On Wednesday April 4, Geneseo alumna and visiting sociology professor at Tufts University, Sarah Sobieraj ’93, delivered a lecture titled “Covered: Activists, Journalists, and News in a Shifting Media Landscape” in Newton 201.
Sobieraj’s presentation addressed the relationship between activist groups and journalists. She said that media outlets often overlook the fundamental messages of protesters.
According to Sobieraj’s research, protest groups often appear to gain media attention, but the resulting news reports focus more on “local color,” looking at the landscape of the protests rather than tackling the ultimate purpose of the protests.
Sobieraj said that, in an effort to garner more media attention, activists over-plan their encounters with journalists, evading the spontaneity and passion of the protests.
“What’s important to realize is that most of our news comes from staged events,” she said.
Sobieraj said that activists focused so intently on gaining the attention of mainstream news sources that many failed to pay any attention to the bystanders and independent news outlets.
Her research suggested that lack of media coverage of political protests also has a negative effect on society.
“The function of news is to inform, so if the scope of coverage is reduced, citizens are less able to make informed decisions,” Sobieraj said.
Sobieraj concluded the lecture with an analysis of the recent Occupy Wall Street movement, explaining that Occupy received so much media coverage because of its authenticity. After the lecture, Sobieraj stayed to answer questions from the audience.
Sobieraj has published numerous articles for sociological and political journals. Her lecture at Geneseo reflected her 2001 publication Soundbitten: The Perils of Media-Centered Political Activism. In her over 120 interviews with association leaders and members and political reporters, Sobieraj collected data to support her position on the relationship between activists and journalists.
Several students at the lecture were required to attend for political science and sociology classes, including adjunct political science professor Robert Cook’s PLSC 110: American Politics.
“I enjoyed it. I didn’t know much about what she was talking about, but she was a really good speaker and really informative,” said freshman political science major Alexandra Fasulo.
Sobieraj’s next book The Outrage Industry will examine the media’s perception of political celebrities.