1 @todayin1963: Commemorative Journalism, Digital Collective Remembering, and the March on Washington Brendan R. Watson, Ph.D. and Michelle Chen School of Journalism & Mass Communication University of Minnesota-Twin Cities 111 Murphy Hall 206 Church St. SE Minneapolis, MN (612) ABSTRACT: This study uses content analysis and social network analysis methods to examine NPR s novel use of Twitter to commemorate the 50 th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, including the implication of that coverage on collective remembering of the event. Specifically this study explores the extent to which NPR s coverage followed conventionalized patterns of traditional news coverage, including the protest paradigm, which obscure the specific civil rights demands at the heart of the march. Twitter s social network data also make it possible to visualize and examine the audience s active participation in collective remembering, and whether that participation changes which aspects of the coverage and the march are ultimately most salient for collective memory retrieval. However, the most influential Twitter accounts in the network that developed around coverage that this study focuses on are among those institutions and individuals who have traditionally had more cultural authority over collective memory. Thus, the data end up challenging the extent to which Twitter has altered those power structures that determine whose memories of important historic events dominate, and whose do not.
2 @todayin1963 p. 2 Not only do the news media write first drafts of history, they write subsequent drafts, too (Edy, 1999). Previous scholars have suggested that the news media s coverage of historic events, including their commemorative coverage of events such as the 1963 March on Washington, shapes how these events are remembered in the public s collective memory, that cultural memory of events that transcends those individuals who lived through those events (Harris, Patterson, and Kemp, 2008; Wertsch & Roediger, 2008; Wilson, 2005). These previous studies, however, have largely overlooked the audience s active role in collective remembering, instead focusing on journalists narratives. But by assuming these narratives enter the public consciousness, these studies invoke an implied audience (Livingstone, 1998). The implied audience is problematic because a real audience does not necessarily share scholars or journalists readings of the original narrative, particularly in today s postbroadcast digital media era (Hoskins, 2010; Livingstone, 1998). In today s digital and social media landscape, the audience is engaged in a conversation with the media, and plays a more active role in the process of producing collective memory, which is articulated through the everyday digital connectivity of the self (with others and with the past) that can be continually produced, accessed and updated (Hoskins, 2010, p. 467). The 140-character limit of Tweets makes it difficult to use the social media messages to examine the narratives used in collective remembering. However, the engagement of audience members, their interactions with the news media, and with one another via social media, makes it possible to examine the audience s active role in digital, networked collective remembering. Thus, this study examines National Public Radio s novel use of Twitter in its commemorative coverage of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the Twitter audience s engagement with that coverage.
3 @todayin1963 p. 3 Throughout the year, NPR Tweeted about historic events that happened in 1963 as if they occurred that day in For example, on August 28, 2013, they Tweeted events that happened at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom that occurred on August 28, This study examines how NPR used Twitter to remember the March on Washington. It also examines whether the audience s active role in collective remembering by retweeting NPR s coverage changed which aspects of the March on Washington are most prominent in the collective remembering of that event. The study also examines the social network that develops through this process of collective remembering on Twitter, and whether the most influential Twitter users in this network reflect a broadening of those institutions and individuals that are seen as having the social power to influence collective remembering. Literature Review Collective Memory The study of collective memory is interdisciplinary and scholars from different disciplines such as history, sociology, psychology, and media studies approach collective memory from different angles. As a result, collective memory suffers from a lack of conceptual clarity (Harris et al., p. 215), with the conceptual limits of collective memories and its relationship to individual and group memory differing between scholars based on their discipline (Kansteiner, 2002; Marschall, 2013; Wang, 2008; Wertsch & Roediger, 2008). Despite that, one agreed upon feature among scholars who study collective memory is that it is a form of memory that transcends the individual and is shared by a group (Harris, el al., 2008; Wertsch & Roediger, 2008; Wilson, 2005). There is also general consensus that collective memories do not emerge naturally, but rather are constructed, and often contested, negotiated, and re-constructed by different groups in society in a never-ending loop.
