By Katherine Hulit
It’s not every day that you wake up at the center of a world news story, but in the fall of 2011, for me it was. I was an organizer with the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) protests, which were making headlines around the world, and waking up with cameras in my face had become a regular occurrence. It was the first time in my life that I witnessed news being made as it was happening. It was then that I began to understand the importance of having a public relations strategy.
There were no official leaders of the movement, which in part was tactical, but it also left us with no official mouthpiece or message. This fact, compounded with the technological limitations of television equipment, made accurate reporting the protests especially difficult and left us vulnerable to inaccurate framing of events.
Because Zuccotti park was small, crowded and lacked a central power source, news cameras were regulated to the periphery. Fortunately, or unfortunately, most of the strategic organizing happened within the center of the park; this meant most of what was captured by live news cameras were on fringes encampment, allowing for fringe voices to become representative of the entire movement.
While news trucks were parked continuously in the street surrounding the park, they were mostly unoccupied at night. The news anchors got there around 8 am, and that’s when the circus began. There was one day in which most of us were napping because we had stayed up all night sanitizing the park and the reporters, who had just gotten there, filmed us sleeping, only perpetuating the false narrative that we were lazy and didn’t have jobs.
I used to demonize the media and think that they were reporting inaccurate stories on purpose. In hindsight, I think OWS just needed some good public relations. The news doesn’t get on tv and in the papers by magic. There is a series of communications that need to happen for news to happen, and to share your message, you need to understand what your message is. That was something OWS lacked.
I wish I could go back in time with the tools I have learned in my first three months at WordLab to help OWS with strategic planning and messaging. If I could, we would probably be living in an egalitarian utopia by now. I guess time to invest in a time machine.