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  • Sky Box by Jay Rosen



    A blogger's view of the convention and the press


    Sunday, August 29, 2004

    X-Factor: Street Demonstrations and their Effects 

    Some selected links on what is shaping up to be a big story: the protests happening around New York and how they may play into the convention, or at least its television coverage:

    Jeralyn Merritt, who writes the weblog Talk Left, in the Denver Post (Aug. 29):
    You can watch the delegates and speeches on TV, but that will not be the real story this time around - at least not for those who oppose George Bush.

    The real story will be in the streets. Instead of limited mainstream media coverage, which will portray the street action as a sideshow with a negative perspective, bloggers will take you there with them so you can see for yourself. We will bring you the highs, the ridiculous and the extreme. We will present the point of view of the random bystanders we come across, the voice of the dissidents, photos the main media won't display and a first-person account of the massive security efforts.

    Bloggers are not a substitute for the 5 o'clock news. We help complete the picture. We keep the media honest. If the media won't cover the real story, bloggers will.
    Chris Thompson in East Bay Express on the conservative media's interest in the protests (Aug. 25):
    According to assignment editor Sarah Courtney of the Fox News politics desk, her network plans to have at least three teams of producers, reporters, and cameramen bird-dogging the protests throughout the week. "We haven't solidified all the teams yet," she says, "but we have every intention of making the protests a big part of the convention coverage." An assistant to National Review editor Rich Lowry said the magazine will almost assuredly dedicate considerable space to the demo's crazier antics. Steve Gray, who works at the city desk for the New York Post, promises to do the same: "If something that's offbeat comes up, it'll definitely be covered." A spokesperson for the right-wing Washington Times claims that the paper sent up a reporter to cover the demonstrations two weeks ago. "If the protests get out of control, we'll beef it up," he added.
    Noah Shachtman in the Chicago Tribune highlights how instant text messaging and cell phones are putting protestors one step ahead of police (Aug. 28).
    In recent years, the most common of personal electronics--the mobile phone--has become a tool of choice for political organizers. And when activists by the thousands gather in New York City to protest at the Republican National Convention, which begins Monday, cell phones will get their biggest workout yet as activist instruments.

    Mobile-engaged masses don't just connect differently; they act differently too. Short-messaging system (SMS) alerts over cell phones have enabled demonstrators to shift tactics, deploy resources and respond to the police, just about instantly.

    "It allows us to react more quickly to a situation as it's happening. Text messaging lets everybody be on the same page, at the same second," said Rachael Perrotta, a 24-year-old organizer from Chicago's Albany Park neighborhood.

    Law enforcement officials concede they're having trouble keeping up with these fast-moving, cell-connected groups.

    "Now, they can actually coordinate tactics, create a feint. They'll start a demonstration in one place to draw the police, while their true objective is in another," said Charles "Sid" Heal, a crowd-control specialist and 29-year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

    "There's nothing we can do right now to counter them," Heal said. "They're in a digital age, and we're still in analog."
    In this online chat, the Washington Post's Robert Kaiser (associate editor) says he expects the protests to be the big story on Monday and Tuesday of convention week.

    The AP reports on TV networks and their plans for handling protests (Aug. 29): ""Our goal is to keep things in the proper perspective and not fall victim to staying with something just because it's a good picture and happening now," Princell Hair, executive vice president of CNN said. (via TV Newser.)

    NBC's David Shuster at the Hardball blog says he isn't worried (Aug. 25):
    There's been a lot of discussion among those of us in the media about pepper spray, gas masks, and possible confrontations between the demonstrators and police. And I'm sure there will be at least one clown will seek to get some attention by destroying something in front of a tv camera.

    But I'm willing to bet that 99 percent of the people who will be demonstrating in NY will not engage in property destruction of any kind. Most of these "demonstrators" are college kids from normal families who simply want to be part of something larger than their own self interest. If you talk with them, as we have, you may find a lot more in common with these kids than you might think. Most of them care deeply about their country, about politics, and about the values that america should or should not stand for. Their perspective and passion may be different from you and me (or not)... but their commitment to educating their fellow citizens and celebrating democracy is just as strong.
    Greg Mitchell, Editor & Publisher, Challenging a Media Myth: '68 Riots Didn't Doom Humphrey (Aug. 27): "As often the case in such distant matters, a little research shows that this is plain bunk. Humphrey actually gained in the polls immediately following the convention."




    Jay Rosen

    Jay Rosen is a press critic and writer whose primary focus is the media's role in a democracy. He is blogging the GOP convention for Knight Ridder. He can be reached at


     Latest posts

       •  From a Small Circular Stage in a Sea of Thousands
       •  "None of us knows what this is going to turn into....
       •  A New Crowd of Convention Bloggers Weighs In
       •  The Convention in Section View
       •  Welcome to Sky Box (and Why Are We Calling it That...


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