The shooting of Trayvon Martin was one of the biggest stories of 2012. It didn't start out that way, says the Nieman Journalism Lab. It began as just another local crime story, and it could have easily remained one. How did the death of a black Florida teen become what the Pew Research Center says was the most covered story with a racial component in the past five years? MIT Center for Civic Media researchers tried to answer that question in “The Battle for Trayvon Martin: Mapping a Media Controversy On- and Offline.”
Using data from Media Cloud of Harvard's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, which collects and analyzes both mainstream and alternative digital news streams, the authors trace how an attorney and publicist hired by the Martin family got national news outlets to cover the case, and later an audio file on the last moments before Martin died provided an “actuality” for broadcasters to build a story around. “We realized that the broadcast media were key to driving attention to this story,” said co-author Ehrhardt Graeff. The authors say the mainstream media are highly susceptible to the agenda-setting of digital and alternative media. They also believe that digital activists are getting better at manipulating the media, promoting their own agendas and challenging official narratives.