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Making Sense of the Ray Rice Domestic Violence Story

Sep 14, 2014

Credit npr.org

It's a story that's been dominating media coverage -- top to bottom -- from mainstream media to social media and everything in between.

Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice had already been suspended for two games after a video surfaced of him hauling his unconscious then-fiancé Janay out of an Atlantic City elevator.

Now Rice has been suspended indefinitely after the rest of that video surfaced, showing the punch that knocked out Janay, who is now his wife.

Both videos were released by the tabloid website TMZ.

This story has a lot of angles.

But for conventional journalists, one big question is why is TMZ getting this story and not more mainstream media outlets?

Well, it's not because the other media outlets aren't pursuing the Rice story.

"It's because TMZ will pay for the video and they have a reputation for doing that," explained Kelly McBride of the Poynter institute's Sense-Making Project. "TMZ has been in the tabloid space for a while. They've elbowed their way into the sports space and they're making a pretty big name for themselves. But it really is because they are willing to pay for information."

No matter who is breaking the details, the rest of the media has been having a feeding frenzy on the Ray Rice story.

"The is the kind of thing that we just can't stop talking about because it reveals so much about our society and the intersection of professional athletes and race and culture," McBride said. "There are so many layers to this that we can't leave it alone."

Behind all the ins and outs of the Rice story, there's the problem of domestic abuse, not just in the NFL but everywhere.

The Rice story is an opportunity for the media to provide some strong coverage of the issue, but is it doing that?

"Not really," said McBride. "You know domestic violence is so incredibly common it's almost pedestrian in our society. It's the kind of story that doesn't really lend itself to today's media climate, which is quick and fast and wants things to be very clear cut."

But what's different about media reaction to the Ray Rice story is the reaction of social media.

"That's the most interesting thing," McBride said. "The people, the crowd, have risen up and said we can tell this story ourselves. We don't need the professional media. And if go to Twitter and you look at the hashtags #whyIleft and #whyIstay, you see an amazing level of documentation where you have women and men telling their stories of domestic violence. In the aggregate, it provides such an honest window into this very deep and broad problem that we face as a society."