Come add your voice to ours

This is yet another post about Occupy Auckland. Sorry for those who are sick of this, but there just isn't much else going on lately.

This post is probably going to offend some people. I'm going to say some fairly critical things about some aspects of the way Occupy Auckland is run. Hopefully people will be able to look beyond that though and take something constructive out of this.

I want to talk for a while about the way that Occupy Auckland have run their media activities. By "media", I mean things like press releases, their website, their facebook and twitter accounts, live streams, youtube videos, and interaction with the mainstream media.

I'm sure people are going to question my standing to criticise, considering that I'm not a part of the movement. But it is exactly that fact that makes me eminently qualified to criticise. It is people like me, who sympathise with many of the issues that the Occupy movement is seeking to address - and are prepared to go looking for information and ways to contribute - who the movement should be reaching out to. If I feel like the movement have failed then, with respect, they have.

There have been complaints emerging from some members of Occupy Auckland this morning around a feeling that the mainstream media are "blacking out" the movement, specifically their "Declaration of Occupation." There is a proposal going around to the effect that, in response to being ignored by the mainstream media, members of Occupy Auckland should start ignoring the media. There is a belief by those proposing this idea that this will somehow cause the mainstream media to come running back, begging for "exclusives".

I, rather unwisely, jumped into this discussion on the email group. I take some support from the fact that, at the same time as me, someone with much more authority to have an opinion was making pretty much the same points as I was.

I said at the start that I was probably going to offend some people. This is where that kicks off.

The suggestion that the media are going to be falling over themselves to have a "relationship" with the protesters as a result of this ridiculous "media strike" action is arrogant in the extreme. Whatever certain members of the Occupy Auckland movement may think, the mainstream media are not under any obligation to devote time and effort to reporting on the issues that the protesters would like them to. As Chris Glen said in the email discussion that's just occurred, the media "don't make news only report it."

If there's anyone left who isn't thoroughly offended by now, then this next bit should do the trick.

Cross-posting links from other Occupy movements on facebook and twitter and running the occasional livestream that nobody watches is not going to cut it if Occupy Auckland want to be serious about their media engagement. Even worse is when the small number of genuine attempts at producing media are as childish and unbalanced as this one:

Building a relationship with the mainstream media requires a bit of hard work, and the accumulation of credibility. We all know that the media in New Zealand are under-resourced and lazy. So the solution to this is to make it easy for them. The single most effective way of getting into the news is to produce regular, well-written and media-friendly press releases.

Reporters don't want to have to go to all the effort of coming down to the camp, interviewing people, finding out what you're up to, following you around when you go on marches, getting photos and interviewing more people. You can do all of that for them. All it takes is some decent press releases. Now I don't have any qualification in media or communications, but it seems to me that the obvious elements that you need for a decent press release are:
  • A good title.
  • Factual background information.
  • Factual account of the event being reported on.
  • Quotes from named sources about what happened.
  • Opinion about what was achieved.
  • Contact information for further information.
  • Ideally some high-quality pictures that you don't mind being used.

A perfect example of this sort of opportunity being missed is the recent activities with community gardens. From what I heard at the General Assembly on Wednesday, these were a huge success. They're exactly the kind of coverage that the movement should be generating if they want to get the general public on side. They're the kinds of stories that provide the balance to counter ones about the movement being "hijacked by rival agendas" and sexual assault claims.

The other thing to consider with this approach to generating positive media is that you have to build up credibility. What you're basically asking the mainstream media to do is to copy-paste your press release onto their website, with a minimal amount of additional reporting and comment. They'll only do that if they have some confidence that the story you're telling is a genuine one. Credibility is drastically undermined by silly statements like the facebook post pictured above.

The second part of fostering a good relationship with the mainstream media is establishing a reliable contact process for reporters to get in touch with you. On the rare occasion that someone from the media actually wants to write a proper story about the movement, you should make it as easy as possible for them to do that. At the moment, when you click on the "contact" tab on the Occupy Auckland website, this is what you see:

News cycles run quickly. Reporters don't have time for email contact forms. They want a name and a mobile number, and they want to know that the person on the other end is going to pick up when they call. You should have a list of contact people, along with their areas of interest, and email and mobile contact information all listed on the webpage.

Most organisations understand that mainstream media requests for comment are free publicity and do their best to make life easy for the media. For example, here's a small part of the media contact page for Auckland University, which is exactly two mouse-clicks from their homepage:

So those are the basics that I think the movement is missing at the moment. But there's a lot more that should be going on. As I've said before, the only power that the Occupy movement has is its ability to influence a wider discourse about the kind of society that the people want to live in. The only way you influence discourse is by getting people talking. The only way you get people talking is by giving theme something to talk about.

That means creating content.

There's some content that the movement already has, but is not using. Minutes from General Assemblies aren't available online. Notes from Learn@OccupyAuckland sessions aren't anywhere to be found. Key policies (like Safer Spaces) aren't available online. Making this sort of content more available would benefit members of the movement, as well as other interested people. It's those "other interested people" who are the ones with the potential to spread your discourse.

To put a real-world example on that point, it's people like me who would make use of that sort of information and help to spread it around. It's a lot easier to write a blog, have a facebook discussion, or post stuff to twitter if you have some concrete online resources to work with.

There's other easy ways that you can be creating content, and it doesn't all have to fall on the media team.

I imagine many members of Occupy Auckland are fairly familiar with the Green Party. Now I'm not suggesting that Occupy Auckland is equivalent to a political party, but obviously there are some things that can be learned from those organisations when it comes to communication. The Greens run a blog on their website called frogblog (Labour have one too, which is very similar):

It's a place where their MPs can talk about issues that they're particularly interested in, and people can comment and contribute to the discussion. Contributors put their name to their posts, and it's understood that content posted isn't necessarily official Green Party policy (though of course it would be expected to conform to the general principles of the Greens).

A similar sort of system might work for Occupy Auckland. I would suggest that, because the range of opinions present in the Occupy movement are varied, some sort of moderation system would be needed. But that shouldn't be too difficult.

Finally, as well as creating your own content, there's a lot more scope for aggregating content that already exists. I realise that this is already happening to some extent on the facebook page, but facebook is much more suited to discussion than aggregation. Because it's so open and there are so many posts, nothing stays visible for very long.

Last night, when I was putting together a collection of videos of Occupy Melbourne, I had a look on their website and found this page:

Obviously there's more that could be done with that, but the important thing is that the information I was looking for was there. It was reasonably well categorised, and I didn't have to go searching around youtube to try and find it.

A great example of content aggregation done well is the New Zealand website The Standard:

According to the small print at the bottom of the page, The Standard is powered by WordPress. So I imagine it's probably a very simple system to use. Systems like this allow you to combine your own content (all the stuff I was talking about above), with other peoples' content from all over the web (youtube videos, favourable news stories, interesting blog posts, NGO reports, etc). It's all about bringing information together into one place to make it easy for people to engage with.

While I've been putting this post together, the email discussion I referred to earlier has continued. Linda, who started it off, has said that she's "not prepared to say that our current media team has failed." I agree. I don't think that what I've been talking about can all be laid at the feet of the media team. Rather, it's one respect in which the entire group has failed.

For a movement which (I think) should be focused solely on influencing discourse, the neglect that media engagement has faced is a reflection of the confused priorities and conflicting distractions that the movement has suffered from. The measure of success of this movement is the extent of the conversation that is generates. It is only through media, mainstream and otherwise, that that conversation is going to take place.


Googa said...

Their "media" person is known as lazy liar with more big words than actual deeds. I can't see how anyone might take anything he produces for serious.

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