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Trayvon Martin case shows evolving influence of black community

The black community – from actors to journalists – has played a crucial role in keeping the Trayvon Martin case in the public spotlight, media analysts say.

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Black journalists have also played a crucial role, says Maurice Hall, chair of the communication department at Villanova University in Philadelphia. He cites four in particular: Trymaine Lee at the Huffington Post; Charles Blow of The New York Times; Eugene Robinson of The Washington Post; and Tulane University professor Melissa Harris-Perry, who has appeared on MSNBC.

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He goes so far as to say that the efforts of these journalists have contributed to the US Justice Department opening an investigation Monday.   

“These are very prominent mainstream journalists that argued that the case needs to be looked at more closely,” says Professor Hall. “So you had the combination of online and mainstream media that really kept pushing this story in important ways. You can’t pin it to any one thing, of course, but in my observation it is very clear that if it weren’t for these prominent black journalists, this story wouldn’t have been kept in the media and produced the pressure on federal law enforcement to respond.”

Others agree that the rallying of the black community together in support of Martin played a crucial role in keeping the topic front and center.

“I would say in the Trayvon Martin case, if it weren’t for the black voices taking to the streets and getting visits from the attorneys and staying involved, that the wider media would not have thought this newsworthy,” says Donald Tibbs, a professor at Drexel University's Earle Mack School of Law in Philadelphia and author of “From Black Power to Prison Power.”

The Martin case is a perfect example of the influence of the black community on national media coverage, says Derede McAlpin, vice president of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington. She says it parallels the case of the Jena Six of 2006, in which six black teens were arrested for serious offenses while their non-minority counterparts received different treatment.

“The [Jena Six] case was largely ignored by the US national media. The Town Talk and The Jena Times covered the story from its inception,” says Ms. McAlpin. “But the case didn’t reach a national level until African-American bloggers and [black] media reported on the issue, which resulted in the mobilization of a nationwide network of supporters, civil rights activists, and community groups.”

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