12 November 2011

News media wonders why it can’t recognize the faces it has ignored

Bank Transfer Day rally rally Nov. 4 in uptown Albuquerque.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.—Two months out, The New York Times is openly discussing its inability to understand and report on the national movement sparked by Occupy Wall Street. Public editor Arthur Brisbane shares some of the advice he sought and received from J-school professors, bloggers, colleagues and readers in his article, “Who Is OccupyWall Street?” Much of what he gives us is pedestrian, but there is one nugget:

Catherine Jones of Berkeley, Calif., suggested that The Times delve deeply into the historical backdrops of Occupy protest sites in locations — like the Bay Area and Boston — that previously have served as “historic incubators of movements for civil liberties, workers rights, racial justice, etc… In-depth reporting on the demographics, history and politics of particular cities/metropolitan areas might shed light on the sources and meaning of the Occupy movement.”

The Times admits to a deficiency in news reporting and analysis that is more pervasive in the dominant broadcast outlets that favor short “news” bursts of images and sound with little opportunity for history or context. This formula requires, for example, demands or policy statements that can be whittled down to sound bites or leaders who can be transformed into celebrities or brands. They are not readily available in the Occupy movement. Those absences are huge, bone-jarring potholes for an approach to news reporting that only wants to glide over the surface, searching for jingles and gestures, instead of unearthing the record of events and choices that created this moment in time.

As Jones suggests, the story of how the world’s wealthiest nation was plundered by the favored as well as the government and news media the few hired or bamboozled can be told in any American city. There are three decades of thick, rich details in any place, state or region; in each there is a cast of characters, some with familiar faces. Rampaging inequality, record bankruptcies and home foreclosures, frightening levels of unemployment are poverty are not acts of God or akin to weather phenomena, but the consequences of economic, political and social policies made by human beings with faces and names.

That’s not all the story. Amidst these tectonic socioeconomic shifts were many other people with names and faces who resisted their exploitation every step of the way over the same three decades. They weren’t always the same faces, some dropped in when others left while a few never ceased the struggle, but they organized and rallied and voted, committed quiet acts of sabotage and rebellions, and dared to question the rhetoric of inevitability. And their resistance was largely ignored, dismissed and derided by the mainstream media, so it is with little wonder that even the august NYT doesn’t recognize the rabble outside its windows today.

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