The G-20 Summit: finally, a feast for newspapers

As promised, here are a few excepted paragraphs of my final paper for my media class. Believe it or not, even after an agonizing ten pages, I still find the topic pretty interesting. As a semester long project, we were asked to observe two sources/outlets during the G-20 mania and basically account for the differences somehow: the prompt was pretty vague. As an honorary New Yorker (I only live 30 minutes out of the city), I found the differences between the New York Times and the Pittsburgh Post Gazette particularly interesting. Hope you enjoy!


The G-20 Summit: finally, a feast for newspapers

The 2009 G-20 Summit in Pittsburgh resulted in deficit for many. The city spent millions of dollars assuring an adequate police force, preparing for the expected protesters. Many Pittsburgh residents were forced to take a valued sick day or two during the conference, considering the lack of transportation options. Duquesne University was forced to cancel classes due to the anticipated danger that would plague Downtown Pittsburgh. Similarly, many business owners were forced to blow money either boarding up windows, or repairing them. While countless inconveniences were forced upon Pittsburgh residents, the media experienced opposite results. Outlets of every kind attempted to get their hands on juicy information, in order to produce a sensational headline, and ultimately a top story. The newspapers in particular feasted upon the controversies of such a large event occurring, especially in the rusty city of Pittsburgh. Through a detailed analysis of G-20 print media coverage, I have found that different newspapers covered different tensions regarding the summit. The location of these newspapers directly affects the way they have approached the G-20 Summit. I examined and compared local newspapers from the Pittsburgh area, such as the Pittsburgh Post Gazette to large metro dailies, namely the New York Times. I discovered that both newspapers covered the anger and disapproval the summit was producing. However, the Pittsburgh stories were framed to support the protesters and enhance the negativity. On the other hand, large metro dailies presented a frame that tended to condemn protesters and the like. I believe that the locality of the newspaper is directly connected to type of readers frequenting its pages, especially when considering the geographical binds of this particular outlet. The disparities in G-20 coverage perfectly illustrate this: a smaller, conservative city like Pittsburgh tends to be against such a large, global government conference. Therefore, the Pittsburgh media adapts to that public opinion, and tends to frame G-20 stories with a negative connotation. However, newspapers located in big cities like New York have a more liberal and diverse congregation. Media outlets in these locations seemed to frown upon Pittsburgh’s disapproval of September’s meeting.

Before discussing various newspapers’ coverage of the G-20 events, it is important to first consider the situation of newspapers in the current world. As the World Wide Web becomes the heart of daily life, print newspapers are struggling to stay afloat. With the ability to acquire hundreds of newspaper articles online, for little or no price, many people do not see the sense in purchasing a newspaper. As a result, newspapers across the country are suffering. In March 2009, David Lieberman, a writer for USA Today, exposed the realities;

“The Detroit Free Press and The Detroit News announced plans to cut home delivery to three days a week beginning March 30 and urged readers to go online to follow the news on other days. Virtually every major newspaper announced staff cuts. McClatchy — which owns The Miami Herald, The Kansas City Star and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram — said in February that it would slash 15% of its workforce, on top of a 10% cut late last year. ‘By the end of 2009, a quarter of all the newsroom jobs that existed in 2001 will be gone,’ the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism said this week in its annual ‘The State of the News Media’ report. Those keeping their jobs have seen salaries cut” (Lieberman).

The difficulty many newspapers are experiencing affects the stories written, and the frame in which they appear. In the past, newspapers were generally considered liberal or conservative, and a faction of readers would build accordingly. However, in a recent effort to improve sales, newspapers have become more aware of their audiences, carefully considering the general opinions and values among consumers. Because of the economic strains plaguing the newspaper industry, many writers have begun to frame stories in a way that will confirm the views of the audience, instead of challenging them. This is an attempt to maintain and gain readers, as well build public support for the particular newspaper. Unfortunately, this affects the integrity of coverage, as journalists skew stories to further their careers and keep their jobs. Regarding the disparities among G-20 media coverage, the struggle of the newspapers plays an important part: different newspapers adapt to the general views of their respective reading population. If the locality and reading population of a newspaper greatly sways the frame in which articles are written, an important question arises: in what ways have Pittsburgh newspapers framed G-20 media coverage, particularly in comparison to the New York Times, a large metro daily? Because the frame is directly related to the opinions of the consumers, discrepancies among newspapers gives great insight about readers from different locations.

