Two weekends ago, over 1300 people convened in Chicago for the first ever Fight For $15 convention. While the low-wage worker strikes have been escalating over time, with an increasing number of workers and cities involved during each wave, and solidarity among the participants displayed on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, this was the first time that workers-turned-activists from different cities traveled to one location to discuss their experiences and plan for future actions. It could prove to be a major event which unifies the movement as they prepare for escalation in the form of civil disobedience and store occupations.
Due to the importance of this event, I decided to study how the mainstream media covered the gathering, if they even provided coverage. Using Google News, I searched for the term “Fast Food Convention”, which provided over 300 articles, all between July 25th and 28th. After analyzing the first 20 articles, I noticed an emerging pattern: A large majority of these articles were correlated from two Associated Press articles, one which previewed the event [example], and another which provided a recap. [example]
Skimming the next few pages confirmed my suspicions, as each article is organized slightly differently, with a variation on the title and possibly some unique text added, but features similar interviews, layout, and wording. Most of these articles listed the Associated Press in the byline, although sometimes another journalist’s name was added as well. The only exception was the New York Times, where Steven Greenhouse authored a unique article which included the most in-depth interviews and coverage of any of these other sources found through the news aggregation.
The other media outlets weren’t actually covering the convention, but instead they were relaying the AP article to their reader base, which is still important for spreading the messaging of the movement. The articles had predominately positive interviews with both public figures and the workers who attended the convention. Below is a complete list of people who had a positive view of the Fight For 15 and were quoted in these articles:
Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU
Kendall Fells, organizing director of effort, SEIU representative
Rev William Barber II, head of NC NAACP, Moral Monday organizer
Cherri Delisline, Mcdonalds employee from North Charleston, SC
Nancy Salgado, Mcdonalds Employee from Chicago, IL
Cindy Enriquez, Mcdonalds employee from Phoenix, AZ
Latoya Caldwell, Wendys employee from Kansas City, MO
Terrence Wise, Burger King employee from Kansas City, MO
Adriana Alvarez, Mcdonalds employee from Chicago, IL
While I considered a more detailed exploration, with a complete tally of how many instances of each interview was featured in the press, I decided that this wasn’t significant. The main point is that these people were interviewed, and they were featured repeatedly in a different order on a multitude of news sources. The only exceptions are Adriana Alvarez and Terrence Wise, who were only featured in the New York Times. The quotes from workers which are featured in the AP article highlight the struggles these workers face each day, including the interruption of their family life, inability to save money for advancement, and the lack of raises, even among veteran employees. These interviewees also acknowledge that they need to do whatever it takes to attain victories, referring to the vote of escalation with a wave of direct action. Other quotes from the public figures highlight why they are working toward raising the minimum wage for these workers, comparing the campaign to the civil rights movement.
Steven Greenhouse also interviews Glenn Spencer, the executive director of the US Chamber of Commerce Workforce Freedom Initiative, and Janice R. Fine, a professor of labor relations at Rutgers University. These interviews were neutral as they analyzed the struggle in political and historical terms, highlighting the dynamics of both sides, and providing a fuller perspective which was missing from the AP based articles.
The only dissenting voice in a majority of the articles was Scott DeFife, the executive vice president of policy and government affairs for the National Restaurant Association. He criticized the efforts, stating that the fast food industry opens doors for many people, steering the focus to job training programs and the unions, who he claims are simply interested in boosting their member base. He also warned that raising the wage would hurt small businesses and raise food prices. These arguments have been used frequently by opponents, and provide some ideological balance to the articles. Interestingly, his comments are featured near the end of each article, after quotes from workers and organizers, except for the Blaze, which lists his quote first, possibly due to their conservative bias. Another negative voice was Francis O’Donnell, the owner of a Buffalo Wings & Rings franchise in Chicago. He is only featured in the New York Times, claiming that he will have to raise prices, reduce staff, or shutdown if the minimum wage is increased to $15 per hour.
Aside from the interviews, the articles also mention other common topics, including:
- The origin of the Fast Food worker movement: a one-day strike in November 2012 in New York City.
- Seattle’s recent victory of gradually raising the minimum wage to $15 per hour.
- The role of the SEIU in funding the fast food movement, including the convention.
- The efforts of Barack Obama and other democrats to raise the minimum wage to $10.10 per hour.
These help place the event in the larger perspective of the movement’s development and the surrounding political structure. They provide a more distant background to the interviews which feature workers and public figures on the ground at the convention.
Studying how the mainstream media represents movements like Fight For $15 is pivotal, as much of the public isn’t involved in the activist networks of Facebook and Twitter, and only skim headlines to become informed about the world around them. It is certainly possible that these articles which were recreated from wire services like AP are the only source of movement information that many people receive, structuring popular opinion which ultimately impacts the movement’s ability to enact change.
Now that we see a snapshot of how the mainstream media covered the convention, with only a few truly unique articles, it would be useful to study the media coverage from the previous fast food strikes, or future events for comparison. Additionally, I am currently studying the top tweets for #FightFor15 between July 25th and 28th, to see which tweets from the convention were viewed most , which accounts tweeted them out, and which of these articles were linked most frequently. Are there any articles which weren’t searchable on Google News but were featured by activists linking to twitter?
How does the coverage on twitter compare with these articles from mainstream media sources, and how do these platforms work together to cover major movement events like the convention?