Commie J-School in Oakland

Last Sunday, I was one of 11 people who attended what got nicknamed “Commie J-School” in Mosswood Park in Oakland. Initiated by two of Occupy Oakland’s most active reporters, journalist and cartoonist Susie Cagle and journalist and journalism teacher Justin Beck ( @susie_c and @pixplz respectively on Twitter), it was billed on the Facebook page as

A workshop on journalism law, ethics, best practices, tips & tricks. We’ll cover livestreaming, tweeting, blogging, photographing, interviewing, investigating, and the tools needed/best used for all.

That, of course, sounds like a couple years’ worth of journalism school curriculum, not a two-hour workshop. Nevertheless, quite a bit of ground did get covered as it applies to amateur, citizen and freelance journalists covering topics like, but not limited to, Occupy Oakland.

Many of us Occupy Oakland tweeps met in person for the first time on Sunday. This chance to sit and carry on a face-to-face conversation sparked what was for me the most interesting part of the workshop. We talked about forming some sort of loose collectivity of citizen reporters who could offer mutual support, share resources, collaborate on projects and hold each other to high standards.

I’ve always advocated for livestreamers and other citizen reporters to use the buddy system. I’ve been especially envious of the multi-platform multi-tasking livestreaming of Team Oaktown Live. That’s @lexica and @oaktownpirate and their story is covered a bit here by another attendee at Commie J-School, Alan Kurtz (@akRWC1 on Twitter).

We could support one another like this on an ad hoc basis, since much citizen journo teamwork can be done remotely. A few examples of what a remote support person could do for a reporter on the ground:

* Post links and other info on the streamer’s social stream ( has a Twitter-like feed you can enable).

* Update Twitter and other social media.

* Monitor sources like news helicopters’ live feeds, police scanners (via smartphone apps) and Twitter hashtags, giving virtual aerial reports to the person on the ground, warning of advancing riot cops around the corner or a alerting about a newsworthy event happening at another part of an event.

* Maintain a live-updated Crowdmap of the event. (This is an awesome tool that we should be using as a matter of course. Check it out!)

All this would provide an unprecedented level of real-time situational awareness, one that generals and war planners have fantasized about for millennia. It would not only keep us safer in the field, but would also give access to the best stories and most breaking news. The corporate media would be envious…if they even showed up.

For a big story, several of us could work together at once, each taking on one or two platforms, or we could take on support roles in shifts as our spare time allowed. It’s easy to digitally hand-off most of these resources, even from thousands of miles away. And of course, the next thing we need to add here are remote livestreaming drones. Oh, soon, soon…

As for collaboration, we all bring different skillsets and interests to the table. While one person could do a print version of a story, someone else could adapt it for radio, while others did FOIA research, pored over records in City Hall or went out and tracked down sources for interviews. Most of us don’t have the time to do all this ourselves, especially those trying to make a living as freelancers in this economic climate where journalists often earn less than restaurant waitstaff while working longer hours and braving tear gas. I’d happily do research just for the credit, even for someone else’s paid work, assuming it was a story that needed to be told.

I think everyone who was there at Mosswood Park agreed that more workshops or meetups of this sort would be a good thing, so stay tuned. In the meantime, Susie has started a Tumblr of relevant tidbits on the subject.

And, FYI, there is a link on the Tumblr to a piece I wrote for the workshop about street ops for reporters (or anyone) in large demonstrations, especially where tear gas or less-lethal weapons might be used on protesters. It is still a draft, so any comments welcome.

2 thoughts on “Commie J-School in Oakland

  1. Thanks for linking to my article, and for your valuable contributions to last Sunday’s workshop. Your mention here of Twitter in connection with the team concept of field reporter supported by remote online partner is something I hadn’t thought of, but is a great idea. (Yes, it’s true: there are at least a few great ideas I haven’t thought of.)

    I wish there was more interest in live-tweeting. At Occupy Oakland, the only one who does that at practically every event is Alyssa Eisenberg (@alyssa011968). However, she is so rabidly pro-Occupy that it distorts her coverage. For instance, if there are 25 people at an FTP march, she will report there are 75. If 100 attend an OO BBQ, she’ll say 200. Only by simultaneously watching a livestream can one separate fact from fiction in Alyssa’s tweets.

  2. I follow Alyssa (and met her in person back in December) and generally appreciate her reporting. I haven’t noticed that discrepancy, though in truth I haven’t really looked.

    There are a number of people reporting on Occupy Oakland whom I know to be largely untrustworthy (e.g. prone to crying wolf and exaggeration), others who are mostly trustworthy though acting as cheerleaders and others who are solid and nearly always accurate.

    This brings up a point from the workshop that I didn’t write much about, that of accountability amongst the citizen-journo corps. We talked about a network or collective being able to support each other, which I elaborated on. We also talked about holding ourselves to high standards.

    I’m leaning toward the formation of an identifiable (i.e. with a name-brand identity) network of citizen reporters that will be known for being more credible simply because when we join, we agree to be held mutually accountable and open to critique. That’s where I think we should be going with that. It also might be a way for us to get press passes or be recognized by authorities as a new form of media.

    As an aside, many people do not know how to estimate crowds. My technique is to do a head count if under 100. For larger groups, I count 50 or 100 in a block and extrapolate. For huge crowds, I extrapolate again to 1,000 and count the number of 1,000s. Two direct head counts was how I knew we didn’t have an official quorum on Sunday.

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