No surprise: TV news coverage omits union stories and union voices

Laura ClawsonIf you think you don’t see much coverage of unions on national television news, you’re not wrong. A new study finds that, over a three-year period, ABC, CBS, NBC, and CNN aired just 141 stories in which unions and the labor movement were either the primary or secondary topic. That’s out of an estimated 16,000 news stories aired on the four networks, so less than 0.3 percent of all news stories.

The study, conducted by Federico Subervi of the Texas State University School of Journalism and Communications and commissioned by The Newspaper Guild, found that it’s not just that unions didn’t get much attention in the news. Coverage of labor issues often didn’t include any union point of view, with CBS not using even one union source in 24 percent of its stories on labor; NBC omitted union voices from 19 percent of the stories, ABC from 10 percent, and CNN from 9 percent. Also:

Subervi found that the pattern of portrayal of unions was negative, with workers critical of unions more likely to be heard. “One clear example was the case of a production crew member who was losing income and having financial difficulties due to the lack of work during the Writers Guild of America strike,” Subervi writes. “But the news failed to have any statement pointing to the corporations’ failure to reach an agreement.”Additionally, he found that news about labor and unions related to the field of education and the automobile industry included more governmental sources than labor sources. “The news treatment thus presents the government as the organized party willing to provide solutions, but not the labor/union negotiators,” he writes.

These conclusions resemble those of past studies, which have found that media coverage is often slanted against collective economic action and toward business and elite interests. Nothing you can’t pretty much pick up on by watching the news yourself, but it’s good to have a more methodical approach to draw on.

This article was originally posted on the Daily Kos on April 3, 2013. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is an editor at the Daily Kos.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.