Hero’s or villains: Representation of protesters and police officers through entertainment news media

Hero’s or villains: Representation of protesters and police officers through entertainment news media

Group 22: Marcy Inclan & Connie Ven


Our topical focus is on how police and protestors are portrayed through the media.  Our main focal point is on articles put out by the media through various news sources.   This is an important phenomenon to examine because people base their opinions of the Occupy movement from what they see or, in some cases, are told.  If you had no idea what was going on and read an article from a trusted news source saying protestors are out of control druggies, you will have a different view of the Occupy Movement than if you see one where protestors are peacefully and eloquently getting their points across.  Likewise, if you read an article saying police are pepper spraying college students for no legitimate reason, you would have a different view on authoritative figures than if you read an article saying police saved someone from being beaten up by irrational protestors.

The media portrays police and protestors very differently depending upon what they want you to think.  This can be misleading if the only things being reported on by the media are when people do outrageous things since there are multiple dimensions of the Occupy Movement that should be known to the public.  An analysis of mainstream media articles pertaining to the Occupy Movement reveals that the majority of police involved in the Occupy Movement are brutally aggressive and the protestors are victims in most cases.


Discourse analysis methods are the tools you use to break down the text and see the bigger picture of what the author is trying to portray to you.  These tools break down the text in many ways including, lexical bundles, semantics, token and type, concordance, cotext, collocation, colligation, and clause elements.  It is important to use discourse analysis methods because they help you understand the author’s orientation, role, and identity (Van Dijk).  I used discourse analysis methods to break down my articles of focus and gain insight on what the author intended on portraying through their literature.

The discourse genre being focused on is entertainment news media. This genre includes texts anywhere from blogs to editorials to media news sites and other things posted through personal opinion sections. These tools usually draw on appeal to draw in attention and reading or viewing. The fact that our culture has moved into the technology age, more and more of us are receiving our news from this media which adds on to it’s importance. Aside from this, this genre includes opinions and statements from the public itself, as well as important figures such as government officials and those actually involved in the movement. It displays a widespread of data that includes a larger example of facts from true testimonials. This genre is dominant in the culture and influential through being innovative.

Our corpus consists of 30 articles from various new sources.  We collected these articles using LexisNexis and searching for “Occupy Movement +police +protestor” with filters so only articles from news sources would come up.  This set of texts is valid for our analysis because it is the exposure that reaches the public.  These articles may be the only information the public gets of the Occupy Movement therefore they might form opinions of the movement based solely off what their news source says.

Semantic relations look at the grammar of the sentence and how it is written to describe the language. There is a split into two groups of semantic relations, being the following of: a “’local’ semantic relations between clauses and sentences,” to “’global’ or higher-level semantic relations over longer stretches of text, or even whole texts” (Fairclough 2003). Semantics take on from embedded phrases as well to show that “one clause functions as an element of another clause” (Flairclough 2003). Lexical choice is important to take into consideration since the lexical item balances both the syntagmatic and paradigmatic patterns in an article (Sinclair).  Therefore analyzing the aspects of the language used helps get an understanding of what the author is trying to say and if their language is persuasive, whether purposefully or not.  Similarly, it helps to pay attention to semantic preference because it connects syntax with meaning and semantic prosody can give words a certain meaning when used in specific ways or associations (Young).  Classification schemes are significant because since we are analyzing a social movement, social class plays a massive role in the ideological thoughts and perceptions one gets from reading an article.


First Pattern (Protestors are violent in order to get what they want):

One pattern observed throughout the text was that protesters were being represented through the language as violent beings. The conclusion to this was reached through certain words and phrases that were used in description throughout multiple texts. Each example showed an add-on of different similar phrases, one’s being that are usually violent, to show the protesters “fighting” on a deeper level. One of the examples below show a phrase that starts to list the different damages that had been done, creating a violent scene for the reader. Aside from clusters of words building upon one another to argue this point, through causal semantic relations, we were able to also analyze this point. Through the examples found below, the sentence structures are in the format of “the protesters horribly did this, so the policemen or public suffered this way.” This format skewed the reader into reading the statement as if the first didn’t happen, the second one would never have taken place. Below shows a deeper understanding of the two methods used, as well as excerpts/examples of each in action:

-Additive (Semantic Relations) is a “hierarchical clustering of words or    phrases to build meaning upon..” (Shepard 1979)

“The vandals shattered a door and cracked two windows.” – Damage through violence

“Protestors broke a number of shop windows in downtown Seattle, in Washington state, and set a fire outside a US District Court” – Damage through violence

-Causal (Semantic Relations) is specifying when one clause leads to the next one. The typical pattern that Causal sentences follow is the “Reason Consequence Purpose” structure, listing out the cause from one section to the next (Fairclough 2003).

