Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


David Brotherton

Committee Members

David A. Green

Jayne Mooney

Subject Categories

Criminology | Critical and Cultural Studies


protest, media, media frames, social constructionism, New York City


Majoritarian democracies are founded on the idea that the governance of society will reflect the needs and desires of the majority of the people and that all citizens are given a voice. Public protest activity is one of the ways in which social movement organizations as claims-makers can reach an audience to attempt to convince a majority to effect social change. The mainstream news media can disseminate information about protest messages and activity beyond the local. However, the mainstream news media filters information in its own way, influenced in part because of traditional news routines but also potentially by the increasing domination of media ownership by the economic elite. Drawing on the premises of free speech theory, social constructionism, and media framing, this research examines the way three large mainstream print news media sources in New York City framed public protest activity in two time periods – during the 2004 Republican National Convention (n = 211) and during the 2011 Occupy Wall Street encampment in Zuccotti Park (n = 313). Using a modified frame structure based on Todd Gitlin’s work on news coverage of Students for a Democratic Society in the 1960s, articles were examined for their use of trivialization, marginalization, polarization, disparagement, and positive frames; for the overall construction of protest as normal, deviant, neutral, or mixed; and for coverage of protest activity vs. protest message. Polarization was found to be the most common frame used, and the overall construction of protest was one of disruption and disorderliness. Protest activity was also more likely to be covered than protest message. While the effects of media framing on public opinion is unlikely to be simple or direct, these findings raise questions about how public knowledge of social justice issues is constructed and how this construction of knowledge could impact the functioning of democratic societies.