Media Report Card: May Day Rally 2012

Why the “Report Card”?

Many people rely on the mainstream media (TV and Newspapers) to know what’s going on in their communities and in politics. Having worked for years on workers’ rights and economic justice issues, we’ve gotten used to shaking our heads at the lack of coverage and/or the negative spin that the media outlets put on our events. After all, these media outlets are themselves, employers, often flush with their own workers’ rights issues. They make their money selling ads to the big corporations.

This year’s coverage of the historic May Day rally gives us an opportunity to analyze how the media covered the event, to hold our state’s media outlets accountable, and applaud those who got it right. Media coverage was all over the place as to the purpose of the rally, but were fairly consistent in under-reporting the size of the rally. A few outlets estimated around 1,000, most left it at hundreds and the Vermont Press Bureau went as low as to say “more than 300.” Several volunteers counted almost 2,000 at the peak of the day. With people were coming and going throughout the day, at any given point the crowd was at least 1,500. The Ben & Jerry’s scoopers who arrived an hour after the march said they served 600 people on a cold, wet day. The media also tended to quote only “big name” personalities, not everyday Vermonters who have joined Put People First to make their voices and demands heard.

Ultimately, we are the ones who are going to tell our own stories, so we started our own People’s Media Project. You can check out the May Day podcast to compare it with the reports below.

Among the criteria we employed in grading were:

  • Their reporting on the numbers,
  • How they described the purpose of the event,
  • Whose voices they lifted up/ quoted, and
  • The nature of the photo and video they included from the rally (how well did it convey the energy, purpose, and people at the event).

Please email us if you have read, seen, or heard additional media coverage of May 1st: avery@workerscenter.org

Associated Press - Grade A
Article:
“Vt. lawmakers confer on key bills; end in sight”
Photographer: Tony Talbot, Reporter: Dave Gram
Weblink: http://www.boston.com/news/local/vermont/articles/2012/05/01/vt_lawmakers_confer_on_key_bills_end_in_sight/
Photo carried in nationally in May Day stories: http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2012/05/may_day_protests_join_imm...
Vermont Papers that Ran AP Article: Brattleboro Reformer (http://www.reformer.com/latestnews/ci_20521515/hundreds-turn-out-may-day...),
Grade Rationale: Tony Talbot gets an A+ for capturing the energy of the day with a number of strong photos that were used in a wide array of media outlets as the feature photo on national stories reporting on May Day rallies throughout the country. Dave Gram’s story had a great quote from VWC member Melissa Bourque and even mentioned the awesome salsa band:

"This May 1st is the culmination of a collective sense of unrest," Melissa Bourque, a member of the Vermont Workers' Center from St. Johnsbury. The Workers' Center was one of more than 30 labor, environmental and other groups that joined to organize the rally on a chilly May Day, one of dozens of similar events around the country. "People are realizing that the system isn't fair," Bourque said, referring to disenchantment with government and business. "People are being awakened to that, and that we can join forces to do something about it.”
Highlight: This Talbot photo at the Statehouse could be the best of the day: http://www.vpr.net/uploads/photos/original/may_day_rally_050112_toby_ap1...

Burlington Free Press - Grade C
Article: Vermont lawmakers joust over labor legislation
Weblink: http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120502/NEWS03/120501049/-1/NEWS/Vermont-lawmakers-joust-over-labor-legislation-
Reporter: Nancy Remsen
Grade Rationale: The article was a focused on the early education bill and only mentioned the broader significance of the rally and what it was about briefly in the opening. It’s a decent article, but the Free Press failed to really cover the rally.
Highlight: They did include a AP photo and photo collage on website which was good.

FOX44/ ABC22 - Grade: A-
Reporter: Louisa Moller
Weblink: http://www.fox44now.com/story/18017601/hundreds-rally-for-may-day-in-vt
Grade Rationale: Two great interviews with VWC leaders (Linda Limoges and Sandy Gaffney), great framing (“time for change is now,” making the link between personal stories and systemic problems). The only “knock” is that they described the numbers as “hundreds” instead of the 2,000 that actually turned out.
Highlight: “Rising health care prices and surging student debt, these are just some of the issues brought up at today’s rally, and the people I spoke to said these are issues they’ve had for a while, but the time for change is now.”

Labor Notes - Grade A
Article:
Vermont Poised to Issue Driver’s Licenses to Farm Workers
Reporter: Michael Feiner
Weblink: http://labornotes.org/print/blogs/2012/05/vermont-poised-issue-drivers-l...
Grade Rationale: This article focuses on Migrant Justice’s struggle “Drive for Justice” and puts it into the context of its movement building work with VWC and Put People First campaign.
Highlight: “In barely over a month, Vermont’s Governor Peter Shumlin went from refusing to support licenses to endorsing the legislation, in the process rejecting the federal government’s call to enforce its failed and short sighted immigration policies. “As Shumlin said in an interview with Vermont Public Radio, ‘It's not fair to ask them to be isolated, living in fear on the farms, when we would like to have them as part of our communities. So I think a basic right should be that they can get to the store, get to the doctor and get around while they're here.’”

