Monday, October 10

A Slow Burn Picks Up Heat

‘If a fire happens, every news station rushes to cover it’, said Mike Wall Street (the individual wished to remain anonymous) one of two volunteers manning the general information desk at Occupy Wall Street’s Zuccotti Park headquarters. “I haven’t seen many media really extensively caring about this issue or responding. I haven’t seen it, but I’m optimistic”.

The media layout at Zuccotti Park is a veritable mash of major and local, even down to one high school journalism class on the scene. On the first days of the protest, the press table for Occupy Wall Street was little more than one laptop and an umbrella. In the days since, it has grown immensely, eventually creating its own Occupy Wall Street Journal. The spokesman, Mr. Bruner, according to the New York Observer, has even been provided with a blackberry by the movement.

Beyond the epicenter of the protest, a row of major media organization trucks lines the street: CNN, CBS, NBC.The reporters and videographers rush back and forth between the park crowds and the media chairs set up just beside the vans. Reporters interview everyone from a woman in a orange gas mask to the dapper actor Mark Ruffalo.

Many major media outlets (CBS, CNN) are steadfastly reluctant to comment on their experiences and intentions, citing contractual and media obligations. Still, there is some sense of camaraderie between the low and high journalists that populate the scene. “That woman over there is a reporter”, one man slyly whispered. “Don’t tell her I told you, he said with a wink. A reporter and CNN HLN PR contact, Carolyn Disbrow kindly stated that she could not grant an interview, but provided a contact to the CNN PR room.

A timeline of the media’s coverage of Occupy Wall Street reveals a progressive wave of attention: On the first day, outlets such as Fox News, Bloomberg News, and a few others ran pieces. By the third days, outlets like The Guardian and the New York Times had joined the fold. Television coverage was slower on the come up, finally culminating in a September 21st on-air speech from Keith Olbermann chastising the ‘media blackout’. According to a (tongue in cheek) report by the New York Observer, there are currently nearly as many reporters at the event as there are protesters.

If there is open, in-depth discussion about media coverage, it is often from media members on the fringe, or former members of the media. Near the ‘Press’ table, three men gathered and discussed how the media has dealt with the protests. One middle aged Caucasian man, wearing a striped button up and a small black backpack meant for mobility, stressed his media credentials when offering comment. “The median age of Fox News is 65. These people, the people out here, are young people. They’re not watching major media.’ The man speaks in a hurried but confident tone, one that his two companions often meet with nodded heads. “The day of the 24 hour news cycle is over”, said the man with the small backpack. “This is a 21st century happening”, said another.

Such a happening has gained strength through the wide-open, information- is-24/7 -all 24/7- Internet: Twitter updates, Facebook pages, News Feed and RSS tracking, and more. The discussion between the three men eventually came around to John Stewart and the Daily Show (voted the most trusted news show in a 2009 online poll from Time Magazine, and popular news show for the demographic of many protesters). The men discussed the show’s handling of Occupy Wall Street, and soon came a casual interjection: ‘Oh yeah, I saw that off Bitorrent’.

The Occupy Wall Street protests are seated uncomfortably between mergers of old media vs. new media, a lack of early singular narrative vs. a growing and more developed organization, and the shifting media coverage that results. As the protests continue to grow, media outlets, big and small, are wrestling with ever evolving narratives.

“It’s been a slow burn, but it’s building”, Mike Wall Street said.


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