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Final Paper- What Wisconsin is Really About

Source: Motherjones.com

With most Americans today getting their information from the same mainstream media sources, and those same mainstream media outlets getting their information from the same 
sources, it is no wonder that a monopoly on news has been created. In order to stop and try to prevent any further monopolization from proceeding, many people are turning to independent news sources, which tend to have alternative perspectives from the mainstream media. However, because there are so many news outlets reporting on the same news stories, I believe it is extremely important for readers who want to understand news reports need 
to recognize the agenda and framing of the news sources that they read.

The alternative news source I chose to research is Mother Jones. Mother Jones is a nonprofit news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting. It currently has a twice monthly national magazine with a circulation of 240,000, and a website featuring new, original reporting 24-7. Most of their revenue comes from subscriptions and donors, however they do run some ads for both their magazine and website which accounts for a third of their income.  (http://motherjones.com/about#02)

Mother Jones magazine was first created in 1976 and in 1993 they became the first general interest magazine to go online. The company got its name from a woman named Mary Harris “Mother” Jones, who was an Irish-American trade union activist, against child labor who was been dubbed “the most dangerous woman in America.” Mother Jones is published by the Foundation for National Progress, another nonprofit organization. file://localhost/(http/::en.wikipedia.org:wiki:Mother_Jones_(magazine)

According to our textbook Converging Media: A New Introduction to Mass Communication, Mother Jones portrays the use of correlation in almost all of its articles, because instead of just reporting on what is happening their reporters also apply their own thoughts and opinions in their articles and also research how the public is being affected by whatever is currently going on in the world.

The Washington Post was founded in 1877, and now has more than 1.4 million readers daily, making it Washington D.C’s largest and oldest still-existing newspaper. One of the most notable incidents in The Post‘s history was when, in the early 1970s, reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein led the American media’s investigation into what became known as the Watergate scandal. The newspaper’s reporting greatly contributed to the resignation of U.S. President Richard Nixon. In 1996, the newspaper established a web site, washingtonpost.com. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Washington_Post#History)

The paper is owned by The Washington Post Company, a diversified education and media company that also owns educational services provider Kaplan, Inc., Post-Newsweek Stations, Cable One, Newsweek Interactive, Newsweek magazine, the online magazine Slate, The Gazette and Southern Maryland Newspapers, The Herald,CourseAdvisor.com and StudentAdvisor.com. It is a public company, trading on the New York Stock Exchange under the ticker symbol WPO, and went public in 1971. It is headquartered in Washington, D.C. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Washington_Post_Company)

Also, The Washington Post exemplified a perfect example of  the term surveillance from our textbook with their coverage of the Watergate Scandal. This occurred when their reporters discovered the illegal activities President Nixon was participating in during his term in the White House. If these reporters had not been investigating and watching President Nixon and his administration, there is no telling what they would have gotten away with.

In order to compare and contrast both Mother Jones and The Washington Post I looked at articles about the latest Wisconsin protests, from both sources. Even though both news stories were published on their websites the same day of February 22nd 2011, there are quite a few differences between the two articles.

On Mother Jones’ website they discuss Wisconsin’s protests in the article: Plutocracy Now: What Wisconsin Is Really About. In the article, reporter Kevin Drum, gives a detailed history of income inequality reaching all the way back to the mid 1970’s, in order to help his readers understand why so many people are upset over losing their unions. He also claims that American politicians do not care as much about voters with moderate incomes as they do about voters with high incomes. This kind of claim might seem outrageous to some, however Drum backs up his statement with a study conducted by Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels, where he found that both Republican and Democratic senators did not respond at all to the desires of voters with modest incomes. He also used recent data from the last year conducted by the Pew Research Center that found that only 2% of sources for reporter’s stories on the economy were representatives of organized labor unions. Thus, showing his readers the drastic change in importance labor unions went through from the 1970’s to present day.

Through using extensive research dating back to the 1970’s and multiple legitimate studies, I believe Mother Jones’ reporter Kevin Drum teaches and reveals to his readers the entire issue on unions and their fight for income equality in the United States. He does this by using several statistics, percentages, one visual graph and several links to other web pages in order to further his readers understanding on the topic. He also explains this complicated issue without sounding condescending or too opinionated through his choice of non-chagrined diction.

In the Washington Post article, Wisconsin – it’s about democracy reporter Katrina Vanden Heuvel decided to take a different approach, where she directly described the scene of the protest in Wisconsin. She aslo describes that the loss of unions is not only occurring in Wisconsin and that many large corporations have begun to attack unions all over America. She states, “With unions representing less than 7 percent of the private workforce, the target is public employee unions. With Republicans now in control of 21 states, hundreds of bills have been introduced seeking to cripple unions, if not ban them completely.” She also described how many alternative press and social media outlets including, MoveOn, Organization for America, the Campaign for America’s Future and Us Uncut have called on activists to join them on February 26th for a national Day of Action.

I believe that Latrina Vanden Heuvel legitimized her article by also using dates and percentages and many links to external websites, in case her readers wanted to educated themselves further. She also gives the statistics on how many seats the Republicans have in the Senate compared to the Democrats. She also uses links to previously written articles on the same the same issue in case her reader’s might want to read the coverage on Wisconsin from when the protests first began.

