Occupied Media: Foreclose on the Corporate Fourth Estate

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Occupied Media: Foreclose on the Corporate Fourth Estate

Beneath the ever-expanding Occupy umbrella, one of the broad messages is this: people are fed up going through the regular political channels.
Politicians have – intentionally or otherwise – immersed themselves into the corporate toilet for the wholly unacceptable reason of retaining their political position and their life of privilege. 

Metaphorically, our two-party political system is a giant decomposing carcass, where elected officials are imprisoned within its ribcage, expecting further sustenance from us. But they’ve had their feast. If the Occupy Movement becomes it's own living and breathing entity, the inevitable will be accelerated: these politicians will devour each other. Let them.

There is, however, another industry verging on this sort of cannibalism, the corporate media.  A body politic now eschews The Fourth Estate, dismissing part (if not all) of what it’s become. 

This is materializing in more of an opaque and organic way than the 99's denunciation of our political system and, to some degree, the Fourth Estate is now Occupied, being reconstructed and utilized to reestablish the public's trust.  The mainstream media may not quite be a decomposing carcass, as there are still quality sectors and true professionals, but the distrust has placed the profession on life-support

Citizens are not simply searching for alternative news sources, they’re creating their own media prism for an issue, story or an event to pass through.

For sometime now the Internet and the utilization of social networking has been facilitating a citizen's ability to devise useful ways on how information is gathered and disseminated.  It was not until the inchoate days of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, however, that we have seen it taken to such a level in the United States (a nod to the Arab Spring, here).  The mainstream media, seemingly, cannot keep up.

At an award's ceremony this past November 22, former CBS news anchor Dan Rather accepted his award from the Committee to Protect Journalists and challenged his colleagues to do a better job:

"But now, we see our fellow citizens taking to the streets. And, that my friends, is our cue to get back to work. As the People of our nation begin rising up, they expect the business of news to be about inquiry and accountability."

During many of the recent Occupy marches, the 24/7 media colossus has been outmaneuvered by this amorphous trend; Unpaid people reporting, co-producers, becoming credible sources of information.  Often armed with whatever recording device available, consumers are becoming the courageous ones, the ones who are putting the public's interest first and constructing information ecosystems throughout social media portals.  

Some call it Citizen Journalism or Collaborative Journalism others would rather not use the word "journalism" because, like the word "reality," we've surrendered the actual meaning of it.  At best, the word "journalist" has lost it's real substance, cheapened by those who present opinion as fact, create the news rather than report it, frame hate propaganda behind a gauze of faux reportage.  

Dan Rather, in that same acceptance speech:

"Today, how we look and how we "present" information has become far more important than how we gather it. It's upside down and backwards. And, the worst part is ... we have gotten used to it."

Mr. Rather may be overdue in revealing his inner thoughts on his former industry (and, as it was pointed out to me, made a substantial living, thus making it easy for him to rage against the same machine where he was once a huge cog).  But Dan Rather is right: for the sake of ratings facts are often beside the point. And many journalist and media professionals know it, loath it, turn a blind eye and cash their paychecks to it.  Begs the question: shouldn't we call the corporate media exactly what it is, a paid advertisement?

When the news is owned and driven by corporations, packaged for the sole purpose to grab eyeballs for profit, the result isn't so much fact but entertainment. Many of the TV news programs have devolved into a carnival, complete with fancy graphics, dramatic music stings, pseudo-punditry and the exaggerated energy of an infomercial.

So is it too late "to get back to work," as Dan Rather suggested to his colleagues?  Of course not.  And it’s unfair to indict the entire profession; some "real" journalists haven't stopped working and are stellar.  But the shift is clear, beyond the tsunami of cyber-garbage on the web, new and unlikely sources are presenting credible and honest alternative forms of news.  From the hors d'oeuvres tapped out on Twitter to the live feeds of Ustream and Livestream, so the whole world can watch.

The danger, here, is that these feeds and social networks (and the entire Internet) become corporatized and then censored (some argue that that is already happening).

In mid-November, CNN laid off 50 of its staff members, citing the growth of “citizen journalism” as the reason.  Stephen Colbert subsequently lampooned this alternative brand of news on his November 282011 show, an utterly hilarious bit, generating hundreds of Facebook re-postings and comments praising Colbert for supporting “real” journalists, for telling it like it is. 

In watching the Colbert piece, however, the presumption is that we have "real" journalist delivering reliable and accurate news.  That’s hard to reconcile, especially since an astonishing number of people claim to actually gettheir news from "The Colbert Report" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." It's Shakespearean: The court jester and the fool are the tellers of truth, the wisest of us all. 

This is not a pejorative dig to Colbert and Stewart. It’s a message actually: in the public's eyes the media profession is loosing its credibility, creeping toward irrelevant.

Just as the Occupy movement is not about a particular electorate constituency (it’s about redesigning our dead system), the citizens feel that the media is not being held accountable for – intentionally or otherwise – screwing up the Public’s narrative.

As Liberty Square was being eviscerated in the wee hours of November 15, 2011, the mainstream media, due in part to a coordinated censoring by the NYPD, missed a great deal of it which, frankly, is not a mortal sin; not every story can be captured. It’s impossible.

But what happened later that day, at 11:30 a.m., is a one small example of why a negative perception lingers about “real” journalist. 

After the park had been power-cleaned and barricaded, a court order deemed the eviction unlawful and therefore the protesters were attempting, as the law allowed, to re-enter, the threat of rain notwithstanding. The NYPD were blatantly ignoring the court order, prompting police and protesters to engage like inexperience rugby players. 

One such scrum was directly between the cordoned-off park and the police approved press area, where all the press vans and their crew had returned from their eviction and set up just like they had been the weeks prior.  None of the "real" journalist captured this particular confrontation: a 54-year-old woman and mother of 4 getting punched in the head by a police officer. 

It is, however, documented in this video (shaky footage and all): Police Brutality Explained and Specific.  And it was shot by three strangers (Casey Neistat, Dennis Trainor Jr., and myself) whereby, a couple of days after the incident, we sought each other out on the Internet and created the piece.

Police Brutality Explained and Specific from Nigrotime on Vimeo.


The mainstream media didn’t catch this small skirmish.  Again, it’s impossible to capture every moment. CNN, however, jumped on the story after the fact, wrangled the mother of four for an interview.  And though many proffered and pointed out the offending officer, the other side of the story, the “real” news crew neglected to investigate further. 

The reporter went back to a production crate, sat down and began reapplying her makeup.  If only at that moment the sky opened up.  Their umbrellas, resting against their media bulk, looked so small.

Michael Nigro

Michael Nigro is an award-winning writer, director and filmmaker. His documentaries have screened world-wide, including American Cannibal, his 2007 documentary-cum-social experiment about reality TV.  He has helmed TV shows for numerous networks, currently directing the Emmy-winning show Cash Cab.

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