Occupy Wall Street Is Overshadowing Itself

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The news coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York resembles city-oriented metro-style reporting, and not New York metro either, but rather coverage of Zuccotti Park as its own little town. On Wednesday, The New York Times ran a crime-stats story about policing the park, and on Tuesday the Wall Street Journal went with the development angle, reporting on how the protest encampment was building up, not out. As the coverage of the encampment itself gets more in-depth and starts resembling a micro-version of city reporting, the movement's political message, at least in New York, has ceased to be the story.

The local tabloids have been running anecdotal reports about crime in Zuccotti Park, the protest's relationship with local businesses, and the undesirable element the encampment attracts, for weeks. But The Times coverage on Wednesday gave us our first hard look at the crime statistics around the park since the encampment began -- a classic bit of metro reporting:

Across the precinct, there has been a rise in the number of crimes reported and arrests made in the four weeks leading up to Sunday compared with the same period last year: this year there were 446 criminal complaints, up from 362 last year, and 404 arrests, up from 323 during the same four weeks in 2010. But the number of summonses issued for criminal activity fell by a third to 205, from 330 last year.

It also pointed out that the encampment has divided itself into "neighborhoods," and organizers were setting aside space for female protesters for security reasons. And City Room's daily roundup on Tuesday focused on local logistics, such as the camp's condom distribution and purchase of military-grade tents, and even an arts angle, with the performance of David Crosby and Graham Nash. The Journal, meanwhile, compared the encampment with New York as a developing city, highlighting its growing pains as an ever-larger number of people try to cram into limited space -- a lot like Manhattan:

Early on, protesters founded a committee called "Town Planning" to help manage space in Zuccotti Park—which is itself named for John Zuccotti, a former chairman of the New York City Planning Commission. Someone obtained the official plans for the park and drew up a zoning map of sorts. But growth in the number of tents and residents has made the area zoned for sleeping grow beyond its original size. A census is currently under way.

Fascinating as it is, all this granular coverage of the park itself overshadows what the protesters are in the park to achieve. The Times all but ignored Monday's 11-mile march across Manhattan by black and Latino protesters who walked from 181st Street to Zuccotti Park, mentioning it only in its daily roundups. The Times' SchoolBook blog covered a demonstration Tuesday at the Department of Education, but of the local media, only the cable channel New York 1 also had the story, and no other national outlets had it.

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In an editorial on Wednesday the New York Observer argued that protesters had made their point, and it was time to go home. "The message of frustration and the demands for action could become overshadowed by the fringe elements that have sought to attach themselves to the movement." It's not just fringe elements overshadowing the protesters' message, it's the protesters themselves. As the Zuccotti encampment's development, self-management, internal politics, and security occupy more of the discussion of the protest movement, there's little space (1 percent, maybe?) left to cover what they're actually protesting.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.