4 @todayin1963 p. 4 Sociologists and psychologists have been most active in the study of collective memory. The latter group of scholars is mostly concerned with individual cognitive memory as well as the process and outcome of remembering in small groups, whereas the former is mostly focused on the negotiation of collective memories within social networks and the relationship of collective memory to institutions of power (Harris et al., 2008; Muller & Hirst, 2009; Keightley, 2010). Historians have also been interested in and have struggled with the contentious relationship between history and collective memory (Keightley, 2010; Wertsch & Roediger, 2008). The tension arises because history aims to provide an accurate description of the past; collective memory, on the other hand, is concerned with identity formation, using and altering the past for present goals often without regard for factual information (Wertsch & Roediger, 2008). Thus far, mainline memory studies have been slow to include journalism as one of its vital and critical agents in the understanding of memory (Zelizer, 2008, p. 80). Instead of considering media as central to memory research, mainstream memory studies often either view media as a mediating factor (Zandberg, 2010, p.8) or as a tool to investigate collective memory (Neiger, Meyers, & Zandberg, 2012; Kitch, 2008). Yet as Carlson (2010) points out, the ability to speak authoritatively about the past is always limited to a small group of speakers, and journalists are often accorded a special role in providing narratives that order the past while contributing to a shared sense of identity for groups in the present (p. 236). Thus, while acknowledging that collective memory takes shape through the interaction of multiple sources across various channels, media scholars have started to argue that journalists play a significant role in communicating, shaping, reinforcing, and sustaining the collective memory of historical events (Hoskins, 2009; Zandberg, Meyers & Neiger, 2012).
5 @todayin1963 p. 5 Hume (2003) asserted that the press has played a role historically in building American collective consciousness and memory, and has long relied upon history and memory in story telling (in Hume, 2010, p. 187). Hoskins (2010) also argued that newsworthiness is translated into collective memory through striking images and accounts (p. 464). In other words, elements of the event that qualifies it as newsworthy are also features that influence and shape memory because as explained by Leavy (2007) the initial reporting is central to how the public first comes to remember the event as they are ones that stick. Illustrating the importance of mediated images in shaping collective memory, many people will talk about their memories of watching the Twin Towers fall on September 11, Few, though, were at Ground Zero. Individuals memories of that event are actually of watching news coverage of the attack on the Twin Towers, and the powerful television footage that was played over, and over again, broadcast on TV. Powerful TV images have a particularly strong influence on one s memory, to the point that they are recalled with such vivid detail as if the viewer experienced or witnessed the event in person (Hoskins, 2010). Arguably, it is these mental images of iconic events that are deeply ingrained in the memory of society and sustained over time, influencing how they remember and relate to the event. Commemorative Journalism In addition to transmitting powerful images of events, journalists derive their cultural authority to shape collective memory from other characteristics of their genre. Journalistic narratives of the past also evoke the professional norm of objectivity, purporting to present what really happened (Edy, 1999). Additionally, the media s news values are likely to contribute to a retelling of history that is more immediate, visceral, and emotional than genres that focus on past events. Due to their reach and timeliness, the news media also call collective attention to
6 @todayin1963 p. 6 events, including historic events, to a degree that other sites of cultural remembering, such as museums, do not (Edy, 1999). Thus, the coverage becomes a potential impetuous for the discussion of public events. Kitch (2008), for example, has examined the role of the news media in national mourning, and has suggested that the news media help create a first draft of memory of national tragedies. Additionally, by simultaneously calling their audience s attention to a tragedy, the news media s coverage serves as a central point where members of society can mourn and celebrate together, giving them a sense of being part of a larger community (p. 312). Zelizer (1992) suggested that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, Jr., was a watershed moment in the history of television journalism by enhancing journalists ability to report on and make sense of the assassination and later commemorate his death through their own narrative frames. To Zelizer (1992), television became the medium that most effectively memorialized Kennedy (p. 130). The news media s influence over collective memories of the Kennedy assassination extend beyond the original coverage