iPhone Journalism

“I call them ‘iPhone journalists,'” one corporate news reporter said derisively to another, describing the crowd of us citizen reporters at the November 14th eviction of Occupy Oakland.

In the pre-dawn hours of November 14th, 2011, the Occupy Oakland encampment experienced its second eviction. This one was less traumatic than the previous one, partly because we all knew it was coming, partly because the cops exercised a bit more restraint—refraining from tear gas and steel-shot-bag guns, for example—and partly because they came in with such overwhelming numbers that any active confrontation would be pointless.

I was awakened by my phone buzzing with texts about the raid from street-medic comrades, but by the time I got there, the area was sealed-off two blocks away on all sides but one. I made my way through the buildings to the south of the Plaza and ended up on 14th Street, west of Broadway, directly across from the tree that was still occupied by Running Wolf as the last arrestees were brought out without incident.

There with me, behind a low-key police skirmish-line of Alameda County Sheriff’s deputies in riot gear, was a small crowd of Occupy supporters and many citizen journalists actively tweeting, photographing, videoing and audio recording the events of that morning. One man had what appeared to be some kind of external micro-shotgun mic on a smartphone. Another was uploading videos and writing on his iPad. People were conducting impromptu interviews. I was updating Twitter from my iphone. By then it was dawn.

Shortly, the police escorted the small herd of credentialed press from the Plaza across the police line and into the small courtyard area where we stood. Next to me was a guy with NBC credentials and his buddy from another station, both with cameras turned off. NBC-guy began making disparaging remarks about Running Wolf, suggesting among other things that the police would have to remove him because he might “throw excrement on people.”

I turned to NBC-guy and said that Running Wolf would not do that and asked him why he was even suggesting such a thing. “I didn’t say he would,” he replied somewhat abruptly, “just that the police have legitimate concern” (slightly paraphrasing, since it was over a month ago). The two corporate reporters kept up their deprecating banter about protesters, with one pointing to one of the people filming with a camera phone and saying mockingly, “I call them ‘iPhone journalists.'”

We’ve all had those moments where we think of the perfect retort, but just a beat too late. Had I been more on my game, I would have replied, “Oh, and what kind of journalists are you? Overpaid lazy ones in my book. Standing here with your cameras off disparaging the people you’re supposed to be reporting on.” Or something like that. And, I would have gotten the guy’s name or photographed and tweeted his press credential so everyone knew what kind of reporting to expect from him that night.

These are also the same guys who run away from tear gas, then use dramatic footage from citizen journalists in their newscasts. I wouldn’t be so annoyed by them except for the fact that they come to these events with $50,000 cameras, salaries, legal teams backing them up, credentials, health insurance, expense accounts and support staff, only to avoid the difficult stories.

When I heard “iphone journalist,” I decided I liked that label, though I describe myself as a citizen reporter or iPhone reporter, since I don’t have any journalist credentials, informal or formal. I also like “participant-reporter” better than “citizen-reporter,” since in many of our cases, it’s more accurate.

The story of Occupy is being covered in depth by a small army of hard-working iPhone journalists, citizen-documentarians and activist-commentators, along with independent, free-lance professional journalists on the ground 24/7, getting the in-depth stories that bring this movement to life. Most of them are barely scraping by on a day to day basis and deserve support.

(It’s 1am and I’m going to bed. If anyone here has support/donation links for the various people on the ground, please comment and post here or email me and I’ll update this with links!)

* * *

Tuesday, December 20, 2011; 12:30 a.m.
For the last hour, I’ve been watching a livestream from Occupy Denver (while sitting here in my office in NorCal) and live-tweeting events there to my Twitter followers around the country or maybe world. The camp was violently busted up this evening, so people went on a spontaneous march around the city. The streamer—OccupyDen on Ustream—with an iPhone4S, was out at 1:30 a.m., Denver time, on this snowy night, following and recording the marchers. It was clear by the time I logged out that he was getting tired too. Still he kept going, with over 500 people watching live on Ustream and the stream being mirrored on other sites, likely bringing the total viewership into the thousands.

With no mainstream media anywhere to be found, he was bringing this story to the world live.

Occupy Denver livestream screengrab 12/20/11 12:30a.m.

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