On February 28, Professor Sarah Sobieraj gave a talk at Tufts about her book, Soundbitten, which focuses on the relationship between news and activist organizations.
In 2000, Sobieraj started collecting information for the book. She interviewed more than 120 individuals and highlighted 50 diverse activist groups who focused on a range of issues from war opposition to the environment. When she started interviewing the groups around election time, she assumed that most would want to influence a candidate. She found out that only a few did but what all the groups were really trying to get was mainstream media attention.
Soundbitten dives into not only the tactics various groups used to get media coverage, but also how the media deals with these cries for attention as well as what movements have and have not been successful. Some of the tactics used by various groups include protests, drama, comedy, irony, wit, recruiting political celebrities, dancing and singing. Most of these groups rarely get any attention for these actions and often the coverage they do get is not about their goals or message. These groups practice media literacy with talking points to give to reporters, however the problem is that journalists prefer unscripted sounding individuals. Some of the groups spend hours practicing for the reporters, when it truth this is what makes the reporters uninterested.
An example of a movement that got a lot of media coverage was the Occupy movement. As Occupy was unorganized and was not as actively seeking media coverage, this made the protests come off as extremely authentic. That authenticity was what attracted media attention. They avoided the trap of seeing media as the goal but were able to see it for what it should be: a strategy.
Professor Sobieraj has been an associate professor at Tufts since 2005. In 2010 she received the Tufts Undergraduate Teaching Award for displaying compassion to her students and passion about her work.