“The protesters eventually left and the Vancouver Fire and Rescue Service moved in to extinguish the burning pile of wood, paper and other items,” – Building on violence through fire use

“After black-clad youth were seen hurling rocks at store windows, flash grenades were launched by police to warn them off. But the same youths picked up the smoke bombs lobbed by the police and threw them toward pedestrians.” – Initiating attack with violence

Pattern 2 (Police officers mentioned in kinder words than protestors)

Another pattern observed had to do with the representation of police officers through the entertainment news media. After analyzing the texts, we found that police officers were often mentioned, in opposites of protesters, as either in non-detailed way, or in kinder words that made them less violent. Going in to the analysis, we had a patter in mind we were searching for being that police officers would be the violent ones attacking against “civilians” or in this case, protesters. After reading through excerpts, we found that police officers often were just explained in the articles as making arrests or “detaining” someone, without being gone into much detail. Unlike protesters that were deeply spoken about the different violent acts and attempts made, the ones made by police officers were kept quiet, only stating the bare minimal of “chased down” or “ran after.” We found this pattern through using the Lexical tool of looking for specific word choices that would appear throughout multiple texts to provide meaning, such as “disperse,” “detain,” and “arrests.” We also saw through classification we were able to create meaning from the certain lexical word choices that rose throughout multiple texts, as well as words and phrases that society as pinned with certain meanings. In the example below, the sentence makes the reader feel like police officers could have made arrests, but they were “kind” enough to give the protesters a warning. The analysis from this sentence comes from the classification that “protesters” turn “violent,” but that they “made no arrests” but could have shows they were giving a warning instead of being the “bad guys” and forcing arrests.

-Lexical “consists of words, to each of which attached a number of statements, which together express the meaning of the word” (Weigand 1998).

four or five protestors were detained after being chased by officers.”

On the East Coast, in New York, where the roots of the Occupy Wall Street movement formed, police detained at least six people.”

Tensions rose after police chased down several protesters and detained them. A crowd quickly formed around them, shouting and hurling objects at the officers.”

Word usage: DETAIN

“Seattle Police made at least two arrests after hundreds of Occupy protestors marched through the city’s center Tuesday afternoon.”

“Riot police arrived on the scene and gave the protestors a warning to disperse.”

Word usage: Arrest

“Police on bicycles moved in and dispersed people, closing off the store entrances with crime scene tape.”

“Riot police arrived on the scene and gave the protestors a warning to disperse.”

Word usage: disperse

-Classification: a tool that “place people, processes, events, ideas in categories” that classifies the social world, creating meaning for the word (Wetherell 2001).

“Vancouver police say no arrests were made after a May Day protest on Commercial Drive turned violent last night, unlike in other cities such as Montreal and Seattle, where hundreds of people could face charges.


In conclusion, journalists are persuasive and if they want you to believe something and are successful, their article will spark certain emotions in you.  The articles I analyzed made it clear that the police involved in the Occupy Movement are very aggressive towards protestors and the protestors are victims of assault in the majority of cases.  This analysis helped me realize how certain words and lexical sequences can make a situation sound much more severe than others.  Critical discourse analysis is a great tool that helps you break down articles and see them for what they really are.

Works Cited:

Additive clustering: Representation of similarities as combinations of discrete overlapping properties. Shepard, Roger N.; Arabie, Phipps. Psychological Review, Vol 86(2), Mar 1979, 87-12. http://psycnet.apa.org/journals/rev/86/2/87/

Flairclough, N. (2003). Analysis discourse: Textual analysis for social research. (Master’s thesis, University of Munster), Available from Sage Publications. Retrieved from https://staff.washington.edu/atoft/reading/Fairclough_analyzing_discourse_ch5.pdf

Sinclair, J. (1998). Contrastive Lexical Semantics. Philadelphia, PA: John Benjamins Publishing Co.

Van Dijk, T. A. (2006). Discourse Studies: A Multidisciplinary Introduction. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publications Inc.

Weigand, E. (1998). Contrastive lexical semantics. (Master’s thesis, University of Munster), Available from Sage Publications. Retrieved from https://staff.washington.edu/atoft/reading/Sinclair_lexical.pdf

Whetherell, M. (2001). Discourse practice and theory. (Master’s thesis), Available from Sage Publications. Retrieved from https://staff.washington.edu/atoft/reading/Hall_2001b.pdf

Young, L., & Harrison, C. (2004). Systemic Functional Linquistics and Critical Discourse Analysis Studies in Social Change. New York, NY: Continuum.


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