In the Spotlight: Analyzing Sequential Attention Effects in Protest Reporting
© 2018, Copyright © 2018 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. During waves of contention, international media attention can be of crucial importance for activists and protest participants. However, media attention is a scarce resource and the competition over news coverage is high. While some emphasize the agenda-setting power of news outlets and argue that receiving coverage is determined by factors outside the protest movement, others suggest a dynamic relationship between media attention and activism where social movement organizations are assumed to have some agency to make it to the news. In this article, we contribute to the latter and analyze how protest can endogenously trigger more coverage. Building on insights from communication science, we argue that widely covered protests attract media attention and temporarily lower the selection threshold for subsequent incidents. Using fine-grained data on anti-regime protest in all authoritarian countries between 2003 and 2012, we find robust empirical evidence for this hypothesis. We also show that this effect becomes weaker and eventually disappears with increasing spatial and temporal distance from a highly salient event. These findings are important for research in contentious politics, since they allow us to gauge the extent to which protest activity on the ground may under certain circumstances be overreported in the media.
Hellmeier, S; Weidmann, NB; Geelmuyden Rød, E
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