Reporting on the court of public opinion: how Buzzfeed and the New York Times covered the Brock Turner case
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[ACCESS RESTRICTED TO THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSOURI AT AUTHOR'S REQUEST.] In January 2015, a 19-year-old named Brock Turner sexually assaulted an unconscious and intoxicated young woman behind a dumpster near Stanford University. Turner was caught that evening by two graduate students who witnessed the crime as they were riding their bikes by the scene. The survivor, known only as Emily Doe, provided a statement of more than 7,000 words in court during Turner's sentencing. Her statement was a harrowing, detailed, and remarkable account of the crime Turner committed and the lasting effects it has had on her life. On June 2, 2016, the judge presiding over the Turner case sentenced him to just six months in county jail for the three felonies of which he was found guilty. BuzzFeed, the popular digital news site, obtained Doe's statement the day after Turner was sentenced, and it was shared over 11 million times in four days and was quickly picked up by other news outlets in the following days. Doe's statement, and the viral way in which it spread online, sparked international outrage over Turner's light sentencing, and called into question the fairness of the American justice system. BuzzFeed continued to follow the case, covering its social, cultural, and legal ramifications throughout 2016. This research examines the role that BuzzFeed played in shaping public opinion about the Turner case, and examines coverage from The New York Times as an example of how traditional media covered it in comparison to the approaches BuzzFeed took. This research employs theories of feminism and intersectionality as well as analysis of advocacy in journalism and the role of ethics in BuzzFeed's decision to obtain Doe's statement. Findings include an analysis of BuzzFeed's style of interventionist journalism when covering the case, contrasted with the Times' more traditional, distanced approach, and BuzzFeed's use of reader-submitted content and social media to illustrate the impact of the Turner case on sexual assault survivors and their supporters around the world.
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