Even though each of the articles are from two completely different sources the two still have several underlying similarities. For example both news sources reference the same frame that the Wisconsin protests are about more than just pay for the public employees and disposal of the unions. This is because both articles expressed  interest in looking at the Wisconsin crisis in relation to the distribution of power in a democracy. Also, both Vanden Heuvel and Drum argue that the decline in the power of labor unions within politics has been related, to a shift overtime, away from middle class interests. Lastly, both articles make the point that it is important for all  American worker’s to care about what is going on currently in Wisconsin whether  they are members of unions or not, because ultimately tax cuts for businesses are leading to wage cuts for workers.

Although the two articles have several similar underlying themes, the two articles do contain many differences made clear through the framing and use of diction by each reporter. One variation seems to be that the Washington Post article relates the decline of union power to Republican and Tea Party interests. Heuvel states how after the 2010 elections Republicans “captured”  control of the statehouse and both legislatures. By choosing to use the word ‘captured,’ Heuvel implies to her readers that the Republicans may not have done this fairly. She also states that Scott Walker, the newly elected, self-declared “Tea Party” governor of Wisconsin, lead a “direct attack on teacher and public employee unions, seeking to ram through legislation curtailing their right to bargain collectively, limiting any pay raise to the increase in the cost of living, and requiring an annual vote of members to continue the union.” Through using such harsh diction such as ‘attack’ and ‘ram’ the anti-Republican and Tea-party stance of the article becomes very clear.

However, the Mother Jones article argues that Democrats, specifically the “New Left” are to blame because they turned to corporate businesses for party support once the union support declined. Drum states that Organized labor requires government support in order to succeed. Support such as, “the right to organize workplaces, rules that prevent retaliation against union leaders, and requirements that management negotiate in good faith.” Thus, because the Democratic party lost their union funding, they stopped supporting policies that helped unions and protected the middle class. He also states that in the ’70s when the New Left organization was formed,  unions went into a “spiraling downfall.” He claims that the students of the New Left “were animated not by workplace safety or the cost of living, but first by civil rights and antiwar sentiment, and later by feminism, the sexual revolution, and environmentalism.” He goes on to describe them saying, “They wore their hair long, they used drugs, and they were loathed by the mandarins of organized labor.” By making such outlandish claims, it becomes clear to Drum’s audience exactly how he feels about the New Left and their involvement in the demise of labor unions.   Whereas Vanden Heuvel does note that it is “no coincidence” that the middle class has declined as labor unions have weakened, Drum makes this the centerpiece of his argument and provides a great deal of support for how the two are truly interrelated.

Due to the monopoly on mass media by only a few very wealthy corporations, and government controls and self-censorship it is easy to see why ‘independent’ or ‘alternative’ media outlets are becoming much more popular with each passing day. However, as I have discovered even the ‘alternative’ media outlets have the tendency to lean a certain way on an issue and not be fully objective. In order to become a ‘media literate’ society, we must not accept content from any kind of media source as the truth until we comprehend the different framing and agenda’s from each source. If we do not educate ourselves on how to become aware of what kind of media we are consuming, we put ourselves at risk of taking the subjective for objective and not being able to form our own opinions about what is currently happening in the world.

  1. February 27, 2011 at 10:27 pm

    Great background and introductory material on Mother Jones and the Wash Post.

    Don’t forget to relate your analysis to the Pavlick book in some way. Also, you’ll need to write a conclusion that you’ve come to, perhaps by referring back to your intro.

    I think you’ve got a good start here. It would be good to have more details that would specifically help the reader to understand how the two periodicals frame the stories. It seems that both reference the frame of “it’s bigger than pay for Wisconsin’s public employees,” as both seem to be interested in looking at the Wisconsin crisis in relation to the distribution of power in a democracy. Both argue that the decline in the power of labor unions within politics has been related, over time, to a shift away from middle class and working class interests. Both argue that the American worker has a stake in what’s going on whether or not they are members of unions or are public workers, and both make connections between tax cuts for businesses and declining fortunes of workers.

    One difference seems to be that whereas the Wash Po article relates this tilting of power to Republican interests (and places some blame there), the MJ piece argues that Democrats are implicated as well since they needed to turn to business for party support once the union support declined. Thus, you could highlight examples in which each relies on supporting evidence and word choice to identify the problem with either a party or the overall system. Whereas Vanden Heuvel does note that it’s “no coincidence” that the middle class has declined as labor unions have weakened, Drum makes this the centerpiece of his argument and provides a great deal of support for how the two are truly interrelated.

    Another difference seems to be that even though Vanden Heuvel largely agrees with the MJ perspective, she also distances herself from “outposts of progressive journalism” by reviewing not only the issue, but the way in which it has been addressed within alternative press and social media. This would seem to preserve her position within the “mainstream” while simultaneously signaling her shared view that our response to what’s going on should be one of “outrage.”

  2. March 9, 2011 at 9:23 pm

    Nice job on your revision. Good work!

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