Framing Ferguson: The interplay of advocacy and journalistic frames in local and national newspaper coverage of Michael Brown

Rachel R. Mourão, Danielle K. Kilgo, George Sylvie

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

41 Scopus citations


The shooting death of Michael Brown by a police officer in August 2014 served as a pivotal case that pushed excessive use of police force against minority groups to the national spotlight. Guided by the scholarship on protest coverage, this article investigates the interplay between advocacy and journalistic framing in the coverage of the Ferguson protests by national and local news. A content analysis of five newspapers during the first cycle of protests identified how journalistic frames of presentation derived from the ‘protest paradigm’ literature related to the content frames pushed forward by the Black Lives Matter movement. Results reveal that initial stories were predominantly episodic and focused on violence to the detriment of demands and grievances. However, episodic stories were also critical of the police response and the use of military-grade weapons to contain the demonstrations. As the weeks progressed, journalists gave space to the ideas of protestors in a more thematic way, especially on issues related to race beyond the topic of police brutality. Taken together, findings suggest small but significant progress as time continued during the first month of demonstrations after Brown’s shooting. Results presented here challenge the paradigmatic nature of protest coverage but reinforce that more space should be given to contextual narratives behind social movements’ actions in addition to coverage that is critical of police and protestor tactics.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)320-340
Number of pages21
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 3 2018
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors thank the coders Stacie Richards and Nicole Rusli. The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: The authors thank the University of Texas at Austin for supporting this project via their student enrichment program.

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2018.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Content analysis
  • journalism
  • political communication
  • race/ethnicity
  • social change


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