The 3 mistakes media are making in covering Occupy Wall Street protests
Journalists have found the ’60s version of “dirty hippies” with beards at the Occupy Wall Street protests; they’re interviewing “grungy looking people or people with dreadlocks or people beating drums,” says Columbia University professor Todd Gitlin. They’re also framing stories with a “law and order” bias so that arrests make news, but non-criminal events are less noteworthy. The sociologist tells Mallary Jean Tenore the media focus on events rather than the big picture. “[Social] movements are ragged — they’re patched together, and they’re improvised, and if you want to size up where they’re going, you’ve got to talk to a range of people and decide what’s relevant.” || Related: Reporters have been romanticizing the protests as akin to the turbulent ’60s (NY Post) | Breslin compares OWS to Civil Rights movement (Capital New York) | Chat with Todd Gitlin and Jack Shafer: How to report more meaningful stories about Occupy Wall Street protests

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  • edisciple

    Could it also be that what they’re (media) reporting is all there is; violent neo-hippies of the 21st Century run amok without direction?

  • Anonymous

    So then do you think that all the coverage given to a smattering of people dressed in tri-corner hats or with tea bags hanging off them shouldn’t have been covered?

    At least these demonstrations are drawing thousands of people in many different cities across the country. I would say that is actual news and deserves coverage.

  • Beverly Price

    1. Correct in this – but Diane isn’t the only journalist who confuses her reporting role with boosterism.
    2. Correct in the surface-reporting observation – but no one can be found who is paying the OWS people to show up (explains “spontaneous”) whereas the Koch brothers funded their  chapters of the Tea Party (there’s evidence for this).
    3. It completely depends on your definition of “constant positive reporting.” Why is it on every night? For the same reason a war with daily battles is covered every night.
    4. You are “shocked” that celebrities are showing up? And you call yourself an American!
    5. I, for one, DO WANT TO BE LIKE EUROPEANS! I hear that you don’t – especially since you all-capped it – but can you hear that not all “real Americans” think like you.

  • Poynter

    Hi all,

    We’re going to have a live chat today at 12:30 p.m. ET to talk about how journalists can improve their coverage of Occupy Wall Street. Our two panelists will be Todd Gitlin and Reuters’ Jack Shafer. I encourage you to tune in and share your thoughts and questions. Here’s more information about the chat:


  • Mark L. Jackson

    Once again Poynter refuses to identify the REAL problems with the coverage.

    1. Boosterism — Diane Sawyer said:”the protests have spread to THOUSANDS of countries.”  I wonder if they spread to any of the “57 states” Obama visited? There are fewer than 200 countries on THIS planet. Clearly she is all giddy over a protest to cover THAT SHE AGREES WITH. The media did the same thing with Obama in 2008.

    2. Surface only reporting — Constant trumpeting of “Organic” and “spontaneous” to explain the “protests” growth.  Refusal to admit who is really behind the protest, and that many protestors are being paid to be there. Unlike the Tea Party when the media made up bogey-men; with this protest they are covering up who is behind it. None of these people have a clue why they are there, it’s a party; report that.

    3. Constant positive reporting. Why is this on every night? Outside the liberal coast cities, and Dem supporters (read Media) no one sees these protests as reflective of them. Little to no reporting of the crimes committed by the group, the utter lack of decency, and little to no reporting of the hypocrisy of the protestors (Kanye West at the protest, really? AT&T iPhones in hand, texting while marching, no doubt updating twitter to let the world know they are cool err in the protest. Gap shirts, Levi jeans.)

    4. Failure to out those who are using the protest to enhance their own careers. Let’s see: Al “race baiter” Sharpton, Cornell “Whitey is the problem” West, Tavis “I’m so bad only PBS will hire me” Smiley. The list is endless.

    @Diego:disqus  Unlike Europe, we in America, can change our situation. Protesting is not “changing things.” Second, who cares what you think of America? We don’t. Third, real Americans DON’T WANT TO BE LIKE EUROPEANS. Get it?

  • Chris Judd

    Of course, let’s ask a noted ex-hippie who made his mark on his hippie-ness to judge whether news coverage is too hippie-centric.

    Naturally, he has sympathy with the protesters and their causes, and while he cites a limited, narrow field of examples to back his claim of “lazy journalism,” he chides reporters to work harder to portray them in a more sympathetic light; to help the protesters do what many can’t or won’t do: enunciate what they want to change and how.

    Too many journalists have already tarnished their reputations likening modern day America to Arab dictatorships (Google “Occupy Wall Street” and “Arab Spring”) and insisting, too early, that this is the “liberal Tea Party movement.”  The notion that Gitlin will pressure them to even more silly extremes is depressing.

    Journalists have a duty to describe what they see and hear, not what they think the speaker meant to say and the appearance the speaker meant to display. Has OWS moved from the fringe Left to mainstream Left? There is little evidence it has. When and if it does, it will be apparent. It won’t need any help from journalists.

  • Diego

    Dear Americans friends:

    I was in USA for 2 and a half months this summer 2011 and was so surprised to notice that after all the demonstrations in Europe, Africa and Asia nothing was going on in USA … I felt very dissapointed and sad and thought that majority of americans were happy with the way the world and their country was going on through this turbulence period.

    After back in Spain and having noticed #OWS I was so happy to see that many Americans were rising up against world inequalities and saying to the world that “We are 99% and cannot really allow the 1% to rule our world in such a bad way”…

    Spanish Media had same reaction at the begginning of the demonstrations as USA media is doing now but dont worry cause very soon the 99% of Americans will be so powerful inside and outside Media companies that they will be forced to tell the truth of the people demonstrating all around the country.

    Mucho ánimo desde Europa !


  • Anonymous

    Brian, you got it !

    The media is doing a VERY bad job covering the news altogether and this is a good example. Reporters, whatever name you want to use for them, should be telling the story and explaining what they see as a whole to us. You can do that without making a strong opinion statement. That did happen until recently. Instead news services (if you want to call them that) want to entertain us with splashy stuff like scruffy people and protest arrests making the whole thing look bad. The job of the press to to inform us with as little prejudice as possible (we are human after all) and show why these people are there and what they are saying and the wide variety of Americans who are involved. Even a dolt like me was able to see the wide range of my fellow citizens who are part of it. 

    The press is turning ill informed people off from this wide ranging event with their bad coverage. The press have to inform us, not lie by omission or in the name of entertaining us. We are not stupid and we do want to know the WHOLE story. The American people are information starved. Our American forefathers must be going nuts looking at what our press is doing.

  • gary joyce

    The three mistakes: covering it, covering it and covering it. 

    When they move their “protest” to DC where they SHOULD be doing it, get back to me with the “news.”

  • Anonymous

    Newsrooms should send reviewers instead of reporters to cover protests. Reporters are uncomfortable with such an opinion-driven event, so they turn to crowd estimates, arrests and streets blocked. A reviewer could critique the message: Is it valid? Is it presented effectively? What are its roots? Where is its support? Who wrote the best signs?