Monday, November 24, 2014

Deana A. Rohlinger's "Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America"

Deana A. Rohlinger is an associate professor in the department of sociology and a research associate at the Pepper Institute of Aging and Public Policy at Florida State University.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America, and reported the following:
From page 99:
Not all movement actors have the same advantages with moderated media. Organizational dynamics affect reputation and how a group navigates the media field. A well-funded, well-staffed organization can write a letter to the editor, craft and post an op-ed, contact mainstream journalists and writers working in sympathetic outlets, and create an advertising campaign at the same time. Likewise, groups with substantial financial resources can afford to invest in market research to refine movement messages as well as purchase professional campaign materials and advice. This is not a small advantage. While most groups rely primarily on “earned” coverage, activists recognize the value of speaking directly to an audience without distortion or distraction, particularly when they want to reframe a debate. It was not a coincidence that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) used direct media to launch its campaign to end partial-birth abortion. Paid advertising allowed NRLC to introduce a new way to think about the abortion procedure without the interference of its opponents.

Financially flush organizations can also spend more time and money framing themselves in ways that resonate with the general public. A well-to-do organization can finely tune a public image so that it appeals to a broad cross section of the citizenry and, then, use its mainstream appeal to build its credibility with journalists. I am not suggesting that there is a particular financial threshold that organizations must cross in order to be effective in the mass media field. As seen in the NRLC case, an organization can set itself apart from its allies on a relatively small budget if it draws on culturally resonant values and institutional credibility. I am arguing that a resource-rich organization can craft a brand for the group that can be leveraged across institutional fields and issues.
Page 99, which is the first page of Chapter 6: Branding and the Success of Planned Parenthood, sets up the benefits of branding for non-governmental organizations. A brand, as I note on the next page, creates a connection between an organization and a target audience; a connection that relies on emotion rather than logic.

What does branding have to do with abortion and social movements?

A lot. It turns out that financially-flush, politically savvy groups such as Planned Parenthood can use their brands to side-step rancorous, public debates over abortion while they push forward their political goals behind the scenes.


You shouldn’t be. We are so focused on the public battles over legal abortion – violence at abortion clinics, filibustering in the state legislature, and protests in the streets – that we give little thought to what happens outside the view of the camera. These made-for-TV moments intentionally overshadow non-governmental organization’s more subtle media manipulations that affect how we, the citizenry, understand the abortion issue.

My book uncovers how non-governmental organizations use mass media to forward their political goals. While sometimes groups opposing and supporting legal abortion adopt a “go big or go home” approach to media, more often groups find themselves either avoiding the media spotlight or struggling to publicly respond to something their allies have said or done. I tell the tales of four non-governmental organizations – National Right to life Committee, National Organization for Women, Planned Parenthood, and Concerned Women for America. Drawing on archival data and interviews with past and current activists as well as journalists, editors, and producers, I show how these groups embrace (and avoid) direct marketing, mainstream news, and internet communication technology during good (and bad) political times – and outline how their reputation affects their ability to do so.

Scholars will appreciate the theory developed in the book. I use sociology, political science, communication studies, and administrative sciences to shed light on when non-governmental groups use media to advance their goals. As the title of Chapter 6 suggests, an organization’s reputation and its ability to create a brand play an important role in its decision-making.

Of course, there is a lot more to the book than strategy. Readers interested in politics will be taken with the tale of the battle over legal abortion. I uncover the bitter rivalries, political miscalculations, and media faux pas that have shaped abortion politics in America. Readers will be surprised by how much there is to learn about a seemingly well-trodden, political territory.
Learn more about Abortion Politics, Mass Media, and Social Movements in America at the Cambridge University Press website and Deana A. Rohlinger's website.

--Marshal Zeringue