of the event. As Teer-Tomaselli (2006) argues, even when the event is no longer current, the memory of the event will be recycled elsewhere in the media and hence, will circulate in the public imagination for years to come. The Kennedy assassination also illustrates the media s role in not only presenting the first draft of memory, but its role in subsequent revisions of memories of those historic events though commemorative journalism. In response to a survey of reactions to the release of Oliver Stone s controversial film JFK, the majority of Americans said they remembered watching the president being shot live on television (Hoskins, 2010). The footage of the assassination, though, was never shown live. It was not released until five years after the assassination. After its release, the footage had, however, been played over, and over again in the media s commemorative coverage of the event. As a result,
7 @todayin1963 p. 7 those images became part of the public s collective memory of the original event. The news story and its subsequent retelling of the Kennedy assassination through commemorative journalism thus became the story of how America s past has remained in part a story of what the media have chosen to remember, a story of how the media s memories have in turn become America s own (Zelizer, 1992, p. 214). This study focuses on commemorative journalism, anniversary stories in particular. Edy (1999) defines anniversary stories as stories that make the past the primary subject. (This differs, for example, from event-oriented commemoration, which makes a contemporary event, such as the march that was staged in Washington, D.C., on August 28, 2013, to mark the March on Washington s 50 th anniversary, the primary subject of the story). It is important to note that while the news media purport to offer an objective account of the past in their commemorative coverage, the genre prevents journalists from offering exhaustive narratives of events. Thus, journalists selectively choose they refer to it as expressing news judgment which aspects of history to re-tell. And the further removed timewise from the original event, the more selective journalists historical coverage becomes. For example, Keith (2012) found in a comparison of the 60 th anniversary of the liberation of Paris during World War II to the 65 th anniversary coverage of the event, not only was there less coverage five years on, but the 65 th anniversary coverage of the liberation of Paris was more reductive than its 60 th anniversary coverage. The 65 th anniversary coverage omitted significant participants who aided in the liberation of Paris and focused selectively on France as its own heroic liberator (p. 205). These results led Keith (2012) to ponder the implications of the liberation of Paris to France s collective memory if only parts of the events were remembered
8 @todayin1963 p. 8 and passed on by the news media. Aptly quoting Zelizer (1998), the very tools by which we assume to remember may in fact be helping us to remember to forget (in Keith, 2012, p. 205). The protest paradigm. According to Zelizer (2008) journalists commemorative coverage, including their selectivity in re-telling history, follows journalistic forms conventionalized by news organizations (p. 82). One of those forms is the protest paradigm, which describes patterns in how journalists cover social protests. As McLeod and Hertog (1992) describe, news values emphasize the extraordinary. Thus, journalists covering social protests emphasize those individuals in the crowd exhibiting extreme including violent and illegal behavior. Additionally, journalists are trained to rely on official spokespeople for their interpretations of public affairs issues. Thus, journalists coverage of social protests end up emphasizing officials reactions to an often small group of protesters illegal behaviors, while delegitimizing the reasons why the protest was staged. According to McCluskey, Stein, Boyle, and McLeod (2009), previous studies have found that journalists deploy common narrative techniques to delegitimize social protests include favoring official sources over protesters and focusing on the noise, performance, and conflict of street demonstrations than the reasons for the protests (p. 355). That is, journalists focus more on protesters actions particularly lawlessness and violation of community norms rather than on the underlying reasons for the social protest. The March on Washington. To understand how the protest paradigm is used in commemorative coverage of the March on Washington, one must have a basic knowledge of why the march was staged. Nearly 250,000 made the trip to the nation s capital on August 28, 1963, for the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The marchers wanted the federal minimum wage to be raised from $1.25 to $2, and have it applied to domestic, farm, and other
