As Zuccotti Park breaks up, media coverage of Occupy Wall Street fragments (but doesn't shrink)
Banished from their Zuccotti Park encampment on Nov. 15 but allowed to return on the condition that no one sleeps there (or even so much as lays down for a cat nap), the original Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are now sorting through the logistics of what to do and where to go next.
The problem as far as the news cycle is concerned is that it's a tedious process, and one that doesn't necessarily make for compelling headlines.
What does the future hold for the "Occupy" movement's media coverage now that its New York nerve center has been dismantled, leaving journalists without a go-to spot where they could reliably dig up a fresh story about the protest on any given day?
David Carr pondered this quandary in his New York Times column last week.
"Reporters live for spectacle, and for more than two months Occupy Wall Street has provided one at a fixed address," Carr wrote. "It made for good television and print coverage. ... but when the spectacle disappears reporters often fold up their tents as well."
Or, as is the case with his own paper, they simply move their tents elsewhere.
In Sunday's Times, Brian Stelter gave us a report from Occupy Philadelphia and Occupy Los Angeles, where the clock was ticking for protesters to clear their City Hall campsites. (The deadlines reportedly came and went early Monday morning without incident, save a few arrests in the latter municipality.)
“Without some of the struggles that the other cities have had, we’ve been sitting around, drinking coffee,” an Occupy Philadelphia participant told Stelter. “This is bringing us back together.”
Likewise, in today's Times, Matt Flegenheimer takes us into the heart of Occupy Newark, where the protesters in New Jersey's largest city (also one of the Garden State's poorest) seem a die-hard bunch despite their small numbers and the warm welcome they've received from local officials. (Mayor Cory Booker sent them donuts and coffee on a recent cold Saturday night.)
"For many protesters, the message has remained persistently local, particularly when compared with the sprawling ambitions of the gatherings in Manhattan and other cities," Flegenheimer writes. "Grievances include Newark’s murder rate, the city’s unemployment levels, and layoffs last year to the police force, which thinned the department’s ranks by more than 160 officers."
And there are still ancillary angles to fill column inches with—today's Times Business Day section, for instance, follows in the footsteps of last week's New Yorker by zooming in on Kalle Lasn, the editor of Canadian anti-consumerist magazine Adbusters who coined the term "Occupy Wall Street" and laid the groundwork for the movement back in July.
"Kalle Lasn ... did not invent the anger that has been feeding the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations across the United States," writes William Yardley. "But he did brand it."
Perhaps the most surprising thing: After nearly falling off the map in the days leading up to the Zucotti Park evacuation, the protests had their most headline-making week yet between Nov. 14-20. But the spike had everything to do with the police crackdowns taking place in New York and other cities.
"News about the demonstrations unfolded dramatically last week, as Occupy sites in Oakland, Portland and other cities were cleared by law enforcement, precipitating a spike in arrests and several injuries," wrote Jesse Holcomb of Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism, which does a weekly analysis of news trends. "And coverage really took off when New York’s Zuccotti Park, the birthplace of the movement, was cleared of encampments."
In other words, we'll probably need to see more pepper spray if the months-old Occupy meme is to continue holding the interest of news editors.