Social Movements in the United States and the Role of Media

The Young Professionals in International Relations talks series hosted Robert Rosenthal, executive producer at the Center for Investigative Reporting, on September 28, 2020. Rosenthal spoke about the past and present of covering social movements in the United States, and the motivational, mobilizing power of information.

Rosenthal touched on how the media of the past struggled with issues around diversity, representation in newsrooms, and covering politically sensitive issues. He posited that the main revolution in the media was the arrival of the internet into daily lives, and parallel to that, multiplication of channels through which the public receives information. This of course has presented many problems, the most significant of which is the uncontrolled flow of any information, without being verified. Media business models today are conducive to using divisive language and sensationalizing the news, and as long as the audience is susceptible to confirmation bias, that is a difficult model to change. However, Rosenthal was optimistic in his assessment of the changes within the media, especially in terms of diversity within management and the newsrooms: an organized effort at becoming more representative of the American society within media structures themselves, which was unimaginable four decades ago, is happening at a rapid pace today.

Other points in the discussion touched on overt media endorsements of candidates during election times; the failure of audiences to differentiate between opinion and fact; the question of journalistic objectivity and what that means during social justice movements; the personal safety and security of journalists around the world and whether media companies are taking the necessary steps in preparing journalists for worst case scenarios. To conclude, a participant asked what Rosenthal’s most challenging assignment was. He responded saying there were several countries and situations that were particularly difficult, but the most challenging was covering different forms of poverty around the globe.  He concluded, ‘There are many things you do as a journalist: some put your life at risk, and some are emotionally hard. But one of the outcomes of enduring those hardships for me was that if you tell this story the world will know and then help.’


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