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joshstearns.jpgJosh Stearns, Associate Program Director at Free Press, has been storifying journalist arrests at Occupy protests since September. He’s using Storify as a living page, updating each time another journalist is arrested. You can help him by sending tips and tweets to @jcstearns.

Free Press is also holding a petition for their Save The News campaign urging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the U.S. Conference of Mayors to stop attacking freedom of the press.

Watching the Story Unfold

November 15 was a big night for journalist arrests, and Stearns was watching Twitter closely. “I think of Twitter as the place where I watch the story unfold,” Stearns says, “but then I often look to a place like Storify or an article or liveblog where there’s somebody intentionally trying to contextualize and weave things together.”


One of the things Stearns struggled with during Monday’s raids was “that reports were coming in at all different times. Trying to piece together when something happened” was a challenge, since both the events and tweets about the events were displaced in time.

“Twitter’s so great for seeing the story unfold, but I think there’s a lot of awesome work that can be done in contextualizing it.” That’s where Storify comes in. “I think Storify is a very flexible tool, being able to do that kind of rapid reporting or to bear witness over time.”

Media Symbiosis

Stearns was impressed with Doernberg’s work Monday night and how Storify enabled it. “His Storify wouldn’t have been possible without people on the ground, and people on the ground weren’t able to get their story out until his Storify collected those from all over the place and broadcasted it, and that story got into the Washington Post.”


Storify provides the bridge between legacy and new media in situations like this. “I think there’s really nice symbiosis between the two,” Stearns says. “I think that’s one thing Storify has done really well, positioning itself within a new media realm but making new media approachable for traditional organizations.”

The Gatekeepers Are Changing

But legacy institutions aren’t weathering the transition well. The Associated Press came down hard on its staff for tweeting too eagerly about their arrests in an email that feels awfully shy about new media participation. It warns AP reporters not to get “caught in the moment.”

“If we’re having people who are non-traditional journalists doing critical reporting, and they’re getting thrown in jail because they don’t have the right press credentials, we need to figure that out.”

And law enforcement agencies seem to have little conscience about arresting journalists, even ones who are waving press credentials at them. Doernberg’s Storify captures two police officers replying “not tonight” and “don’t care” to protestations by journalists.

For Stearns, the important question is why. “The question becomes, were [the police] effective only to the point because they were only paying attention to one kind of media? And what was the intention behind that?”

“Why was there the decision to have a media blackout? Why were helicopters grounded? Why were journalists kept to the edges? If we ask those ‘why’ questions, and it turns out there was actual intentionality behind it, then that’s profoundly troubling.” If the police are really concerned about any message getting out at all, Stearns worries, they will learn to adapt to new media eventually.

Adapting To The New Reality

For some law enforcement agencies, that adaptation is already underway. “We’ve heard about Occupy protests around the country where they do strobe lights that actually blind camera phones and other kinds of cameras. Or things like the BART stations in San Francisco shutting down the cell networks when the protests come in.”

Law enforcement isn’t the only force that threatens freedom of the press. The technology companies who make the devices used by citizen journalists are a bottleneck for what kinds of reporting are possible. And many of the big ones have shown a disturbing willingness to comply with authorities.

“Whether it’s Amazon taking down all of WikiLeaks that was stored on their cloud servers because Senator Joe Lieberman asked them to,” Stearns recounts, “or whether it’s Apple and their patent for the camera [that blocks recording in designated areas], or Verizon blocking NARAL text messages, regardless of what issue it is, as the platforms change, the gatekeepers are changing.”

Taking Back The Media


Stearns sees hope in the way Storify and social media platforms have broken the police barricades around the media. “The one thing I think is really encouraging is that people are actually feeling ownership of their media,” Stearns says. “People feel like, ‘This is my phone. I’m creating my media on this.’ People want to take back the media.”

This is what the Storify founders have in mind. “This is a chance to create this whole new form of news,” Herman says. Storify held a gathering called Occupy The News at its San Francisco headquarters on November 7, where career journalists from a range of publications came together to discuss the possibilities of new media. You can soak in their insights – where else – on Storify.

A tumultuous time like ours is ripe for a disruption of the ways in which we capture our stories and work toward the truth. The gatekeepers are changing, but the media are changing faster. There have never been more ways to experiment with information. Thanks to platforms like smartphones, Twitter and Storify, the barriers to participation are vanishing.

You can see all Storify posts about the Occupation on the occupy topic page.

Check out our guide on How To Curate Conversations With Storify.

Sign the petition to Save The News.

Have you ever used Storify? Share your posts in the comments.


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