Conventional journalism is increasingly irrelevant in a time of crisis. We find abundant proof in a recent column from the New York Times’ so-called “Public Editor,” who is supposed to somehow magically represent the public interest and rarefied ethical values to the rest of the paper.

In this column, he says the media is having difficulty figuring out how to cover Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots.

What are the themes? How should The New York Times cover this movement that resembles no other in memory?

Certainly, media organizations are intrinsically better able to cover snapshot moments like official actions and pronouncements than movements or complex and subtly if rapidly evolving situations—like climate change, or Occupy.

In any case, for answers, the Public Editor turns to colleagues outside The Times, and solicits their wisdom:

Stephen Buckley, dean of faculty, The Poynter Institute; former managing editor, St. Petersburg Times

To my mind, the compelling question driving the Occupy Wall Street story is: How come these people are so angry? And maybe more compellingly: Why did it take them so long to get angry? (We’ve been feeling the effects of a recession for more than four years….)


First of all, “we” (being Mr. Buckley) presumably are not feeling the effects of the recession in quite the same way as those who lost their homes and jobs. Second of all, this is not a protest over the recession. It is the result of a few brave souls who finally had had enough of a lousy system and took to the streets, inspiring others to (gradually) follow.

Here’s another deep thinker:

Jerry Ceppos, dean, Manship School of Mass Communication, Louisiana State University; former executive editor, San Jose Mercury News

This certainly must be the first significant movement for which I can’t paint a picture of typical leaders and followers. How is that possible? Have I simply not followed the stories carefully? Or have we as journalists covered the forest and failed to profile the trees?

Here are some ways I’d identify the trees:

  • Leadership tells you a lot about a movement. But I can’t cite the name of a single Occupy Wall Street leader. I know some members say the groups are “leaderless.” But I have trouble believing that this is an entirely organic movement that grew without a leader. I’d push hard to see if there are leaders and to profile them.
  • Likewise, I don’t have a clear picture of a typical protester. Is there such a thing? If so, tell me the story of a few such people. These stories could be fascinating: Are the protesters ex-Lehman millionaires who lost it all in the melt-down? Or are they regular people who just can’t get jobs? Or do they have jobs but think that financial life still is unfair? In addition, is the mix of protesters similar in each city?


It takes a pretty smug, isolated—and nasty—fellow to write those words.

Keep in mind that these two men not only ran what were considered two of America’s better daily newspapers, but now are in charge of shaping young hearts and minds at journalism schools.

Their posture is akin to asking what the serfs could possibly be upset about. It’s treating Americans who are poor or fed up like they’re some exotic species just discovered. Yet their own publications have been reporting periodically (though certainly not constantly) on the corruption and inside dealing that constitutes our “American Dream” environment.

After these two, I just couldn’t stand to read what any others of the elect had to say. But one thing seems clear: The fact that these people don’t get it—that the entire system stinks, and that they’re part of the system—says everything.

It’s about doing the bidding of the rich and privileged. Playing ball, going to the right schools, joining the right clubs, saying the right things, knowing when to leave well enough alone, digging—but not too deep. Asking questions—but not the right ones. Treating malfeasance as an aberration rather than a terminal condition of our society.

The point here is that these institutions of inquiry—and the kinds of people chosen to run them— are not our best hope for understanding and solving our problems. We need to move on to something new, and better.


24 responses to “Corporate Media Stumped on How to Cover the Occupy Movement”

  1. Vin3220 says:

    Lets not forget the occupy movement has an army of the most educated
    students who being themselves unemployed are going to help organize the movement eventually. Be afraid Wall street. Be very afraid! Your future CEO’s Will have all the time they need to expose the truth to their 
    fellow citizen’s 

  2. Chad Foreman says:

    This is a very well written article. Thanks for writing. Soularddave and planckbrandt pretty much summed up everything I feel about the movement as well.

    What I want to add is that I think this is just the beginning and I feel privileged to witness this in my lifetime. I see this as a whole new movement that just has not yet been defined simply because it’s too new. The conventional journalistic approach simply can not define it. I am happy to be able to witness this.

    I hope that people will stick with the Occupy movement and really stand for what they believe. Or could it fade out just as fast, who knows, but I hope not.     

  3. Dirk Gentley says:

    Paradigm shift. Do they not understand b/c it is outside their realm or are they pretending to misunderstand as a way to not report it?

    OWS is not about as an object. It is a place from which it is happening, internally and externally. Leaders can be egofied and undermined like Obamahood. We are not going that way again.

    There is enough of everything. Money made for easy exchange. It is one side of the circuit. Now it has come to act a chokehold on resources. Life is not about the money. Like healthcare is not life itself, but pretends to be. Money is not resources, though it pretends to be and represents itself as food, clothing, shelter. The wiring of the machine is twisted and it is running backwards.

  4. Leejaicook says:

    Ms. LeeJai Cook, Roaring Springs TEXAS USA.
    It is obvious that America is in a bad way. However, there are big changes ahead. The Most High has assumed control of the U.S. Government. He will decree MANY laws designed to alleviate or solve many of the problems facing America. HIS DECREES WILL BE ENFORCED. He has the best interests of America at heart, but we may have to suffer a bit before we can get the economy to running smoothly again. It may be well to expect that thousands of persons will rebel at being told what to do.

