The Media Today

The media today: Student walkout keeps media attention on gun violence

March 15, 2018

One month after 17 students and staff were killed at a Florida high school, the media turned its gaze to student voices around the country demanding action on gun control. Thousands of students streamed from classrooms as part of a national walkout, and coverage of the action dominated morning television.

ABC, CBS, and NBC all broadcast special reports on the walkout, while MSNBC and CNN provided extended coverage, with journalists in the field from Washington, DC; Parkland, Florida; New York City; and other locations around the country. There was, perhaps predictably, markedly less coverage on Fox News, which aired brief reports amid regular political coverage. At 10am, Viacom-owned networks including Nickelodeon, MTV, BET, and Comedy Central honored the walkout with a programming blackout.

ICYMI: New York Times columnist lands in hot water

In print, the story features on front pages of this morning’s New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today. “Even after a year of near continuous protesting—for women, for the environment, for immigrants and more—the emergence of people not even old enough to drive as a political force has been particularly arresting, unsettling a gun control debate that had seemed impervious to other factors,” write the Times’s Vivian Yee and Alan Blinder in their A1 story.

Wednesday’s action drew comparisons to the anti-Vietnam War protests of the 1960s and ’70s, demonstrating once again the surprising staying power of the student-led #NeverAgain movement started in the wake of last month’s shooting. Previous mass killings, even the slaughter of elementary school students in Newtown, Connecticut, faded from the national conversation relatively quickly.

RELATED: The stories we should be writing after the Parkland shooting

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While media coverage of the movement has continued, momentum for any sort of comprehensive federal response appears to have stalled. Florida Governor Rick Scott recently signed a bill raising the minimum age to purchase a firearm to 21, but Congress has failed to seriously consider any action on gun control. Yesterday, the House overwhelmingly voted for a bill that would beef up school security without addressing the country’s gun laws. Facing opposition from the National Rifle Association and pushback from lawmakers, President Trump has abandoned his support for gun control measures he outlined in statements shortly after the February 14 shooting.

The walkout was the first national action of the nascent movement, and a march on Washington, DC, is scheduled for March 24. With the continuous churn of news out of the capital and political opposition to any real change in gun laws firmly entrenched, there’s no guarantee students will be able to keep the focus on their demands. But a month ago, few would have expected the conversation to have gotten this far.

Below, more on the coverage of the protests.

  • Blanket coverage: The Washington Post’s front-page story on the walkout included reporting from 13 journalists around the country.
  • Why now?: The visibility of the current movement, led by students at Stoneman Douglas High School, has left some wondering why previous pleas for gun control didn’t gain traction. Philadelphia Daily News columnist Helen Ubiñas wrote about students in the city questioning why their struggles with gun violence didn’t attract attention. Last month, the Chicago Tribune’s Dahleen Glanton focused on Black Lives Matter youth who feel ignored. Vox’s P.R. Lockhart reported on the way students of color made sure the national walkout didn’t ignore race.
  • Not universal: Nearly every report I saw included coverage of schools where administrators had discouraged or banned protest, and several outlets included perspectives of students who chose not to participate.
  • National problem: While the focus has been on Parkland, CJR’s Alexandria Neason points out one reason students around the country are more than aware of the gun issue. In the weeks following the Stoneman Douglas shooting, dozens of threats to schools occurred across the country. While local education reporters are aware of these incidents, Neason writes that national media hasn’t given much attention to the sprawl of post-Parkland threats.
  • Cable coverage: Media Matters’s Lis Power analyzed cable news coverage of the walkout, noting that Fox News chose to spend significantly less time on the story than its competitors. “MSNBC devoted the full hour to the protest, not even breaking for commercials. CNN spent significant time on the story, interviewing students and highlighting the national nature of the movement. Fox News devoted only a couple of brief headline segments to the events,” Power wrote.


Other notable stories

  • President Trump tapped CNBC contributor Larry Kudlow to be his chief economic advisor, demonstrating his penchant for favoring those individuals who defend his message on television. “He gets policy ideas, talking points, and even personnel advice from conservative cable news shows,” writes CNN’s Brian Stelter in a look at the Trump-TV feedback loop.
  • A source emailed me his life’s work. Then, he ended his life.USA Today’s Gregory Korte writes about his anguish in dealing with a nightmare situation.
  • The Denver Post is cutting about 30 jobs, reducing its newsroom by almost a third, reports Denver Business Journal. The paper is one of several owned by hedge fund Alden Global Capital that has seen deep cuts in recent years. “This is not a decline-of-newspapers story,” the LA Times’s Matt Pearce argued. “It’s a corporate governance story.”
  • Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes was charged with fraud by the Securities and Exchange Commission, capping a stunning downfall for the woman hailed as Silicon Valley’s first female billionaire. The Wall Street Journal’s John Carreyrou deserves the lion’s share of credit for reporting that sparked investigations into the blood-testing company.
  • The Washington Post’s Paul Farhi examines a lawsuit filed by the parents of Seth Rich against Fox News. “Fox retracted the story about Rich six days after posting it on but hasn’t said whether it was because the reporting was inaccurate,” Farhi writes. “The network also never issued an apology nor has it divulged whether it has disciplined any of the people involved in producing it or promoting it.”
  • CNN’s 9pm hour has a new host. Chris Cuomo is moving from mornings to cable news’s biggest hour, where he’ll be up against Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow. The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum, who broke the story, notes that “CNN has struggled recently in prime time, falling to third place behind Fox News and MSNBC, as viewers are increasingly drawn to partisan commentary.”

ICYMI: Amid a sea of voices, Vox’s Carlos Maza breaks through

Pete Vernon is a former CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.