Light on media blackout

By Darryl Holliday

Week two of the “Occupy Chicago” protests came and went, with steadily. growing crowds but wide fluctuations in daily attendance. During the first 14 days, somewhere between 30 and 300 people could typically be seen around LaSalle and Jackson streets or marching toward Grant Park for the movement’s twice-daily general assemblies.

The numbers have grown from an original four to become one of the largest offshoots of the “Occupy” movement, which began in New York on Sept. 17.

What hasn’t kept pace with the fluctuating, though increasing, numbers of people is media coverage.

As of Oct. 7, there’s been little mainstream coverage of the protesters and their objectives. Not a single front page or feature story has been devoted to the Chicago movement by mainstream outlets such as the Chicago Tribune— which picked up a story from the Wall Street Journal—the Chicago Sun-Times or the Chicago Journal, a publication specifically devoted to news in the South, Near West and West areas of the Loop. The same is true, to a large degree, of WBEZ, Chicago’s National Public Radio affiliate.

Joe DiCola, senior philosophy student at Loyola University, has been been participating in the protest since its second day on Sept. 24 and said a “corporate media blackout” is partly to blame for the lack of coverage the protesters have received during the past week.

Many local mainstream outlets, while devoting space to “Occupy Wall Street,” the New York arm of the movement, have glossed over Chicago’s offshoot or used various wire stories in place of on-the-ground reporting.

Suzanne McBride, associate chair of the Journalism Department, believes there could be a number of reasons why there’s been so little coverage.

Those reasons include the events simply not being on the radar of city news directors, as well as a failure on the part of protesters in pushing the story to the front of media directors’ attention.

But the question remains as to whether Chicago’s mainstream media are simply sidestepping adequate coverage of an issue which the “Occupy” movement says is central to 99 percent of the nation’s population.

According to the group’s website, mass and ongoing bank foreclosures, national unemployment, an increasing discrepancy between rich and poor as well as political “greed and corruption” among the country’s uppermost class—the 1 percent—have led to widespread support for the nonviolent “leaderless resistance movement.”

“I think with most movements that go against what we ‘should’ be doing … you really don’t hear about it until the end,” said Chandler Rollins, a Columbia journalism student and member of the protests since the first week. “But I think this is a good time for smaller publications to come up and take their claim as the voice of the people—to give people a way to see things that are going on.”

In many ways, the lack of mainstream coverage has left a gap that is being filled by independent press.

Publications such as In These Times, TruthOut and “Occupy Chicago’s” own website have picked up the slack, with blanket, and often pro-movement coverage.

With roughly 14 million Americans unemployed, dissatisfaction with “corporate abuse of American democracy” on the part of the “Occupy” movement has led to global protests. Nationally, OccupyTogether.org currently counts “Occupy” meetups in 716 cities.

“What we’re doing now is strengthening out our grievances, the wording and the rhetoric of them because that’s something we can all unite behind,” DiCola said. “We’re trained to think there are two solutions to every problem—the Republican solution and the Democratic solution—and people need to learn to entertain complexity.”

The Chicago movement has pledged to occupy the city’s financial district into the winter and beyond in support of the broader “Occupy” goals. According to their website, a mission statement is forthcoming.

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