Media Missed on Women’s Marches

The biggest attended event this past weekend was not the inauguration (despite what Trump says) it was an event the media almost completely blew off until it happened. 

The women's marches across the country brought out hundreds of thousands of women (and men) and anyone active on social media, knew it was coming. 

Yet the media almost completely ignored the story until it happened and then were shocked at how big it was. 

Taken collectively, the Women’s March on Washington and its many affiliated “sister” marches were perhaps the largest single demonstration of the power of social media to create a mobilization.

The Washington Post says that the crush of bodies was so heavy that organizers and public safety officials in several cities, including Chicago, suspended plans for actually marching anywhere. That turned some of the gatherings into rallies.

The news media outlets were very late in catching up to the story.

“NBC Nightly News” did its first story about the march on Thursday, two days before hundreds of thousands took to the streets. ABC’s “World News Tonight” aired an 18-word sound bite from one of the march’s co-organizers on Wednesday.

The media got lost in Donald Trump's world and never saw it coming. Social media has been talking about promoting and planning the march for quite some time. But, the media, for the most part is still lost when it comes to understanding the power of social media. 

The news media was overwhelmed as the story keep getting bigger and bigger. 

TV Reporters spent much of Saturday afternoon marveling at the massive crowds gathered in Washington, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, London and other cities. “The Metro system is completely overwhelmed. The cellphone system is overwhelmed. The satellite trucks are overwhelmed,” MSNBC correspondent Cal Perry reported from the Mall in Washington, adding, “We’re looking at a city that’s overwhelmed.”

A few minutes later on CNN, reporter Jessica Schneider also invoked the o-word: “The turnout here in New York City, frankly, is overwhelming,” she said, as thousands could be seen behind her, shuffling down a city street.

“The women’s marches were pretty much under the radar in most mainstream-media coverage over the last few weeks,” says Marcus Messner, an associate professor of journalism at Virginia Commonwealth University, where he studies social media. 

Even if they don’t spark movements, Messner says traditional-media outlets can still act as “an amplifier” of them, spreading attention and in some ways validating them. “It’s not unlikely that women who stayed home today will show up next time, as they saw that they will be part of a bigger movement.” Mainstream-media coverage, he says, “can now lead to an even bigger turnout down the road, if the movement continues.”

If it does, the news media will have learned a lesson from Saturday’s event, he suggests. Before the next big march, according to Messner, mainstream-media coverage will be “guaranteed.”

But late then never I guess.