In the dead of night on Monday, November 14, Zuccotti Park in New York City was raided by police. In the preceding days, there were crackdowns at several of the major Occupy protests around the country. The effort had apparently been coordinated between cities. Monday night’s actions against the original Occupy Wall Street encampment were stern, heavy enough to bring a decisive end to the protest. But the raid only served to turn up the heat in New York and around the country.
As they have since the Occupation began, people on the ground fired up their smartphones to report the events as they happened, and curators around the Web gathered and retweeted the salient messages. But early on in the raid, mainstream media outlets began reporting that the police were barring their reporters from entering the park. The NYPD even grounded a CBS News helicopter. The night had chilling implications for freedom of the press. But the news got out anyway. The raw power of citizen media – and the future of news envisioned by a site called Storify – thwarted the media blackout.
Editor’s note: This story is part of a series we call Redux, where we’re re-publishing some of our best posts of 2011. As we look back at the year – and ahead to what next year holds – we think these are the stories that deserve a second glance. It’s not just a best-of list, it’s also a collection of posts that examine the fundamental issues that continue to shape the Web. We hope you enjoy reading them again and we look forward to bringing you more Web products and trends analysis in 2012. Happy holidays from Team ReadWriteWeb!
Saving The News
This is a new media age. The news of the Occupation has countless reporters, and some of the Web’s best curators have taken on the task of weaving the Occupy stories together. In particular, Xeni Jardin has been a machine on Twitter, providing a one-woman breaking news channel of so many successive Occupy confrontations.
But for the Monday night raid at Zuccotti Park, and indeed for much of the Occupation, Storify has come into its own as the social news curation tool par excellence. In fact, thanks to the media blackout Monday night, some of the most important news outlets in the country would not have had a story if not for Storify.
Storify’s New Role: The Backbone of News
Storify is one of those companies that arrives at its point in history just in the nick of time. Its co-founders pitched the idea during the Green Revolution in Iran, one of the first popular uprisings driven by social media. “Now it’s actually happening here, on the soil of America, with the Occupy movement,” says co-founder Xavier Damman.
The world needed a shareable, embeddable way to gather the tweetstorm of breaking news and turn it into a lasting document. Storify has made that possible. After a closed beta period with professional journalists, Storify opened to the public in April.
In October, it rolled out a brand new editing interface making the tool vastly easier to use. And one week ago, just before the police raided Zuccotti Park, Storify made its move, redesigning its homepage as a destination featuring the most important stories on the social Web. Storify’s vision is no less than a leveling of the media playing field. On the Storify homepage, lifelong and first-time journalists stand side by side.
“All news is social now,” says Storify CEO and co-founder Burt Herman. Whoever’s on the ground is the reporter, and whoever’s curating on the Web is the editor. It doesn’t matter who is whom. “We always talk about quoting from the original sources, from politicians, companies and everybody else, but now the journalists who are normally reporting are the sources.”
From a Dorm Room to the Front Page
While career journalists were being removed from Zuccotti Park, Ben Doernberg was watching the Web from his dorm room at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Ben is a college junior, and journalism is not his major. But his Storify of the Occupy Wall Street raid reached tens of thousands of people and was embedded by the Washington Post.
“This is not actually my first Storify,” he says, despite fun rumors to the contrary. “I was at Zuccotti Park about a month ago and happened to take a video that ended up getting on CNN, so this is kind of the second bizarre media day I’ve had in the last month.”
Doernberg used Storify to track the reports of the media blackout. “I looked at Twitter around 1 o’clock, and everything was going insane,” Doernberg says.
“By the time I decided to make a Storify, I had already read probably 100 tweets on this issue, so I tried to figure out what the overarching themes or the story seemed to be to me, and I went back through my memory of who tweeted what at what time.” What resulted was a comprehensive document of tweets, links, photos and videos of instances of the NYPD suppressing the media presence in Zuccotti Park. The Washington Post ran it, and the post has been viewed more than 20,000 times.
The 99% Media
The founders of Storify couldn’t be more delighted that students are making headlines using their platform. The day after the raid on Zuccotti Park, Storify shared two student stories from the raid on its blog. Doernberg’s was one. The other was by Columbia journalism grad student XinHui Lim, whose Storify post captured the grisly details from the ground and included embedded live-streamed video. At one point in the night, that amateur video stream had 23,000 viewers.
Damman says this is the perfect demonstration of the Storify redesign. These social media documents are the real story, and the NYPD’s obstruction of credentialed journalists only shows how out of touch the police are. “The police in New York don’t realize that it doesn’t matter to not have journalists on the scene,” Damman says, “because everybody is a reporter. What happened last night shows that they don’t get that.”
“Most of the content comes from the people on the ground, from the 99%.”
Herman agrees that Monday’s events prove that the distinction between legacy media and new media is no longer important. During the raid, journalists became sources, regular people became journalists, and they traded places with each other throughout the night. It’s all one medium now. “Let’s not spite the Internet,” Herman says. “Let’s let the Internet be what it is.”
The NYPD’s censorship efforts were thwarted by smartphones, Web technology and good, old-fashioned gumption. But authorities are working hard around the country to block journalists from covering the Occupation. Twenty six reporters have been arrested so far, ten of them in Zuccotti Park on Monday night.
Fortunately, those incidents are being captured on Storify, too, and the curator wants to make sure the free press is protected.
Next page: Josh Stearns of FreePress.net on new media, arrested journalists and the implications of the OWS blackout.
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