9 @todayin1963 p. 9 workers who were not covered by the minimum wage law; a federal job training program to place both underemployed Black and white workers in skilled jobs; and to create a Fair Employment Practices Committee, which would bar employers from discriminating against workers. They also wanted equal access to public accommodations shops, restaurants, hotels, etc. education, and protection for their right to vote, particularly in the Jim Crow South (Jones, 2013). President Kennedy had sent a civil rights bill to congress two months prior to the march that addressed some of these concerns, but the march s leaders were clear that despite their support for the bill, it did not achieve nearly enough of what they needed. Jones (2013) did not make use of the protest paradigm in his history of the March on Washington. He did, however, point out that aspects of the protest paradigm were prominent in the media s coverage of the event. According to Jones (2013), coverage leading up to the event primarily focused on concerns of violence, rather than the reasons of the march. For example, the Chicago Tribune noted that public officials were reluctant to speak publicly about it, but fear of violence was always in the background, noting that Smoothly and almost silently, they prepared for the worst (p. 176). The Los Angeles Times carried the headline, Washington Gets Jittery over the March (p. 176). Following the march, the press praised attendees for their orderliness (p. 201) and the cathedral solemnity of the crowd gathered (p. 186). In summarizing journalists coverage of the March on Washington, Ebony magazine criticized journalists who went away and wrote long articles on the remarkable sweetness of the crowd, proving once again that they still don t understand Negroes themselves (p. 186). This coverage clearly fits the protest paradigm, focusing on fears of violence and the crowd s actions, rather that the reasons for the march. I Have A Dream. Jones (2013) also points out that the news media s coverage of the
10 @todayin1963 p. 10 March on Washington in 1963, and subsequent commemorations, selectively focused on Martin Luther King, Jr. s I Have a Dream speech. If the invocation, prayer, and benediction are counted, there were fourteen speakers that made up the official March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom program (March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, 1963). Yet, it is one speech, delivered at the end of the program that journalists and collective memory of the event have focused on. It is worth noting that King s I Have a Dream speech got its elevated stature through a gradual process of media dissemination and cultural amplification (Duffy & Besel, p.185). The New York Times noted that others concentrated on the struggle ahead and spoke in tough, even harsh language paradoxically it was Dr. King who had suffered perhaps most of all who ignited the crowd with a utopian vision of the future (Jones 2013, p. 197). Compared to the other speakers who spoke very directly to the needs of Black America, King s aspirational speech calling for racial harmony was more palatable to an audience including the news media that was very apprehensive about the prospects of more radical, violent actions to challenge Blacks second-class status. As a result, it is a message of racial harmony, rather than specific demands for justice for the Black community, for which the March on Washington is remembered. Because journalists commemorative coverage of historic events both exists within a context of existing cultural conventions, including existing collective memories, and adheres to conventionalized journalistic forms, it is expected that NPR s Twitter coverage of the March on Washington anniversary will both adhere to the protest paradigm and privilege King s utopian vision for racial harmony, further obscuring the march s specific demands for justice for Black Americans. That is, there will be greater focus in NPR s commemorative coverage on protesters actions and other delegitimizing tropes, rather than on the reason s for the 1963 March on
11 @todayin1963 p. 11 Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Collective Remembering and Twitter While commemorative journalism plays an important role in shaping collective memories, no single social group, actor or community can fully control the development of narratives about the past, nor is everything that is known about a particular event or collective experience embodied in a single memory (Edy, 2006; Teer-Tomaselli, 2006; van Dijck, 2007). Instead, scholars such as Irwin-Zarecka (1994), Kitch (2008), and van Dijck (2006) argued that there are numerous sources, platforms, and sites for constructing (different) versions of a collective past. The eventual formation of collective memory depends on the interaction among these groups. Kansteiner (2002) suggested that collective memory is the result of the interaction among three distinct factors. These factors are the cultural elites who frame all our representations of the past, the memory makers such as the media who selectively adopt and manipulate these representations of the past and lastly, the users of media memory who chooses to use, ignore, or transform such representations according to their own interests (p. 180). It is the last factor, the process of using, ignoring and transforming and understanding how this process feeds back into subsequent cultural forms, including media coverage that suggest that instead of viewing collective memory as a fixed object (i.e., a published/broadcasted narrative), it is better to frame it as a process of collective remembering. Wertsch and Roediger (2008) distinguish collective memory from collective remembering, arguing that the former is a body of knowledge whereas the latter is a never-ending process, which at its core involves contestation and negotiation between stakeholders (Zelizer, 1992). This is because the ability to cultivate collective memories is both a marker of power and a strategy for its maintenance, as past actions are used to legitimate present orders (Carlson, 2010, p. 237). According to
