'Occupy' Needs the Media, and Vice Versa


It’s a rainy, windy, and miserable day down in New York, meaning it’s not much fun down at Zuccotti Park. When New York had rain last week, WNYW morning anchor John Huddy had a brilliant idea, handing out a bunch of umbrellas branded with the Fox station’s logo to Occupy Wall Street protestors. (Surely some were less than thrilled to be sporting something with Fox on it, but hey–staying dry is key.)

We trekked down there yesterday to check out Occupy Wall Street, and how the local TV outlets are covering the event, and what the protestors think of the coverage.

There’s not much TV viewing going on down there for obvious reasons: There’s not much electricity. Print is the medium of choice; Occupy Wall Street even has its own newspaper, though I was unlucky to mistakenly grab a Spanish version of The Occupied Wall Street Journal. (”Esta Rebelion No Se Detendra!”)

Not surprisingly, occupiers I spoke with weren’t too happy with the media coverage, saying it went from non existent early on, to erroneously reporting on a sex and drugs bacchanalia going on down at Zuccotti, and focusing on the protestors’ lack of a unified goal. Some credited New York 1 for staying on top of this local story. “They’re the one that does actual reportage,” believes Chris Cobb, who was walking around with a pretend Fox News Channel camera, which he called a bit of “street theater.” “But even NY1, they’re looking for commodifiable soundbites.”

It’s an interesting relationship between the protestors and the media. While the protestors can get their word out through Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other social media, I think they realize they need mainstream media to tell/show people that this movement has legs. Mainstream media is of course controlled by the corporate giants the protestors so disdain. It’s a rocky marriage.

The protest, as a whole, is very media savvy. @OccupyWS has nearly 85,000 followers on Twitter, and has issued 4,500 tweets. There’s a press desk on site at Zuccotti. I spoke with Occupy PR man Bill Dobbs there, who asked about his old friend (and former B&C editor in chief) Max Robins, and said the media queries were keeping him busy. “We’ve heard from many, many, many outlets,” he said. “Hundreds of outlets have sent staff or freelancers.”

Dobbs was speaking with me and a woman from Wired at the time. During our convo, Jesse Jackson walked by and shook Dobbs’ hand, and Dobbs mentioned the last time they’d met–when both had been jailed following a protest.

Already, the Occupy movements in other cities–Atlanta, Austin, Madison–has begun to fizzle. “It’s not as big a deal as you would’ve thought here,” says Bob Smith, GM at WMTV Madison.

Sharri Berg, SVP of News at the Fox owned stations, suggests that lots of news outlets have gotten caught up in the hype of the event, and are not accurately reporting its true scale. “Media outlets, local and national, have gotten swept up in the story and report that it’s growing,” says Berg. “In reality, it swells and it shrinks. It’s our job, our responsiblity, to provide balance and not get swept away by ‘the movement’ and its ‘incredible growth.’”

Occupy Wall Street reached a month old earlier this week. Fall will soon turn to winter, and winter is nasty in New York. Surely other local Occupy movements take their cues from the New York flagship. How long will the New York camp hang on?