I remember joining UPS workers’ picket lines in solidarity back in 1997 at the Williston,
Although the local media was a bit more sympathetic than the national media in the strike’s early going, Kumar notes that this was primarily because it was local news. The local media heads knew UPS workers and counted on them for their package and overnight deliveries. National media, on the other hand, began their coverage according to their owners’ interests. in other words, the early coverage was mostly favorable to UPS management. In fact, as Kumar points out, the concessions demanded by UPS management at the beginning of negotiations were presented sympathetically, while the worker’s demands were portrayed as excessive if not downright unreasonable. The methods used in the media portrayals were methods that isolated the union’s demands from the context they developed from. To explain how this occurs, Kumar goes beyond the standard media critic’s take that relies primarily on the ownership of said media and addresses the nature of professional journalism’s description of objective news sources being those with governmental and other types of authority. From there she discusses the nature of newsgathering. Establishment media relies heavily on the aforementioned authority figures and very little on sources outside of corporate boardrooms and government offices. When they do ask an “average” person, it is usually only to add some color to their story–an action that does little to change the story’s slant toward the status quo. Using examples from television advertising and news programs, and the newspapers USA Today, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, Kumar makes a convincing case that the status quo these mediums wish to maintain is one that assumes corporations not only have won the battle over their workers (and the world), but will never lose that supremacy.
Yet, argues Kumar, the UPS strike challenged that and, by doing so, forced the media, with only a few exceptions, to present a view that struck at the status quo. To explain how this happened, Kumar presents a paradigm she calls the dominance/resistance model. This model exploits the contradictions inherent in mass media that allow the stories of the opposition to be portrayed positively–something that occasionally happens when a media outlet runs a story or series that attempts to examine how an economic phenomenon, war, or natural catastrophe like Hurricane Katrina affects an underrepresented segment of society but only has an effect on the general perception of media consumers when the stories are precipitated by collective struggle. In other words, Kumar presents evidence that the coverage of the UPS strike began to favor the position of the workers only when it became clear to the editors that the majority of US residents sympathized with the workers. This allowed them to be covered positively. This coverage was presented within the context of the national interest. In something of a reversal of the earlier coverage that was sympathetic to the ownership–coverage that presented the corporation as one of “us” and the workers as “them.” I say something of a reversal only because the corporation was not presented as one of “them”, but the workers did suddenly become one of “us.” This in itself is unusual in that the corporate media acknowledged that Americans are producers, not consumers. That definition is important when it comes to how we define ourselves, not only in terms of the workplace but in everyday life. Consumers can only stop buying something while producers can stop making it. The latter action has considerably more effect.
Which brings me to a point made by Kumar in her discussion of the strike’s aftermath. There was, for a short time, a renewed discussion of the labor movement in US media. In fact, some dhows even presented unions in a favorable light and Jeopardy! had a week of contests that featured union members as contestants and included the AFL-CIO logo as part of its credits. Strikes that took place in the years immediately following the UPS workers’ victory were also successful. At the