The Battle for “Trayvon Martin”
News coverage about the killing of Trayvon Martin started as a short-lived, local Florida news piece, but through strategic activation of traditional broadcast media and participatory online activism, eventually became the most-widely covered story about race in the last five years. The story drew immense coverage from professional journalists and active public engagement online and offline, offering a potent case study for examining the role and influence of participatory media on media agendas.
The first major analysis to use Media Cloud’s tools for the purposes of “controversy mapping” considered the emergence in nontraditional, online media of opposition to proposed SOPA-PIPA legislation. In contrast to SOPA-PIPA, the Trayvon Martin story occurred and unfolded substantially offline: the shooting of a black teenager eventually sparked a national debate across multiple media channels, in rallies and marches, and in the speeches and actions of major political figures. Initially, the story passed with little notice, but the efforts of a small pro bonoteam of lawyers and publicists attracted the national limelight. From there, the Trayvon Martin story spread to broader audiences through a widely signed online petition, 24×7 cable news coverage, multiple activist campaigns including competing political agendas pushed by participatory media, a deeply emotional response from President Obama, and a widely televised criminal trial.