  5. Renostjames says:

    Shows how out of touch the lamestream is, This we have known for a long time so I do not want to preach to the choir. I do say why does the OWS movement need a leader. There are 99% and that includes alot of people of different parties of belief, different ages, different economic situations. Financial Terrorism and issues of economy should be the cement that binds us all. It is the one issue that we should all be able to agree on. I see the OWS movement as an InfoWar creeping into the conversation of  apathetic households. We need to wake up the everyday American first so we have a strong united front to create a real change. They have killed us through social engineering incrementally. It will take a good Infowar to break the nations pre-programming and this movement can be the one to help do it. The fact that this movement is leaderless protects the movement by not giving any party or corporate controlled media an opportunity to character assasinate  or usurp a movement like the neo-cons did with the Fox News Tea Party. Long live the OWS.

  6. AlbertJ says:

    The message of OWS is simple stop the cororate f—ing of people> Why is the wholesale price of heating oil more than the wholesale price of gas?
    $5.00 for a loaf of bread? corporate profits are the highest they have ever been.
    29% interest on credit cards (thanks Dodd/ Frank) stop f—ing us, and stop f—ing USA. with the suport of our government officals. get out of the 3 to5 wars we are in that is bleeding or economy. War that are benefiting mulinational corporations. Could you amagine the riots (i mean protest) if there was a draft?
    OWS rocks

  7. Peter Dale Scott says:

    Ceppos is the editor who first encouraged Gary Webb to write his cocaine/CIA stories, and then helped destroy him.

  8. Guest says:

    the fact that these media wizards can’t find a leader in the movement, yet insist that there must be leaders puts them on the same page as the teabaggers that they love(d) to report on.

    the whole idea of “leaderless” simply does not compute because they want to tell a story, but the real story is just too complex to reduce to a standard three-paragraph narrative. they need a leader to “star” in their little movie, and they need the cast of thousands to conform to recognizable stereotypes.

    the Occupy Movement isn’t playing by their rules. this is not a movie, this is real life. the media is confounded by the concept of a crowd of people functioning of their own accord, as a group of Individuals, not being herded like cattle, not taking orders, not sponsored by any corporation or institution.

    of course the wingnuts are frothing about who is the Evil Mastermind behind the scenes; Soros, Gore, Obama, the ghost of Karl Marx, all the usual suspects. the Authoritarian Right believes in hierarchy and having strong leaders. that’s where their “freedom” comes from; the freedom to let somebody else think for them and set their agenda.

    the Radical Left (all progressives are “radical” now) see Freedom as inseparable from Equality. the corporate media sees freedom as just another prepackaged product to sell on the marketplace.

  9. Azyogini says:

    I was moved to tears at how organized and articulate the young people were when I went to my first Occupy meeting.  My feeling was that there is so much wrong in this country that the queue is very long;  there might be disagreement as to the priority but not the necessity to clean it up.  The youth have suited up and taken on this task, pulling us older folks along, and I’m proud of them.

  10. Eckruch says:

    I am a former resident of San Jose and I found the Mercury News to be one of the WORST periodicals in the Nation.  I have traveled extensively, subscribed to many newspapers, and now read several papers online.  Ceppos should be editor is a newspaper entitled “MASSES UNABLE TO COMMUNICATE” — with his editorials written to please 7th graders.


    Maybe what you should do is interviews and report what is said WITHOUT interpretation or slant from the reporter or the Bosses of the Media.

    Now would not that be totally different.  Stop trying to influeance the people and just report the Facts.

  12. EdRMurrow says:

    Mic Check!     Well folks, never mind the two old fuddy duddies – they will be bewildered for a long time…but let me mention something so typically American : Americans are seeing only ‘America’ – not even Canada, not Europe, not Asia, and so on…the truth is that the whole world – or 99% of it – is totally fed up with capitalism and with the USA as gang leader,with its wars and mass terror, its lies and murdering. And all done with the fig leaves of the noblest of ideals: democracy, equality, justice, human rights…that it had to come to Wall Street to get to be a worldfire is simple: it’s the lions den. The rest you know now from Liberty Park. Just look at little Miss Texas and her world view from Roaring Springs.. doesn’t that make you scared? No, it doesn’t, because there’s so much of that in the good old US of A…now, I’ll stop your dissing me, because I have many friends in the US, and they are among the best – but nobody let them speak until now. If anything they, and their equals in all countries of this world, are the leaders – spiritually. Inspiringly. But the greatest, and historically unique fact is, that the spirit of this revolution comes from a new consciousness: the awareness of the heart. Be glad, Miss Texas, because these revolutionaries are not going to shoot anybody, instead they are so loving that they let ignorant , brutal cops beat them up to win – but they will turn your world upside down – count on it! For the better – because it must be a new world of togetherness to survive the disaster we have allowed our rich ‘elites’ to create…
    PS: For a better view of the reality of US world policies, fly to Haiti and gasp at the human catastrophy there…

  13. Leejai cook says:

    Ms. LeeJai Cook, Roaring Springs TEXAS.
    It seems that more and more people are protesting about something – anything.
    However, it is entirely possible that these protests may balloon into something that will be most difficult to control. For example: The Most High has assumed control of the U.S. Government. He will issue numerous decrees, which will be enforced. People may rise up in the thousands or millions to protest his decrees. I believe it is very possible that these protests may turn into Civil War. If this happens, we no doubt will see gun-owning persons using those guns against their fellow man.