Seven Days - Grade B
Article:
“Noisy and United on a Raw May Day in Montpelier”
Reporter: Kevin Kelley, contributions from Paul Heintz (photos by both)
Weblink: http://7d.blogs.com/blurt/2012/05/noisy-and-united-on-a-raw-may-day-in-m...
Grade Rationale: Overall good, but consistent with other outlets in under-reporting the numbers as in the “hundreds.” They also led by focusing on the two “big names:” Bill McKibben and Bernie Sanders, before providing any quotes from emerging grassroots Put People First leaders. They did convey the tone of the event well: “The spirit of the event felt more like the tulips and apple blossoms on the Statehouse lawn than like the sullen sky above the golden dome.” The goals of the event were also accurately reported: “The ambitious aim of the May Day action was to unite these varied voices into a single chorus calling for progressive change in Vermont, the United States and the world.” Unfortunately, the reporter then goes on to discredit some of the new and emerging leaders by saying, “Many of the faces at the protest were as familiar — and as worn — as the rhetoric of many of the speakers.” Another “whoops!”: in describing Bernie Hernandez’s speech, the reporter inaccurately identifies the photo of Bhutanese parents and grandparents as Bernie’s farmworker “compatriots.”
Highlight: “Bernie Hernandez, a farm worker from Mexico, was ringed by a dozen of his compatriots (pictured), mostly women, as he told the crowd, ‘I am one of the invisibles who's becoming visible and being heard.’ Hernandez' speech, delivered in Spanish and translated into English, drew laughs and applause with the line, ‘Without us, there are no creemees!’”

Toward Freedom - Grade A
Article:
Photo Essay: Thousands Rally in Vermont Capitol for International Workers’ Day
Weblink: http://www.towardfreedom.com/labor/2810-thsounds-rally-in-vermont-capita... Reporter: Ben Dangl
Grade Rationale: Great photos that told a powerful story and that were up that afternoon.
Highlight: This is the only outlet that included a “group photo.”

Vermont Press Bureau (Times Argus/Rutland Herald) - Grade D
Article: May Day rally draws hundreds
Weblink: http://www.rutlandherald.com/article/20120502/NEWS02/705029895/1003/SEARCH (subscriber only)
Reporter: Jenna Pizzi
Grade Rationale: In addition to the absurd turnout estimate (see above), there were a number of inaccuracies and the reporter failed to actually quote any of the rally speakers other than Sen. Bernie Sanders. It falsely reported that he had a tent for his campaign (although we did hear there were campaign organizers circulating in the crowd). The reporter also got it wrong saying that the previous three rallies organized by the VWC were focused on our Put People First initiative. They were Healthcare Is a Human Right rallies, but this year we did broaden the message to Put People First.
Highlight: Decent photo of the front of the march arriving at the Statehouse.

Vermont Public Radio - Grade A-
Weblink:
http://www.vpr.net/news_detail/94353/hundreds-vermonters-rally-on-may-day/ http://www.vpr.net/episode/53521/lake-champlain-floods-one-year-later/ (Melissa Bourque is interviewed starting ay 36:26)
Reporter: Jane Lindholm (news summary by Patti Daniels)
Grade Rationale: Great interview with Melissa Bourque on Vermont Public Radio’s signature program Vermont Edition, and then subsequent write up by Patti Daniels with quotes from the interviews.
Highlight: Melissa’s quote: "The Workers Center and all of these other different groups that are here today are giving an outlet for people to come together and stand together and say, we're not okay with this and we're actually not just ‘not okay' with it, we're going to do something about it.”

VT Digger - Grade: C+
Article:
Hundreds rally in Montpelier for May Day labor event
Reporter: Taylor Dobbs Weblink: http://vtdigger.org/2012/05/02/hundreds-rally-in-montpelier-for-may-day-...
Grade Rationale: By focusing on the two “big-name” speakers Sen. Bernie Sanders and author Bill McKibben the article missed the spirit of the day, the fact that there were so many powerful leaders of a growing people movement. A reader’s comment was on the mark about this line “Speakers called for increased government assistance with education, child care, health care and land preservation for Native American tribes – all “basic human rights,” according to the speakers.” Reader Judith Levine wrote: “Providing education, health care, etc. is not “government assistance.” These are the FUNCTIONS of government — to provide, with taxpayer money — the services necessary to life.“
Highlight: Good photo.

WCAX - Channel 3 - CBS - Grade B
Reporter: Alexei Rubenstein (producer)
Weblink: http://www.wcax.com/story/18005367/put-people-first-rally-in-montpelier
Grade Rationale: The only knock on this report was that it was really short, but they did a great job of accurately saying who was there, why we were there, and even recognized that the lousy weather affected turnout.
Highlight: "We need healthy communities, healthy workplaces, healthy planet we can live on. We need to fight for environmental justice, fight to end racism, fight for workers' rights, fight for women's rights, fight for disability justice, fight for immigrant justice, fight for democracy-- that what we're here for today," said Shela Linton of the Vermont Workers' Center. Organizers urged Vermont lawmakers to take action on several issues, including early educators' right to organize, action on climate change and driver's licenses for migrant workers. The event was billed as the largest weekday rally Montpelier has ever seen, but gray skies and drizzle may have accounted for a lower turnout.

WPTZ - Channel 5 - NBC - Grade B
Reporter:
Stewart Ledbetter
Weblink: http://www.wptz.com/news/vermont-new-york/burlington/Hundreds-turn-out-f...
Grade Rationale: The coverage of the rally was good, reported turnout at “perhaps, a thousand,” included a good clip of VWC member Shela Linton speaking on health care and David Kreindler talking about the People's Budget, but made a someone confusing transition from the rally to issues being debated inside the statehouse that weren’t really being talked about outside. Good footage of the rally, but interviews were only with lawmaker and one director of a nonprofit in the statehouse. The listing out of other issues at the end framed finished with a short description of the early educators amendment(s), and a description of these ongoing debates as “snags” to hopes of adjournment by the weekend.
Highlight: Shela’s quote: “We do not only want universal health care, we are demanding it!” Also, they provide one of the more accurate counts of the size of the rally: “perhaps a thousand.”