Coding Protest Event Data & Studying Black Protest

The MPEDS (Machine-Learning Protest Event Data System) project, whose intellectual lead was then-graduate student and now consultant Alex Hanna, was funded by National Science Foundation grant #14-23784 . This system is used by us and others to screen news articles for those likely to include descriptions of protest events. While no system is 100% accurate, MPEDS has been shown to be at least as accurate as human coders in making these identifications. The MPEDS system also includes the MPEDS Annotation Interface (MAI), a browser-based coding interface that is available on GitHub as mpeds/mpeds-coder. This

Our current NSF-funded project (#22-14160 and #19-18342) builds on that earlier work to study Black protests in the 1990s and 2000s. The first phase of the Black protest project searched newswire sources for Black protest events 1994-2010. This phase of the project has resulted in two publications:

  1. Oliver, Pamela, Alex Hanna and Chaeyoon Lim. 2023. “Constructing Relational and Verifiable Protest Event Data: Four Challenges and Some Solutions.” Mobilization: An International Quarterly 28(1):1-22. doi: 10.17813/1086-671x-28-1-1. This methodological paper addresses the problem of creating verifiable protest event data that also captures the theoretically-significant relational elements of protests, including their structuring into campaigns and episodes and the importance of the volume of news coverage of protests.
  2. Oliver, Pamela, Chaeyoon Lim, Morgan Matthews and Alex Hanna. 2022. “Black Protests in the United States, 1994-2010.” Sociological Science 9(May):275-312. doi: DOI: 10.15195/v9.a12. This empirical paper provides a panoramic view of U.S. Black movement protest events between 1994 and 2010 as they appeared in U.S. newswires. We put our quantitative data into dialog with qualitative accounts. Struggles during these years presaged the Black Lives protest waves of 2014 to 2016 and 2020. Protests in response to police violence and other criminal-legal issues were major arenas of struggle and news coverage. The Million Man march in 1995 and the Jena Six mobilization in 2007 were other large movement episodes.

The current phase of our project is identifying Black protest events in Black newspapers and comparing newswires and Black newspapers in their descriptions of the Black movement. We have multiple working papers in progress from this phase. We are also posting qualitative overviews of key episodes on my blog. These include an overview of major criminal-legal episodes, Million Man, Million Woman, and Million Youth Marches, and the Jena Six, with more to come.

Papers in progress include:

  1. “Comparing Coverage of Black Protests in Mainstream Newswires and Black Newspapers, 1994-2010” (Pamela Oliver, Chaeyoon Lim, Erin Gaede, Anna Milewski) is a basic overview of the portrayal of Black protest events in the two types of sources. Both sources give a great deal of attention to policing issues, but newswires more so. Black newspapers give much more coverage to worker issues and labor struggles, to conflicts over privatization and cuts in public funding for social services, to attempts to reduce local community violence, and to other local issues. Black newspaper coverage varies somewhat depending on whether the events are local to the state in which the newspaper is published. All sources have a strong New York bias. A preliminary version with partial data was presented at a conference in June 2022 and posted on SocArXiv. A revision with partial analysis of full data was prepared in July 2023. We will be expanding the analysis and posting the preprint within the next few months.
  2. “Black Protests about Policing in the U.S. 1994-2010 as Portrayed in Mainstream Newswires and Black Newspapers” (Pamela Oliver, Erin Gaede) compares newswires and Black newspapers in their coverage of protests about policing in the US. Newswires attend more to disruption and police sources and give proportionately more coverage to a few highly-covered episodes in media cascade processes, while Black newspapers cover a broader range of episodes and give more attention to the community mobilization around the issues.
  3. “Descriptive Overview of Black Protests about Policing in the U.S. 1994-2010” (Pamela Oliver, Erin Gaede) provides a descriptive overview of the incidents of protests about police violence as covered in the newswires and Black newspapers. It draws on a 2020 ASA presentation using only newswire data but is wholly revised to incorporate Black newspapers.
  4. “The Politics of Policing: Media Coverage of Black Resistance to Police Violence in New York, 1997-2000” (Erin Gaede, Pamela Oliver). Combines qualitative and quantitative analysis of news coverage of four New York episodes around police violence in the 1990s, emphasizing the differences between newswires and Black newspapers in emphasis on partisan politics, police perspectives, and protesters as actors. Draws on a 2020 ASA presentation that used only newswire data but is wholly revised to incorporate Black newspapers and new theoretical arguments.
  5. “The Jena Six: Of Nooses, Fights, Narratives, and Movement Building.” (Pamela Oliver) Traces the processes in the development of the 2007 Jena Six protests, a major Black mobilization that some argue is the opening of the new wave of contention that fed into Black Lives Matter. This qualitative account begins with the sources in our data files but draws on other published sources and a few interviews. This expands on material originally posted on the blog.
  6. “Religion and Police Engagement at Black Protest Events, 1994-2010” (Anna Milewski, Chaeyoon Lim, Pamela Oliver) examines how the presence of religious leaders affects the interaction between police and protesters at Black protest events. Police presence is more likely to be reported in Black protest events where religious leaders and organizations are present. This is particularly the case when non-Christian leaders are present.
  7. “The Changing Landscape of the Black Movement, 1994-2010” (Chaeyoon Lim, Anna Milewski, Pamela Oliver) examines how the prominent actors and organizations of the Black movement as they appear in the mainstream and Black news media changed in the 1990s and 2000s. While Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are the most prominent players at Black protests in this period, the actors who most frequently appeared in relation to Black protests are full-time Black activists or politicians, with religious leaders’ presence decreasing over time.