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Coverage of the convention protests has been terrible. We can and should change that.

A woman speaks at the Countering Islamophobia town hall outside of the 2016 DNC
The Countering Islamophobia town hall outside of the 2016 DNC is just one example of the peace building work happening around the conventions Photo: Tony Heriza / AFSC

Convention coverage is one of our favorite guilty pleasures, but the coverage of the peaceful protests outside of the conventions has fallen into the same old Angry Spontaneous Protester narrative that it often does. This narrative isn't just overused, it's inaccurate. We can and should change it. 

What is nonviolence anyway?

Nonviolence is not the same as "not doing anything." In fact, the opposite is true: Nonviolent solutions to conflict always entail doing something. Nonviolence includes things like the marches, highway blockages, and similar protests that occasionally make the news. But it's a lot more than just these kinds of public actions. It also includes all kinds of problem-solving and social justice work, from international diplomacy all the way through grassroots community-building. The problem is that you would never know this, or how effective this work is at long-term problem-solving, from watching the news. There are two major problems with the way the media currently covers nonviolence: 1) the coverage of violent solutions to conflict vastly overshadows coverage of nonviolence, and 2) the coverage that does exist doesn't tell the whole story. 

Problem 1: The media covers violence far more often than nonviolence

The first problem with the media's current coverage of nonviolence is that it hardly covers it at all. Our recent study of how media cover violent extremism, for example, shows a staggering disparity in the volume of coverage of violent responses to conflict compared to nonviolent responses: For every five stories that cover violence, there is only one that covers nonviolence. What's more, when journalists cover U.S. interventions into violent extremism, they cover military intervention 31% of the time. Compare this to the measly coverage of diplomatic responses to conflict (12% of total coverage) and coverage of humanitarian responses (4%) and the picture gets even worse. How can the U.S. public be expected to support nonviolent responses to conflict when the media routinely cover violent responses more than violent ones? 

Problem 2: The media doesn't tell the whole story when it does cover nonviolence

Street protests make for great photo opportunities, and we definitely think the media should cover nonviolence more than it does now. But as we've argued before, there's a good and bad way to do everything. Too often, the way that the media covers nonviolence doesn't tell the whole story. Rather, this coverage plays into a stale and inaccurate narrative of angry protestors who spontaneously arose to disturb 'the peace' - and who will dissipate just as quickly. Too often, this narrative plays into racist stereotypes of the protesters, which takes a bad situation and makes it even worse. We almost never see coverage of the extensive organizing that takes place in order to make these nonviolent interventions possible, nor do we see coverage of what happens as a result of these interventions. We also don't see nearly as much coverage of other kinds of peace building: For example, the daily work of the many civil society organizations that build peace day in and day out. 

Nonviolence advocates and the media can work together to fix these problems. Here's how.

Peace builders and journalists both have an opportunity to change the way the media portrays nonviolence. The many dedicated individuals who work towards nonviolent social change everyday can share their stories with journalists, including evidence that nonviolence is more effective than violence in the long run. Journalists, for their part, have an opportunity to tell a new story about nonviolence by covering the real work of nonviolence - without falling into the Angry Spontaneous Protester trap.

Interested in helping us change the narrative on war and violence? Check out our new report to see how you can get involved.