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Nathan Schneider
Published: Sunday 2 October 2011
Mainstream media are usually a part of a movement’s opponent, and they certainly are in this case.

On the Occupy Wall Street ‘Media Blackout’

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Among those part of and concerned with the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s very common to hear complaints about the lack of mainstream media coverage. There’s even a sign at the occupation’s media center that says, “Welcome to the media blackout.” To a large extent, the blackout is real. The New York Times and other local papers didn’t give the movement headlines until almost a week in, with the exception of a cover story in Metro that first Wednesday. And, while several local TV stations were at Liberty Plaza during the first week, their reports weren’t being picked up by national affiliates. Only recently has this begun to change.

Online, there have been accusations of outright censorship. Yahoo has admitted to “not intentional” blocking of emails with links to, blaming their spam filter. (This excuse is not widely believed, but plausible—I’ve seen the site trigger non-Yahoo spam filters as well.) Twitter has similarly blocked #occupywallstreet from being listed as a trending topic. (This may be because it keeps being throttled by Anonymous bots—or, more conspiratorially, because a considerable stake in the company is owned by JPMorgan Chase, which also just donated $4.5 million to the NYPD.)

Really, though, what do you expect? Resistance movements should not count on coverage by establishment news outlets, much less favorable coverage. Mainstream media are usually a part of a movement’s opponent, and they certainly are in this case. The movement’s job, then, is to make its actions so irresistible that the media have to cover it, despite themselves. In an instructive essay about her experience doing media relations during the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, Mary King writes:

[A]ttentive news coverage can never be taken for granted or assumed. It must be won. Gaining the attention of the news industry is one of the central functions that must be planned by a nonviolent movement that hopes to succeed.

In this respect, Occupy Wall Street is already succeeding.

These protests, it must be recognized, are getting much more coverage than any other protest in recent years (with the exception of ones held by the well-funded Tea Party), including ones involving far more people. Like unions, celebrities, police, and many would-be participants, though, it took some time for the media to begin to recognize that something of substance is taking place. By definition, the establishmentarian mainstream media will always be slow to react to a dynamic grassroots movement. That this is the case here could even be a good sign for the movement’s long-term prospects.

Part of the blame for poor coverage, too, lies in the movement’s own media strategy, or lack thereof. From the outset, its organizers have focused primarily on creating their own media—just as Gandhi did during the Indian liberation struggle, and as so many other movements have since. The occupiers do this very well, with a (theoretically) 24-hour livestream, a newspaper, websites, and more. Meanwhile, many organizers have purposely avoided contact with mainstream media outlets, and no plan was in place at first for how to deal with them should they arrive. Reporters—with the sole exception of me, after a lengthy discussion on the matter—were asked not to be present at the planning meetings before September 17. For the first week of the occupation, media relations was being overseen largely by one valiant but overworked college student with no previous experience in it (plus a probably-counterproductive onslaught of Twitter mentions directed against news services who failed to give coverage). Wire services weren’t being informed about upcoming events. Those reporters who did show up at the plaza were left to wander, without guidance about whom to interview or what was going on.

This is changing. Several older people with experience in media relations have joined on to help, as well as more skilled young people. Now there’s an email list, a calendar, a workflow, and the wisdom gained from a few mistakes—such as, for instance, Friday’s Radiohead concert debacle, which appears to have been the work of a rogue prankster. So there’s hope.

Something changed over the course of last Monday, for instance, at least in the heads of the species of made-up, spotlessly-dressed television news reporters who were swarming among the dirty and battle-worn protesters. In the morning—and their trucks were out bright and early—the reporters were after one thing and one thing only: the pepper-sprayed girls. A mere witness wouldn’t do, Mr. Channel 7 told me, gravely. His journalistic integrity forbade it. He had to have one of those poor girls, caught on by-then viral video, who had been pepper-sprayed with no apparent provocation by the NYPD’s notorious Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna.

By afternoon, though, their attention shifted. Maybe it was because the sole pepper-sprayed girl who had been around that morning left. Maybe it was already old news. But then the questions they asked started getting more interesting. Instead of gory details, they finally began asking just what exactly all these people were doing in rechristened Liberty Plaza. And, after getting bored of asking sign holders “Why are you here?” and ogling at the generator-powered media center, they even became curious about the all-important General Assembly meetings.

They’ll probably never really get it, but, with time and help, they’ll get better. No mainstream news report, though, will ever substitute for seeing the occupation for yourself.





The movement should backtrack

The movement should backtrack and study how the neo-tea-party gained its momentum. Equally important, is the need to keep up the fight. Occupy Wallstreet has gone too far to turn back and mustn't dissipate in manifestation background noise. Sometimes, one person's voice can make all the difference, a public figure, a union leader, or simply a charismatic and intelligent speaker. Above all however, occupy Wallstreet needs an End Game, there can be no confusion over what you are demanding. Personally, I think this should be a cap on spending by lobbyists. The problem here isn't just the banks, it's Big Oil, it's military contractors, it's insurance companies and others who seek higher shareholder profit at the expense of your civil liberties. Make it clear and people will activate.

