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Where do we go from here? Press coverage of Occupy Wallstreet

Where do we go from here? Press coverage of Occupy Wallstreet

Many of the camps have been cleared. So what's next for Occupy Wall Street movement? And what's next for its press coverage?

This is a questions that New York Times journalist David Carr posed in a column on Sunday, where he considered whether the Occupy movement would "continue to keep its hold on the collective media imagination?" "Probably not," he reasoned: "when the spectacle disappears reporters often fold up their tents as well".

Carr ends by qualifying his argument, saying that the mark left by the Occupy Wall Street protestors might be visible in the debate leading up to the 2012 presidential election. Yet the thrust of the piece remains: the first, active phase of the movement is over.

Megan Garber of the Nieman Journalism Lab responds to Carr's article from a different perspective. She agrees with Carr that the traditional press can be obsessed with the question "what's next?", something that counts against a slow-growing, leaderless, grass-roots movement like Occupy Wall Street: "Occupy's much-discussed lack of a singular identity has been not only kind of the whole point, but also, to some extent, the result of the way the movement has been mediated by a press that tends to reward newness over endurance."

But she argues that this all might have just changed. Garber points to the image of a police officer, Lieutenant John Pike, wearing riot gear and pepper-spraying protesters at close range at the UC Davis campus. It wasn't just the original photos and videos of the police action that spread like widlfire (one YouTube video has over 1.6 million hits) the image was also widely imitated and parodied. Garber posts pictures in her article of the 'Pepper Spray Cop' incorporated into Picasso's Guernica, Pink Floyd's album cover for 'The Dark Side of the Moon" and John Trumbull's painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Garber cites the "meme-fication" of the image to argue that the Occupy movement has "expanded its purview" to become "something more than a political movement."

"The human drama the photo lays bare," she writes, "the powerless being exploited by the powerful -- has a universality that makes its particularities (geographical location, political context) all but irrelevant." Garber goes on to compare 'Pepper Spray Cop' with other iconic pieces of photo journalism - Phan Thi Kim Phúc running naked down a road in Vietnam after surviving a napalm attack, and an unnamed man standing in from on four tanks in China's Tiananmen Square - and says that, while she isn't sure that this image will achieve the same cultural status, it might change the perception of Occupy Wall Street, both in the public consciousness and also the media.

It's difficult to say exactly what the effects will be. There's perhaps a bit of a gap between Garber's description of the distressing emotional connotations of the original photograph and its jokey, online imitations. Mashable perhaps sums it up best, posting a collection of pictures of "Casually Pepper Spray Everything Cop", which features images of the police officer spraying everything from munchkins in the Wizard of Oz, to bunny rabbits in Bambi. The article invites users to "sound off in the comments if you're disgusted by this type of online humor" but the feedback from users is, on the whole, positive.

What's more, all politics aside, the media is continuing to respond to the movement in very diverse ways, and with different aims in mind. On the one hand, the New York Press club announced that they are forming a "Coalition for the First Amendment" to monitor relationship between the media and the New York police. "The announcement comes as the relationship between the police and the fourth estimated have reached a new low," reports BetaBeat, noting that almost two dozen journalists were arrested during last week's raid on Zuccotti Park.

On the other hand, Ell Goodman published an article yesterday for ComScore describing in financial terms how publishers can benefit from Occupy Wall Street content, which brings "more viewers, more ad sales, and best case scenario, more permanent return viewers." Goodman notes (without apparent irony?) that at the moment publishers are failing to capitalize on the money that OWS content could earn them, because, currently "of...1.6 million search click-throughs, more than 99% occurred on organic search links."

So it's still not quite clear how the media response to the Occupy movement will pan out, in terms of finance, police relations or general reporting. All that's certain is that the way the Occupy movement continues to be covered will be a reflection of today's rapidly evolving media landscape.

Sources: New York Times, Nieman Journalism Lab, YouTube, Mashable, BetaBeat, ComScore



Hannah Vinter


2011-11-22 19:35

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