When social movement organizations receive extensive newspaper coverage, why is it sometimes substantive and sometimes not? By “substantive,” we mean coverage that reflects serious treatment of the movement's issues, demands, or policy claims. Scholars agree that the news media are key to movement organizations' influence, helping them alter public discourse and effect political change, but often find that protests are covered nonsubstantively. Employing insights from literatures on historical institutionalism, the social organization of the news, and the consequences of movements, we elaborate an “institutional mediation” model that identifies the interactive effects on coverage of news institutions' operating procedures, movement organizations' characteristics and action, and political contexts. Although movement actors suffer compound legitimacy deficits with journalists, the institutional mediation model identifies the openings news institutions provide, the movement organizational characteristics, the forms of collective action likely to induce substantive news treatment, and the political contexts that will amplify or dampen these effects. We derive four interactive hypotheses from this model, addressing the effects of organizational identities, collective action, and political contexts on news outcomes. We appraise the hypotheses with comparative and qualitative comparative analyses of more than 1000 individually coded articles discussing the five most-covered organizations of the 1960s U.S. civil rights movement across four national newspapers. We find support for each hypothesis and discuss the implications for other movement organizations and the current media context.

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