Outsiders within: A framing analysis of eight Black and White U.S. newspapers' coverage of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954--1964

Yolanda Denise Campbell

Abstract

This study offers an important contribution to communication research about how Black and White Newspapers covered one of the most significant periods of racial unrest in the history of the U.S. besides slavery--the Civil Rights Movement. Specifically, this paper examined the unique combination of eight U.S. newspapers--The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, The Pittsburgh Courier, The Birmingham News, The Birmingham World, The Clarion Ledger, The Jackson Advocate, The Chicago Tribune, and The Chicago Defender from 1954-1964, the beginning and end of the Civil Rights Movement. Through a qualitative framing analysis of the eight newspapers exploring the categories of subject/theme, dominant article/editorial perspectives, headline descriptors, characterization of key Civil Rights figures, article/editorial length and placement, and photos; this study reveals that Black and White newspapers were not in keeping with previous research which proclaimed that Northern Black/White and Southern Black papers would provide supportive coverage towards the movement and that Southern White newspapers would provide unsupportive coverage. Interestingly, an examination of news articles among both Northern/Southern Black/White newspapers revealed that the majority of all papers' news article coverage was neutral and objective. However, the editorial coverage, in which newspapers were able to make their stance for their prospective sides of the movement, results revealed that the papers were very much in keeping with previous researchers' findings that Northern Black/White and Southern Black newspapers were in favor of the cause of the Civil Rights Movement and that the Southern White newspapers were not. The prevalent subject/themes that received the most attention, especially from Southern White newspapers, was integration struggles followed by the murder of Emmett Till and the subsequent trial, the Birmingham Bombing, and the murder of Medgar Evers. The majority of all headlines were neutral, the average length of both articles/editorials among the newspapers was 500 words or less, and most articles were placed in the front section of the newspaper, evidence that the happenings of the movement was significant among all papers whether Black or White. Seemingly most photos from the Birmingham bombing to the violence against the Freedom Riders depicted Blacks as victims at the hands of angry Whites--both police officers and everyday citizens, who were just plain discontent with their segregationist way of life being challenged. Such images which appeared in the newspapers presented a sympathetic image towards Blacks and ultimately helped to shed light onto the injustices they were experiencing.