Making the News: Movement Organizations, Media Attention, and the Public Agenda


Increasingly, scholars have come to see the news media as playing a pivotal role in shaping whether social movements are able to bring about broader social change. By drawing attention to movements’ issues, claims, and supporters, the news media can shape the public agenda by influencing public opinion, authorities, and elites. Why are some social movement organizations more successful than others at gaining media coverage? Specifically, what organizational, tactical, and issue characteristics enhance media attention? We combine detailed organizational survey data from a representative sample of 187 local environmental organizations in North Carolina with complete news coverage of those organizations in 11 major daily newspapers in the two years following the survey (2,095 articles). Our analyses reveal that local news media favor professional and formalized groups that employ routine advocacy tactics, mobilize large numbers of people, and work on issues that overlap with newspapers’ focus on local economic growth and well-being. Groups that are confrontational, volunteer-led, or advocate on behalf of novel issues do not garner as much attention in local media outlets. These findings have important implications and challenge widely held claims about the pathways by which movement actors shape the public agenda through the news media.

American Sociological Review