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#Occupy Media

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By JEFF INGLIS  |  December 14, 2011

The tent villages of the Occupy movement — including those here in Maine — are excellent visual reminders of, and ever-present embodiments of, the social- and economic-justice challenges that our society faces. More specifically, these physical occupations of public space serve as painfully obvious analogues to the occupations of our government offices (and office-holders) by corporate lobbyists working for their own ends, rather than toward true democracy.

As some tents are packed up or slashed to pieces, others fight to remain in place — seeking for actual living humans the type of bureaucratic and legal protection that corporate personhood long ago gave to unborn, undying companies. In that effort, though, the real Occupy messages are at risk of getting lost.

A great deal of the media coverage — including much of the Phoenix's own — has focused on the decisions and efforts surrounding staying, going, or resisting eviction. (Would that our elected officials and police agencies spent half the energy evicting corporations from our unrepresentative government that they have on throwing out poor, disadvantaged people from a fledgling but very real democratic movement.)

Occupiers here and elsewhere have blamed the media for that, er, preoccupation, but many of the protesters themselves have noticed that their own efforts to preserve the encampments have taken away from time and energy they could have spent seeking actual redress of their real grievances.

As the various Occupy groups decide exactly what forms their protests will take, one of the debates will be about how — and whether — they can use the corporate-owned mainstream media to their advantage. They can, and they should.

The media, with all its faults, can be used to amplify a message and disseminate it much more widely than any other method. While many Occupiers are wary of media censorship or spinning of their message, the forces at work are often less sinister in motivation than many think, though certainly no less toxic in their effects on our democratic conversations.

The Occupy movement's concerns are, and ought to be, wide-ranging in nature and scope. But mainstream news organizations — most especially television news — are terrible at covering complex issues. They'll acknowledge it privately, even while fretting about it and doing their best to combat it. It's not good, nor is it something I defend. It is, nevertheless, the reality that must be dealt with.

Working reporters, members of the 99 percent to be sure, are survivors of layoffs and pay cuts, and are expected to do several people's jobs for the pay a part-time worker would have made just a few short years ago.

As a result — and this is not their fault, though it is the fault of their executive overlords — they lack time to research, time to dig, and most importantly time to explain on the air (or, as often, space in print). Since the media can, in fact, be a massively loud contributor to any mic check, consider ways to ease their burden, without compromising the Occupy messages.

Don't, for example, have one big rally at which speakers decry bank bailouts, illegal foreclosures, and lobbyist control of the government. Compressing "the story" into a 30-second piece will mean the substance gets diluted in the attempt to show every perspective, resulting in passing coverage about a confusing rally with competing messages.

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 See all articles by: JEFF INGLIS

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