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Dispatches from Dewey Square: 'The Boston Occupier' reports straight from the source

Posted by Alex Pearlman  November 23, 2011 08:47 AM

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newspaper stack.jpgBy Max Chalkin

Despite the massive amount of media coverage of the events transpiring at camps around the country, Occupiers do not feel their movement has been well represented by the media. To a certain extent, they’re correct: Journalists assume their readers want juicy details, so they report on arrests, police brutality, health conditions, and so on. Meanwhile, the public furrows its collective brow, trying to understand what in God’s name those involved in the movement want.

But in The Boston Occupier’s inaugural issue, a cover story entitled “Survey Reveals Occupiers’ Values” reported that among the 260 protesters polled, “10 issues and beliefs have near-universal support among Occupiers.”

There’s a start. But wait, what was the source on that -- The Boston Occupier?

Formerly the Occupy Boston Globe -- “We thought [The Boston Occupier] would be a lot more interesting than just a tongue-in-cheek jab at The Globe,” said Dan Schneider, one of the editors -- the paper is, strictly speaking, an independent, free publication with a mission to report the news that transpires at the Boston protest. Because Occupy is the subject of the entire publication, its coverage delves deeper than other news sources.

But, as Schneider made very clear, the paper is not an instrument of Occupy Boston’s media team or information tent. Originally part of the Media Working Group, he has not had a hand in the camp’s official communications since joining The Occupier staff.

“One of the things we set out for very clearly and specifically in starting the paper was to not create some prop[aganda] arm of Occupy Boston and the Occupy movement,” Schneider said. “If things start to take a turn for the worse…we would want to be the first to talk about that. We haven’t seen it yet, but I don’t think anyone on our staff is afraid to say what’s what. If what’s what is wrong, then that’s what it is.”

The original idea for the paper came from seeing a copy of The Occupied Wall Street Journal, which “was definitely a lot more opinion-based,” said Schneider. “As someone who worked with them described it to me, it’s more propaganda-art than journalism, which is what we’re striving for.”

The staff of The Occupier is comprised of a few students representing Bunker Hill Community College, UMass, and Northeastern, college grads in their late 20s, and Boston-area professionals in their 30s and 40s, Schneider said. The Milwaukee native is himself a senior film major at Emerson, focusing on screenwriting and sound design, and works on student films in his free time.

“I dropped out of the [Emerson L.A.] program a couple of weeks ago in order to stay in Boston and work on the paper,” Schneider said. “I hope to eventually move out to Los Angeles and pursue a career in the film industry as a writer, but for now those plans are on hold.”

After deciding to print a physical paper, the staff had to deal with the challenge of funding. For that, they turned to Kickstarter and raised about $8,500 after fees, Schneider said. A print version of The Occupier -- a four-page, broadsheet-style spread -- will be distributed every two weeks. The first issue, released late last week, quickly circulated around the Boston metro area. “I have seen people reading the paper at or around Dewey Square, in Harvard Square, and in Roxbury, even when no one was around handing them out,” Schneider said.

While The Occupier respects the ideal of objectivity, it does not feel it’s attainable for any news publication. “Our point of view is that objectivity is an ideal -- it doesn’t actually exist -- and to try to strive for it often undermines the very principle you’re striving for,” Schneider said. “In an effort to paint both sides of an argument you often forget: There often aren’t two sides to an argument; there are seven or eight, each with its own variations and complexities.”

Instead, The Occupier strives for accuracy -- “full-faced accuracy, and the ability to give one subject -- Occupy Boston, the movement, and the ideas it associates itself with -- due diligence and full reporting as best we can,” Schneider said. “As far as the bias goes, we know we are all biased. We support the movement, but we’re willing to put that support aside to report accurately.”

In spite of that bias, The Occupier is the best place to turn for detailed information about the goings-on in Dewey Square, Schneider said. “People who are living in Dewey Square will be the best sources from which to find out what happened at events,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we’re blind to their biases or blind to our own biases. But when you need a source, you go to the people who are there, and if you can’t go to the people who were there, where can you turn to?”

The goal of the publication, said Schneider, is to report the news and not to push any specific message or agenda. “We do not attempt to paint ourselves as the singular voice of Occupy Boston or the movement at large. We want to report what’s happening; we want to report news,” he said. “This is not PR, and it’s not propaganda. What happens, happens, and we want to be there to report on it.”

Schneider hopes The Occupier can provide a blueprint for other occupations. “We would like to see other occupations come out with something with higher journalistic standards -- something that’s trying to report the facts, trying to report the news of each occupation and help give the public get a better sense of what’s actually going on,” he said.

Max Chalkin is spending time "in the trenches" at Occupy Boston, speaking with occupiers, attending general assemblies and marches, and learning what camp life is like. His thoughts and observations will be published twice each week as TNGG Boston's “Dispatches from Dewey Square” series.

Photo by bitchcakesny (Flickr)

About Max -- Max Chalkin is a recent graduate of Tufts University and is currently working in biotech marketing. His interests include entrepreneurship, technology, politics, food, and nightlife. He is an avid photographer, cook, and scuba diver.

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