Bryan Hemming's picture



Bryan Hemming's picture



Bryan Hemming's picture

How on earth can a Nation of

How on earth can a Nation of Change writer get round to blaming the protestors in part for the lack of press coverage? It's rather like blaming the victims of train crashes in the Third World for the sparsity of coverage in the Western media. They don't have a good enough PR dept, I suppose. The lack of coverage is either deliberate - as in the case of #occupywallstreet - or deemed unworthy of much notice, as in the case of most Third World nations, unless a US citizen is one of the victims.

Since the Occupy Wall Street

Since the Occupy Wall Street movement began I have watched for articles about it in the Oregonian. Until yesterday there was nothing (and I usually scan every page in the newspaper). It took that newspaper quite awhile before it even mentioned it. Par for the course, I imagine, since it did the same when the world seemed to be turning upside down in Wisconsin earlier this year. How any newspaper can ignore these major stories until they quite literally cannot without looking idiotic is beyond my comprehension. It behooves each of us to find our own assorted sources of information.

A thought that caused a grin (even though it amounts to only a fantasy): wouldn't it be grand if all the wealthy powers that be donated so much money to politicians, police departments, etc., went broke? We can help by getting our monies out of Wall Street banks.

As Gil Scott Heron told us

As Gil Scott Heron told us years ago, "The revolution will not be televised."

Not only did Chase Manhattan

Not only did Chase Manhattan buy the NYPD for their jailing of protesters, following an agreement about where they would be protesting--And, they could have simply move protesters off the bridge and then given orders to disperse. In addition I heard that Chase Manhattan bought Twitter and is now monitoring all messages, causing a 20 minute delay time in their delivery. Does anyone have confirmation that this is true?

Steven Ingham's picture

So am I to understand that JP

So am I to understand that JP Morgan has recently bought the NYPD for $4.5 million? Al Capone would be impressed that the Banksters have to pay so little for police protection! Although I expect this could be an ongoing thing. Still, it seems pretty reasonable for pepper spraying and 700 arrests.

I really had some respect for

I really had some respect for NYPD after 9/11. Boy has that dissipated. Of course, most of the current crop on the street were likely not around 10 years ago. The irony here is that it is the over-reaction by cops to the protest that garnered the relatively huge publicity.

My thoughts exactly, Dan. I

My thoughts exactly, Dan.

I couldn't tell if the article was apologizing for the media's lack of knowing a newsworthy event when a reporter sees one or explaining that nobody gets news coverage unless they apy for it or are experienced at being in the news or what.

And why, exactly, is the contrast between people who are disheveled from camping out for weeks and those who were at home for a shower this morning deemed worthy of mention in the article?

I mean, an unemployed protestor and an overpaid reporter will likely have some differences in appearance at the best of times, but someone sleeping in the open for weeks versus someone hired for their personality and demeanor at least as much - if not more - than for their skills is no contest. So why mention it?

Oh, wait - this is a news article - mustn't appear to be too much on the side of the protest, now must it?

Reply to Andrea: The

Reply to Andrea:

The difference is this:
5,000 anti-war protesters are totally ignored.
15 Tea Party activists get wall-to-wall prime-time news coverage.

Clear enough?

Last night as we watched the

Last night as we watched the "news" on the computer, we have no television....we commented afterwards as we had been saying for a few days, why no coverage of the Occupy Wall Street. So your article this morning is well timed. We obviously watch on the computer and our daily dose of news comes thru the radio and PBS.
Not much there either I must say. We we are watching and listening.

These Wall Street responses &

These Wall Street responses & "sit in's" to corporate greed, their cover up & protection and their purchase of police, news media, politicians everywhere, the courts, etc. are perhaps nature's way of bringing some balance to our socienty. We have tilted so far Left because of the greed and corruption, our public is rightfully cynical--no one can trust anyone in office or public service. Capitalism has reached the point of despair and dillusionment for most people in our society and we are clearly used as pawns or slaves in this economic disaster with no end in sight for recovery withou protest.

Hi Gerald, it is by no means

Hi Gerald, it is by no means due to tilting to the right, you are tilting the wrong way. Whom gets all, or the majority of the "big Bucks" from the corporate and big bank sector...the right, although the left gets theirs also. This occupy group does not stand for either. They stand for what is right (in right vs wrong); accountability for what wall street has done to the economy and the people it effects (their corruption); they are for the voices of the people being heard and for our government to work for us not the corporations. It is about People vs Oligarchs-kletocrats,plutocrats and banksters. It is to get the rules, regulations and programs that protect people, our economy and our environment back on the books, and to make government responsive to us by taking the power of the corporate side out. I want my New Deal back.

The $4.5 million

The $4.5 million "contribution" to the NYPD is not surprising. The NYPD has behaved like bought and paid-for attack dogs for the Banks and Corporate interests down on Wall Street. However, once they are no longer needed, it will be particularly satisfying when they themselves are stripped of their union and collective bargaining rights just like the police and firefighters in Wisconsin and Ohio. At that point the whining will finally begin -- too late for them to do anything about it! So, I say to Tony Boloney and his cronies, keep up the good work -- your time will come!



Are all major news events as

Are all major news events as compliant with all the rules and expectations and norms this author prescribes (e.g., the media being shown what to do, whom to talk to by "older" [less "conspiratorial], etc., etc.)? It's hard to see where this guy's coming from: justification of the blackout or chastising the naivete of the protesters for not being all savvy and stuff.

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