12 @todayin1963 p. 12 Halbwachs (1992), society also reorganize and modify the frameworks of its memory, deliberately altering its past to suit its contemporary concerns and goals (p. 134). That is, collective remembering is functional. As collective memory is functional, it is safe to assume that different members of society will remember events differently based on their present political situation. It must be noted that altering the past to serve present political purposes and needs should not be confused with changing historical facts (Johnson, 1995). While historical facts about an event do not change, the event as well as the elements of the event that are viewed as important changes according to current goals. For instance, to retell the story of the March on Washington and the civil rights movement in a way to promote the notion that contemporary America, especially following the election of the nation s first Black president, is a post-racial society (Jones, 2013). Sometimes the collective memory of different groups complement one another, while other times they may compete with one another (Halbwachs, 1992). Therefore, Olick (2007) cautioned against conceptualizing collective memory as ONE thing (p. 10). Collective memory is instead not singular but multiple and often a site of tension with different groups, as well as individuals, resisting and fighting over its meaning (Leavy, 2007; Olick, 2007). Yet, what makes this form of memory collective is that individuals draw upon a similar set of cultural tools when making sense of the past (Wertsch & Roediger, 2008, p. 324). These sets of cultural tools are what Halbwachs (1992) considered categories to help society make sense of the world for when a member of the group perceives an objective, he gives it a name and arranges it into a specific category (p. 168). Halbwachs (1992) also asserted that these categories precede the individual as pre-existing in society. It is the group to which the individual belongs that dictates a set of norms and values that prioritize certain items for retrieval (Harris
13 @todayin1963 p. 13 et al., 2008, p. 216). That does not mean, however, that the individual memories are perfectly identical to one another; contrarily, remembering audiences often retain separate memories (from mainstream ones) that become the basis for further contestation (van Dijck, 2006; Pearson, 1999). Wang (2008) evoked the analogy of the dancer and a dance; it is impossible to separate a dance from the dancer, it is also impossible to separate individual members from their roles as creators and carriers of memory (p. 305). Cultural authority. Not every individual and/or group, however, has an equal voice in the process of collective remembering. The production and maintenance of official collective memories including through state sponsored mnemonic devices such as monuments, commemorative events, textbooks, and museums, just to name a few is limited to those with cultural authority and access to resources needed in the construction, distribution, and preservation of collective memory (Kansteiner, 2002; Leavy, 2007; Marschall, 2013). Some contend that in today s digital age, the stronghold of cultural elites on collective memory has been shaken to some degree by new media technologies that have the potential to widen the range of memories accessible on the public stage (Noakes, 2009, p. 137). Gans (2003), for example, has argued that the Internet appears to hold the greatest technological potential for multiperspectival content, which encompasses facts and opinions reflecting all possible perspectives in society, including what have been unrepresented, underrepresented, and unreported facts and opinions (p. 104). Collective remembering is the center of many collective memory analyses yet few studies have examined the process of collective remembering, specifically how audience members respond to and use mainstream memory of a historical event. An exception is Robinson s (2009) comparative study of journalists and bloggers anniversary coverage of Hurricane Katrina on the