  14. Oldblevins says:

    They seem like people who grew up in, and still live in a world where they could go as far as their ambition and their parents connections could take them. Homeless, unemployed, uninsured, underemployed,etc, are all just abstract statistics. Maybe they think we all grew up in the pollyanna America that they did. I see these clueless people every day on talk news shows, the Sunday AM shows, writing “expert” pieces in mgazines, and working in Congress. They don’t get it. Not even a little. Reminds me of what Molly Ivins said about one of the George Bushes, ” he was born standing on third base and thinks he hit a triple.”

    • Leejai cook says:

      Ms. LeeJai Cook, Roaring Springs TEXAS.
      Listen, Folks.  It is not my intention to try to scare anyone. I am merely giving you notice of upcoming events. We are told in the Bible that the Most High rules in the nations of men. So he has assumed control of the U.S. Government.  It will be his job to decree laws that will solve or alleviate numerous of the problems facing America.  People in the thousands will protest against these laws. But the Most High has a job to do and he will do it.  His decrees WILL BE ENFORCED.

    • Jeanio says:

      Bravo!  This is surely why we see so much junk on mainstream TV.  My reaction is to stop buying products advertised thereon.  

  15. Maureen H says:

    Finer examples of conditioned thinking would be hard to find. Some of the basic principles of journalism from the high school level would suffice for these folks to get started. This is part of a a worldwide shift taking place and they can’t decide how to report it?!

  16. profmarcus says:

    it’s really not all that hard to profile the occupy protestors… all you have to do is get out there and talk to them… oh, and by the way, don’t just go to zucotti park or oakland, come over here to reno… there are some pretty articulate folks of all ages, shapes and backgrounds who’d be more than happy to talk with you…

    • Russ Baker says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful, intriguing comments–and the high level of the discourse. Keep it comin’.

  17. David V. Johnson says:

    These guys show no awareness of some of the reporting that has been done, e.g. Bloomberg Markets profile of David Graeber …

  18. Chad Foreman says:

    This is a very well written article. Thanks for writing.  Soularddave and planckbrandt pretty much summed up everything I feel about the movement as well. 

    What I want to add is that I think this is just the beginning and I feel privileged to witness this in my lifetime. I see this as a whole new movement that just has not yet been defined simply because it’s too new. The conventional journalistic approach simply can not define it. I am happy to be able to witness this.

    I hope that people will stick with the Occupy movement and really stand for what they believe. Or could it fade out just as fast, who knows, but I hope not.

  19. planckbrandt says:

    Diddo academic institutions. They are also part of the system. Even the ones who should know better. The economists are all liars. Your remark “know when to leave well enough alone” says it all about them. Unfortunately, it all adds up to a Banality of Evil. History shows that unless something shifts in the system to make it a truly representative democracy, this situation will be exploited by the ones who have the most to lose. 

  20. soularddave says:

    I don’t think they want write honestly about the movement, because to do so is to incite more Occupation. We, who feel the pain of the protesters, could explain our own tiny view, but one would have to interview hundreds to develop a view; and that view would be broad and varied. Then, one would need to do the interviews all over again in another Occupied city, and develop those views into a coherent pattern.

    There are leaders; all of us are leaders of our own protest. We’re gathering with fellow leaders because our views and reasons are so interconnected.

    I sure do have my gripes; like that no one is held accountable for the disaster of 9/11, and the disaster of the economic meltdown, and the disaster of two ill-conceived wars, and the disaster presented by allowing corporate money to inordinately influence elections, or the disaster of defunding and privatizing education, national intelligence, and the threats of tinkering with Medicare and Social Security. I could go on.

    Then we come to the very real realization that the Congress has all but ceased to function, and that it hobbles along in a way that will never allow truth or reality to bear on decisions.  So the problems get worse, and the solutions more unavailable. If one could admit just that to himself, he’d understand. Only then, can one begin to understand why the others occupy and protest.

  21. cnico says:

    Shades of the “let them eat cake” mentality… this is the best the NYT can do? Sounds more like the WSJ… 

    While it is a bit of an amorphous movement… to me that is merely an indication of the broad spectrum of Americans who have been impacted by the euphemistically-termed “downturn” … as more and more foreclosures are predicted to occur in the coming months, the numbers of Occupiers will likely increase… (foreclosures were up in August and that’s thought to be a sign of a continuing trend… ) 

    And as Americans continue to talk with their pocketbooks (eg moving their money and eliminating credit cards)… perhaps the message will be a little more succinct.

    Maybe that will be enough info for the Times to cover the issue more accurately… or not… and then more people will turn to the internet and sites like whowhatwhy for the truth.  Thanks for the post.

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