Anti-abortion marchers call for better visibility
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Hours before dawn, about 6,000 people from Greater Pittsburgh boarded buses to the annual March for Life in Washington, D.C.
But if their family and friends at home want to look for them in the six-figure crowd, they'll likely have to skip the major networks and check EWTN and C-SPAN.
Erica D'Amico, an anti-abortion activist from Carnegie, said that her three young children have kept her at home each year, and she had never thought of checking off-brand networks for coverage.
"I didn't even think that might be a possibility," she said. "You see reports on the news, but they are always passed over real quickly."
Although other marches might be larger in any given year, the March for Life claims to be the largest annual march in Washington. Numbers have always been disputed and official counts disappeared after 1995, when an uproar over the size of the Million Man March caused the National Park Police to stop estimating the size of any event.
Organizers of the March for Life typically claim low- to mid-six figures. Youth rallies beforehand at the Verizon Center and the D.C. Armory are known to have 27,000 participants, and turn many away.
Even on conservative Fox News, "you get one story on Special Report," said Tim Graham, director of media analysis at the Media Research Center in Alexandria, Va., a conservative group that scrutinizes media for bias.
"Most years there's nothing, at least in terms of ABC, CBS or NBC, where there tends to be zero," he said. "I guess Fox is there to tape it, and CNN may tape it, too. But generally CNN doesn't acknowledge it."
He complained that far smaller rallies for liberal causes get more coverage from major networks.
"There are things that the march organizers could do that would draw greater interest. But the reality is that these guys will cover 50 Occupy Wall Street protesters in tents and skip 100,000 pro-life marchers," he said.
Mr. Graham has covered the march as a journalist, analyzed it for his present employer and now marches as a participant. Its organizers lack media savvy, he said, loading the rally with low-profile, repetitive speakers.
"If they would try to add celebrity on top -- your presidential candidates, former presidents, any Hollywood pro-lifers -- it would make it more dynamic," he said.
"It would make sense for Mitt Romney to come. It would make sense for Rick Santorum to speak. I've heard nothing about them being there, and it would be a win-win for the march organizers and for the candidates."
Acoustics at the rally are so bad, "that a lot of the marchers can't hear what's said. It's actually better to watch it on EWTN or C-SPAN, where you can hear what they have to say," he said.
C-SPAN covers the march every year but not always in the same way, said Howard Mortman, director of communications for the national public affairs network. Some years it runs live, on others it is taped for later. Last week, decisions were still being made about how to juggle it with campaign coverage this year.
C-SPAN also tries to mix coverage of the march with abortion rights events, such as fundraising dinners, that also take place around the Jan. 22 anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion in 1973.
"The overall goal is to present voices, as many sides to an issue or as many voices as we can, particularly on the hot-button issues," he said.
EWTN, which is opposed to abortion, builds three days of programming around the march and anniversary. Its coverage began Saturday with the west coast Walk for Life in San Francisco, and continued Sunday with the Vigil Mass for Life in Washington's National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Today's coverage begins at 7:30 a.m. with the Solemn Mass for Life, and march coverage begins at 11 a.m. EWTN is bringing star power to the event with country music singer Colin Raye, who will be interviewed.
EWTN cameras will be at the morning youth rally and Mass, but only show taped segments later due to a theological issue.
"Once you get into a Mass, in the world of EWTN, you do not leave a Mass," said Doug Keck, executive vice-president and chief programming officer of EWTN.
EWTN's coverage started modestly three decades ago, with coverage of the Vigil Mass, he said.
"Ten years ago we started asking how we could do more, with very short purse strings," he said. They set up an anchor position near the rally stage, later added cameras and then Spanish language coverage. Youth rally coverage started two years ago.
This year's addition is social media. Marchers and viewers are invited to post at www.facebook.com/ewtnonline or on Twitter with hashtag #ewtn.
The march coverage is typically re-aired later, and the network gets a lot of positive feedback from its viewers, Mr. Keck said.
"They're very supportive of us carrying it," he said. "A lot of people have children who go to the march. They like to be able to see how many people are here, and perhaps catch a glimpse of people they know."
First Published January 23, 2012 12:00 am