What Can We Learn From the “Occupy Wall Street” Media Coverage?

What Can We Learn From the “Occupy Wall Street” Media Coverage?

If You’re Not Getting Your News from the Internet, You May Not be Getting All the News

For the last month or so, what began as a small group of protestors on Wall Street has become a national phenomenon. Satellite protests have popped up all over the country and the media is abuzz with coverage and opinions about the movement.

Whether or not you agree with the protesters, the thing that’s interesting to me as a PR person is how the story has grown and where its initial push began. The way it has grown is just another proving ground for why the Internet has become such an important source of news and why people executing PR campaigns should sit up and take notice.

In the beginning, the story really existed only on the Internet, with blogs like The Huffington Post providing most of the coverage. Print outlets and wire services were unusually silent on the protests, with even the New York Times – whose offices are not far from the site of the protests – abstaining from covering the picketing.

But, as the Internet buzz grew, broadcast outlets like Fox News and MSNBC began to spend airtime on the protests, with their coverage growing in size and scope the day after the Occupy Wall Street’s new Web site published the loose-knit group’s political manifesto.

There are varying viewpoints on why some mainstream outlets chose not to cover the protests, and the arguments from both sides are politically charged and greatly divergent. Some say the influence of Wall Street kept the mainstream media from picking up on the story, as most major media outlets are public companies or owned by public companies traded on Wall Street. Others say that the initial protests weren’t news, because they involved so few people and their message wasn’t clear or coherent. My opinion is that most major news organizations are pressed for time, space and resources, and they make choices on what they will cover based on how significant they believe the story will be to their readers.

Given the fact the protests were small at first, I can absolutely see most national and business news outlets choosing not to bother with them, because back then it was a risky bet. To me, it’s not a question of politics, but rather a cost-benefit analysis. Do enough of our readers, listeners or viewers care enough about a few dozen people demonstrating on Wall Street that we need to spend time and resources covering that story? Moreover, if we do cover it when it’s that small, will we be seen as having a political agenda to our coverage? Since many print outlets tend to skew just a bit to the liberal side with their editorial pages, I believe there was a real sensitivity to the idea that these outlets would be criticized for helping a small group of people gain a national voice when they might not have deserved one.

So, what changed big media’s minds? The Internet coverage drew more eyeballs and helped bring more people to the protests. By the time big media turned around, their question was answered for them, because the Internet coverage was drawing people to the story and protests, growing the movement’s numbers and influence to such a point that the large outlets had no choice but to cover them.

For those of you who read these columns for advice on your own PR efforts, my point is this: The Internet is NOT the second-class citizen of the media. It changes minds, it influences people and it is becoming the place where major media looks for its next big stories.

I can’t emphasize strongly enough the value of online coverage in today’s world.

In some ways, it is more influential and in many cases, it leads to more traditional coverage down the road.

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