Last Thursday, hundreds of activists staged a protest in Century City outside of the JP Morgan Chase-owned Century Plaza building in support of 16 janitors who were laid off in a company cost-cutting move. The Service Employees International Union organized the demonstration, including a hunger strike – part of a series of actions that ended on Friday. Thirteen protesters were arrested after they sat down in the middle of a street intersection in an act of civil disobedience.
These protests were just the latest expression of outrage among the working classes across the country, who have suffered massive job losses and wage stagnation, while failing bank behemoths who wrecked the economy got bailed out to the tune of billions of dollars. The day of the janitors action, I wondered how much local news coverage it would get – if any at all. The protest did get the media’s attention, probably more so because of what it did (caused traffic jams), rather than what it represented (economic inequality and distress).
All five major local news stations – CBS2/KCAL9, NBC4, ABC7, FOX11 and KTLA – had stories about the protest. Most had videos on their web sites, along with a print version. NBC4 was the only site without video, but you can read its account here. What was fascinating was the different tone each newscast took, what they chose to focus on and whom they chose to interview.
KTLA’s coverage was by far the absolute worst in terms of corporate bias and tone. The narrative was just downright snarky. The station, which is owned by the struggling Tribune Co. (parent of the Los Angeles Times), broadcast two reports – one during the actual protest, and a longer report later on. Most of the focus was on how motorists were inconvenienced, and less on the grievances of the protesters. It’s as if the producers were more concerned about wealthy entertainment and banking executives who work at Century Plaza being aggravated, rather than whether the janitors were getting a raw deal. Watch the broadcasts below:
FOX 11 was more sympathetic to the janitors, choosing to focus on a woman who participated in the hunger strike. But inexplicably, the focus then turned to an interview with TV sports commentator and former basketball star, John Salley. Salley just happened to be in the area, but what does the point of view of an athletic personality add to the story?
ABC7 and CBS2/KCAL9 did the best in terms of fairness and tone. Each station interviewed more of the protesters, in addition to obtaining statements in response from the janitorial firm. It was good to see that both broadcasts allowed the participants to clearly get their messages across, and that both noted the rally was peaceful. Interestingly, though, ABC7 chose to talk to the police, whereas CBS2/KCAL9 did not. CBS2 doesn’t allow for video embeds on blogs, so you can watch the video by clicking here. The ABC7 video is below:
It was great to see a workers protest covered in the news and across multiple outlets. Labor news gets short shrift in the mainstream press nowadays. But I wonder: Would the media have showed up at all if no one was blocking the streets?