Variations in G-20 media coverage make it obvious that the event held entirely different substantiality to New Yorkers when compared to Pittsburghians. The concerns of the people are different, and therefore, the content of the coverage varies. For a New Yorker, the issues regarding the G-20 Summit exclude the question of globalization totally. Instead, New York is often deemed the pioneer city of globalization. As a result, many New York Times articles surround other topics, such as bonuses or foreign relations. However, in the small city of Pittsburgh, debates over the underlying issues surrounding globalization have haunted 2009 newspapers. Globalization ignites many controversies; as a new concept in the city, many conservative citizens question its benefits. However, the G-20 Summit forced globalization down the throats of the Pittsburgh residents. Because of these factors, the summit held more importance in Pittsburgh. This is made evident when considering the dates of publication on G-20 articles from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette when compared to the New York Times. While scrutinizing Google News’ articles of 2009 exploring the G-20 event, I have found that Pittsburgh papers have been covering the event since March 2009. For example, an article appeared in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette entitled “Pittsburgh’s G-20 Summit Cleanup Begins,” dated August 2009, well before the event occurred. The New York Times, however, really only published articles regarding the G-20 Summit in late September. New York was not feeling the negative effects G-20 brought to Pittsburgh, and therefore has been able to leave it behind. Unfortunately, the local importance the conference held for Pittsburgh greatly affected the reliability of the coverage. While the New York Times was able to look at the G-20 Summit as a whole, Pittsburgh articles were narrowly focused and skewed. Containing mostly arguments and condemnations, G-20 articles appearing in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette may have sold better, but compromised objectivity.

New York is the city that never sleeps. On the other hand, I have found that Downtown Pittsburgh basically closes down on weekends (which is a little inconvenient for a starving college student). This metaphor basically mirrors the impression G-20 has left on these respective locations. The impact G-20 left on New York is very little. Globalization is old news, world leaders frequent the city often, and a few protesters are always expected. What little concern New York truly had with G-20 mainly revolved around the effects the summit would produce: how the economic talk would affect Wall Street, or how international relations would change from the event. For New Yorkers, the G-20 Summit came and went, and that is how the newspapers treated it. However, for Pittsburgh, a struggling Rust Belt city, the G-20 Summit was a chance: a chance taken by the government to improve Pittsburgh’s reputation, and consequently build the economy. To those in power, the G-20 Summit was to be embraced. However, for the conservative Pittsburgh citizens, this was government manipulation: residents felt exploited and abused, as the government used them as pawns to get ahead. As a result, every Pittsburghian around had something to dispute, and unfortunately, arguments sell. The G-20 Summit was an extremely important and heated topic for the city of Pittsburgh. Therefore, Pittsburgh newspaper coverage of the event was long-lasting and heavily slanted. Underneath the veneer of methodical framing and journalists attempting appease constituents, lies the views of the people; the G-20 Summit was a hot media topic in Pittsburgh because for many conservative citizens, globalization should be approached cautiously.  In comparison to New York, the capitol of globalization, the G-20 Summit was an event like any other, and the media coverage greatly reflected that. Newspaper locality lies at the core of discrepancies regarding G-20 coverage: newspapers, a geographically bound, struggling media outlet, adapt frames to reflect the universal views of the population. These actions, often done in vain, are attempts to maintain and build readership among respective communities. So, while headlines scream phrases like, “It’s Official: Newspapers are Dying,” ethics are diminishing at the price of resuscitation.

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