chapter  1
30 Pages

Introduction: Social Inequality and Media

ByJohn C. Pollock

The “Occupy Wall Street” (OWS) movement has galvanized attention in the United States ever since it burst onto media, policy, and public agendas in fall, 2011. Although experts may differ over the clarity of purpose, quality of leadership, and choice of strategies and tactics, almost anyone who has heard about the movement is familiar with its central message: Ninety-nine percent versus one percent, or the ninety-nine percent less privileged against the highly, highly privileged one percent. That message of imbalance and social/economic/political conflict has proved enormously resonant in media, public, and policy agendas, illustrating the cascading influence of organizers who choose a clear message and obvious targets to attract ongoing media coverage, reinforce public discontent, and ignite powerful reactions from policy makers and political leaders, in particular in the Democratic Party in a presidential election year, 2012. [For excellent scholarship on the modern crisis of inequality, see in particular books by two Nobel Prize winners, Krugman (2012) and Stiglitz (2012), as well as volumes by Gitlin (2012), Hayes (2012), and Noah (2012).]

That ninety-nine percent public theme or trope was emerging as the original five articles in this collection were delivered for publication in “Mass Communication and Society” (MCS) (14:6, November/December, 2011), the journal of the Mass Communication and Society Division of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication. The ongoing public debate about social inequality and its role in the November, 2012, elections offers a public policy backdrop for new discussions about modern scholarship in the community structure tradition. This introduction represents the elaboration of a special perspective: Community structure research can illuminate links between social inequality and media coverage. In effect, community structure research is not simply an academic exercise solely of interest to a particular group of scholars. It is also a perspective that throws a spotlight on multiple dimensions of social structure and demographics that are associated with variations in coverage of critical public issues. In sum, modern community structure research can offer insight into the formation of public policy.