14 @todayin1963 p. 14 storm s first anniversary. According to the study, journalists assumed an authoritative watchdog role, while Citizen journalists wrote about the press as an entity whose authority is not inevitably entrenched in society (p. 808). The bloggers in the study Robinson (2009) called them citizen journalists brought professional journalists to their level, describing the journalists as fellow citizens rather than elite figures, and emphasizing that citizens also played an important role as witnesses to the storm. Robinson (2009) wrote that, The findings suggest that new patterns for information flow are being created, renovating the existing institutional power structure involving the press and society (p. 795). Interestingly, though, Robinson s (2009) study did not include an analysis of power within the storytelling structure, assuming instead that journalists and citizen journalists narratives share equal cultural authority over collective remembering. In reality, there is likely a pronounced power imbalance between the two groups, between the news media and the audience. This power imbalance highlights that while obvious shifts in who controls information flows are taking place, traditional power structures that delineate who has power including to influence collective remembering and who does not, have not been radically altered. That is, collective remembering largely remains a reflection of cultural and social power (Hume, 2010). Thus, this study attempts to address the lack of attention to the problem of reception in both methods and sources (Kansteiner, 2002, p. 180), while also examining who does and does not have cultural authority in the process of collective remembering. By examining the network of sharing on Twitter, we can examine not only how NPR covered the event (contributing to collective memory), but how Twitter users engagement with that coverage (the process of collective remembering) changes those aspects of the March on Washington that become more
15 @todayin1963 p. 15 prominent in the coverage, and thus are likely to be more prominent in the Twitter audience s collective memory of the March on Washington. The analysis of the network of users that develops in the process of collective remembering on Twitter also allows one to examine the institutions and individuals (besides NPR that are most influential (e.g., have the greatest cultural authority) in this digital process of collective remembering. Hypotheses & Research Questions Journalists commemorative coverage influences how historical events are shaped in society s collective memory (Zelizer, 1992; Kitch, 2008). Commemorative coverage, however, is selective (Edy, 1999), and those elements of an event that are thought to be most important are selected to fit political purposes (Johnson, 1995). Commemorative coverage also follows journalistic forms conventionalized by news organizations (Zelizer, 2008, p. 82). The protest paradigm is one of those journalistic forms, which selectively focuses on protests noise, performance, and street demonstrations, rather than the reasons for those protests, helping to maintain the political status quo (McCluskey et al., 2009). Furthermore, the history of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom has been written in such a way to focus on Martin Luther King Jr. s message of racial harmony, rather than the specific demands for racial justice that were the impetuous for the march (Jones, 2013). It is expected that NPR s commemorative coverage will follow similar patterns: H 1 : NPR s commemorative coverage will focus more on Martin Luther King Jr. than the other speakers. H 2 : Coverage of the speakers will focus more on general, aspirational messages, rather than the specific demands of the marchers or the status of civil rights.
16 @todayin1963 p. 16 H 3 : Coverage will adhere to the protest paradigm, focusing more on the actions of the crowd, illegal activities, etc. rather than the reasons for the March on Washington. While the mainstream media are likely to continue to adhere to conventionalized journalistic forms, digital media have the potential to challenge the hold that cultural elites have on collective memory (Noakes, 2009). In the process of collective remembering, the audience plays an active role in choosing to use, ignore, or transform, the media s representations of the past (Kansteiner, 2002). One way the Twitter audience makes these decisions is choosing what messages to retweet and share with their own followers. While the categories of collective memory e.g., those categories into which NPR s coverage is organized precede the individual as existing in society (Halbwachs, 1992), by selectively retweeting NRP s posts, the audience influences which categories become most prominent for memory retrieval. Thus, this study examines whether those categories most prominent in NPR s original posts differ from those categories that the audience select to make most prominent through retweeting. R 1 : Will patterns of Twitter users retweets mirror NPR coverage, or will Twitter users make some categories of the original coverage (e.g., reasons for the March on Washington) more prominent? Lastly, this study examines whether, at least in this instance, digital media are challenging those power structures that have traditionally given the news media and other cultural elites greater influence over collective memory. Robinson s (2009) study of anniversary coverage of Hurricane Katrina suggested that citizen journalists narratives do challenge professional journalists elite status. However, there is an obvious power differential between professional and citizen journalists, though Robinson (2009) did not examine that power differential.