselling Swagger and Think.

She proposes alternative ways of handling key witnesses and invents a far, far better closing argument than the one prosecutors used. She ultimately presents a devastating portrait of incompetence. Read this book, get angry, and demand change. As a great civil rights lawyer Lisa has fought the good fight and exposed injustice.

Lisa Bloom has given us a riveting analysis of one of the most profoundly disturbing cases of our time. OJ Simpson. Suspicion Nation reads like a great courtroom drama and will ignite major re-examination of this iconic case.