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Protesters at the news gates: An experimental study of journalists’ news judgment of protest events

  • Camilo Cristancho and Ruud Wouters
From the journal Communications


Media attention is a key political resource for protesters. This implies that journalists are a crucial audience to which protesters seek to appeal. We study to what extent features of protest, of journalists, and of news organizations affect journalists’ news judgment. We exposed 78 Spanish journalists to vignettes of asylum seeker protests. Four features were systematically manipulated: protesters’ worthiness, unity, numbers, and commitment (WUNC). The experiments scrutinize the extent to which journalists consider a protest newsworthy (presence) and the likelihood that a protest is featured on a newspaper’s front page (prominence). Our results show that in terms of media presence, high turnout is key. Highly unified protesters, in contrast, are considered less newsworthy. Regarding prominence, strongly committed demonstrators more easily make it to the frontpage. Individual characteristics of journalists have no direct effect on news judgment. Journalists’ editorial status and ideological (outlet) placement only moderate the effect of some of the protest features, although in terms of front-page placement a more potent adversary versus ally effect is distinguished.


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Published Online: 2022-06-10
Published in Print: 2022-06-30

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