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Occupy LA: The Death of Mainstream Media

RETHINKING LA -The LAPD’s full-force eviction of Occupy LA from City Hall Park left a very crowded high road in its wake as the Mayor, the LAPD, and the occupiers all shared credit for their commitment to respect, restraint, and cooperation as the two month long occupation came to an end.

An estimated 1400 LAPD officers participated in the well planned operation to evict the Occupy LA encampment which had swelled to about 1000 participants who had prepared for the confrontation with training in nonviolent civil disobedience.

As the LAPD shed its hard core reputation and as the Occupy LA movement held to its nonviolent principles, it was the media who caved in and who were left behind as casualties on the battlefield.

Two nights earlier, the evening of the Mayor’s deadline, it was the media who drew the LAPD’s first threat of arrest when they swarmed to the Occupy LA encampment in such numbers that they prevented Commander Andy Smith from crossing the street from LAPD headquarters to City Hall.

The next night, the LAPD sent an email to the limited number of  “legitimate” media contacts in their files, giving two hour notice of a meeting where the LAPD would conduct a lottery to select the dozen media representative who would have access to the Occupy LA eviction.

While the notion of “legitimate” media is a subject worthy of great debate, it’s safe to say that the era of print, radio, and television dominance has long passed. The LAPD’s commitment to an antiquated paradigm of communication is in stark contrast to its demonstration of innovation in tactics and operations.

The LAPD participates in a notification service known as Nixle that allows the public to opt-in for law enforcement and public safety communications. Several days before the Occupy LA eviction, the LAPD sent out a message inviting the public to text “OLA999” to 888-777 in order to participate in the LAPD Occupy LA Information Messaging System.

The LAPD then sent a message on the 24th saying there would be no eviction that night and another message on the 28th asking the Media to move their trucks from Main Street.

That was it, no more, nothing.

Maybe the LAPD felt so comfortable surrounded by old friends from the “legitimate” media that they went back to their “pager” notification protocols.

As the LAPD Public Information Officers (PIOs) and those media representatives selected to participate in the LAPD’s approved Media Pool surveyed the Occupy LA encampment on the evening of the eviction operation, the “legitimate” media’s tenuous grip on its Fourth Estate role weakened as most pool members agreed to abstain from phone calls and from Twitter activity.

Two members of the pool broke the Twitter embargo but @StoltzeFrankly stayed safe with tweets such as "#OccupyLA massive police operation against OLA begins.” and “#OccupyLA Police issue ten minute dispersal order.” while @AntonioNBCLA forgot the #occupyLa hashtag and has only 138 followers so his tweets failed to find an audience.

The concept of a Media Pool isn’t new, it’s often used in controlled spaces such as courtrooms and it involves selecting press representatives who agree to feed their reports to a pool so that all participants share in the information, releases, photos, video, etc.

The problem here is that the Media Pool consisted of only media outlets approved by the LAPD, an organization that was unable to explain the process for certification other than that it involved “a letter from your boss explaining why you need an LAPD Press Pass.”  

The most disturbing failure of the “legitimate” media came when KCAL9’s helicopter coverage of the LAPD’s Dodger Stadium staging grounds went dark, victim to self-imposed censorship that came with the explanation "To protect the integrity of the police operation we are not showing you that shot right now."

As the anticipated battle between the LAPD and Occupy LA turned into a tightly orchestrated and well-choreographed display of professionalism and principle, the real struggle turned out to be one between the Main Stream Media and Citizen Journalism.

As the MSM kowtowed to the LAPD and traded their Fourth Estate cards for LAPD Press Passes, it was the public who fed the world with words, experiences, pictures, videos, commentary, narrative, interviews, and perspective. The tools were cell phones and mini-cams which fed Twitter, Facebook, and UStream.

The Main Stream Media television broadcasts required trucks and personnel which resulted in minimal coverage and maximum commercial breaks while reporters, tethered to their team, struggled to find the story.

The LA Times, to its credit, learned from the Citizen Journalists and rigged a UStream camera on top of their building for the night of the eviction, feeding a constant stream of video of the 1st and Spring intersection.

But, they were learning, not leading and it was individuals such as CrossXBones and Occupy Oakland Live who provided constant access to the encampment, to the police, to the spectators in the street, to the media, and to Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief Beck when they stepped out onto 1st Street to recap the eviction.

Let there be no mistake, the City of LA has much to be proud of, including the LAPD which established a new standard for peaceful engagement and the Occupy LA participants who stayed true to the principles of peaceful protest.

While the issue of 1st Amendment rights continues to get debated and the issue of the 4th and 14th Amendments gets overlooked and forgotten, there is still room to celebrate the fact that the LAPD and Occupy LA both left the battlefield victorious and with no casualties.

On the other hand, the Main Stream Media fell on its sword and dealt itself a near-mortal blow that has robbed it of any claim of “legitimacy” and any hope of sympathy from the public it betrayed.

Rising to the occasion comes the Citizen Journalist, UStream hosts such as SkyAdams and Spencer, photographers such as Alex ThompsonAlfredo Hernandez, Ivan Therrien and Richie Thomassen, and countless contributors to Twitter and Facebook that kept the conversation going, even as the “legitimate” media went silent and betrayed its audience.

(Stephen Box is a grassroots advocate and writes for CityWatch. He can be reached at: .)  Photo credits: Alex Thompson (top); (bottom)

Tags: Occupy LA, LAPD, LA Times, mainstream media

Vol 9 Issue 96
Pub: Dec 2, 2011