PBS reporter jailed while covering "Occupy Wall Street" protests in NYC

While working on a story about citizen journalism at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York for PBS affiliate WNET Thirteen, John Farley was arrested, along with the demonstrators whose stories he was covering.

My arrest gave me a unique vantage point on the risks and rewards of citizen journalists, those non-professionals who capture stories (usually without pay) using videos and images via portable technology like a cell phone camera. Anyone, even a passerby or a police officer can be a citizen journalist. That’s its power.

More: Observations of a Jailed Journalist.

Above: John Farley, kneeling, arrested while reporting on the Occupy Wall Street protest. MetroFocus/Sam Lewis.


    1. While working on a story about citizen journalism at the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York for PBS affiliate WNET Thirteen, John Farley was arrested, along with the demonstrators whose stories he was covering.

      On Sept. 24, while working on a story about citizen journalism for my
      , I found myself arrested, along with many other people.

      1. I get witnessing. Do you mean recording/distributing makes you a journalist? It certainly makes you a credible witness since you can substantiate what you saw. The reason “citizen journalist” carries so much power is because it contains the word journalist which, to dopes like me, is an actual studied-for profession that offers context beyond having the tools of the trade and the heart to take them where the action is. But maybe that’s just me.

        1. But maybe that’s just me.

          It’s not just you, but I think one of the reasons you think that way is because Journalism has been co-opted by journalists under cover of the ivory tower. 

          If it ain’t official, it ain’t real, says they.

          “Telling people,” I think, is a big factor in journalism and the difference between it and witnessing. If you think about it, the establishment mindset is an Achilles heel of Journalism where we find Journalists circling the wagons lest their cocktail-weenie party circuit of access get disrupted. Establishment journalism is riven with tripe, and if people start figuring out that journalism is everybody’s business, call it “factual gossip,” then their jobs are in serious danger. I mean this. What does David Gregory have that any reasonably well-informed schmoe hasn’t got? Besides his Rolodex, I mean.

          Well, if a Rolodex and one’s attitude is the only line between a busybody muggle and Edward R. Murrow, that is a precarious position indeed. I’m not saying it’s exactly so, but it’s a font of paranoia to be sure.

          1. “Establishment journalism is riven with tripe”

            Who could argue with that? Since you mention Gregory, it’s especially true of tv journalism for the most part. With 500 channels to fill, overnight ratings to consider, tv people gotta do what they gotta do. Which makes Ted Koppel look more & more like a giant. I don’t think your criticism applies as much to print journalism, though. I mean, Seymour Hirsch is what I think of when I read “journalist.” And that’s a long way from a protester recording who the cops are bonking – no matter how important that is.

      2. “Witnessing and recording/distributing the news are two different things. ”

        unless you’re proselytizing, in which case they’re the same thing. 

    1. Yes, but the news organization he works for hasn’t yet been issued NYPD-authorized press passes since they’ve only been around for a few months.

      1.  I’m not sure if you’re trolling or what, but “only been around for a few months”?  WNET 13 has been the NYC PBS affiliate since.. umm.. PBS was started in 1970.  And I find it diffucult to believe that the bunch that’s been producing the MacNeil-Lehrer report since 1975 doesn’t have press credentials…

        1. I meant MetroFocus, not WNET. From the article:

          I did not possess the press credentials that NYPD allocates to journalists. (As MetroFocus is less than three months old, neither I nor my journalist colleagues have yet met the NYPD’s qualifications.)

  1. “But as we all sat in a jail, I noticed an interesting thing happen. People began to talk very seriously about organizing in a more cohesive way than they have been.”

    Reminds me of the plot of Bryan Singer’s, “The Usual Suspects”. Maybe Keyser Soze should be the protest leader. :)

  2. Excuse me, why are there scare-quotes around “citizen journalist?” Does the freedom of the press belong to the people, or only to certain corporations anointed to hire genuine journalists? If I write news stories for others to read – whether or not I work for a sufficiently large corporation – I’m a journalist. 

    And the denial of press passes to WNET employees? Because their *show* has been on for only a few months? That TV station has been on the air for about sixty years, and run local news regularly for virtually all that time. If that’s not a recognized news bureau, then what does one have to do to be adequately credentialed? (Denial is right – don’t tell me that the press passes were merely “delayed.” Justice delayed is justice denied.)

    1. At some point there is a line between “some person who has a blog” and a journalist. That is why “citizen journalist” makes people uncomfortable. Not very moron able to get a blogspot page is a journalist (or all “journalists” are just bloggers who get paid). Writing “news stories” is more than typing what you saw.

      1. At some point there is a line between “some person who has a blog” and a journalist

        I don’t know if you’re thinking this through, but anybody who uses the tools of the trade is a journalist. In fact, I believe that there was a court ruling recently saying as much: it’s about the technology, not the person.

        Where exactly do you imagine this line is drawn?

        1. I wish some actual journalists would defend their profession. In any case, to the extent that you are providing additional information, context, and ideally some form of balance, that is journalism. Live-streaming anything, or recounting your first person experience are not. Both of those activities are useful (sometimes) but they are not journalism. I also don’t think it is “journalism” to describe a first person experience and comment on it without any additional context. This is commentary, which is valid and useful, but not journalism. In fact, I think the linked article is entirely commentary. Useful in its own way, but not journalism.
          Since the First Amendment applies both to free speech and free press, this distinction doesn’t strike me as legally significant. We have more case law on freedom of the press, but that has to do with the way that industry was structured, and the economic power the press used to have. In other words, people can sue in court without a lawyer. They can be successful. It doesn’t make them lawyers, but it is a perfectly appropriate activity. Similarly, people can produce endless commentary without being journalists.

          1.  I’m sorry, but it begins to sound to me that your definition is peculiar. If the reporter had completed filming the actions of the police and the protesters, produced a segment on it (perhaps with backstory and broadened by interviews), and aired it, that would be journalism, but because he was rounded up along with the protesters and therefore reduced to telling the story  in his own voice from the jailhouse, it’s diminished to mere commentary? That interpretation offers the police endless opportunity to de-legitimize journalism – simply arrest the reporter and take away the tools of his trade.

            As you point out, the freedom of speech still may apply – but I fear that down the road of narrowing the definitions will lie “freedom of the press belongs only to corporations actually engaged in the business of publishing with ink on paper; freedom of speech encompasses only moving the air with your voice and not the technologies that will send it farther than you can shout.”

          2. Two things: first, in the time the reporter here created his piece of commentary, he probably could have created a piece of journalism instead. He didn’t. That isn’t because of the police. He and his employer opted to do one thing over the other. That’s fine, but has nothing to do with his arrest. Second, your fear is . . . your fear. There is no trend in the law that supports your fear, and the corporations that would benefit from freedom of the press in that scenario are less and less likely to publish on paper.
            Boingboing would not have struck me as the place where people would resist the notion that journalists do something different than purely disseminate information. As a matter of critical thinking the distinction between journalism and commentary strikes me as crucial. Each is fine, but not recognizing one from the other is a tremendous problem. John Farley gave a very good account of one very specific experience he had. However, because it lacked any context, analysis, history etc. it is an anecdote. If we treat it as more than that we are not thinking critically about what we’re reading.

          3. Balanced journalism do not exist. It would be much better if they wore their bias high and proud as then people would not be suckered by the likes of Fox “News”.

    2. The idea of a ‘Citizen Journalist’ is still a new thing. The boundaries and accepted associations of those words are still not set. I don’t think it’s inappropriate to isolate them with quotes as a way of indicating that ‘Citizen Journalist’ doesn’t necessarily have all the same associations that ‘Journalist’ does.

      That’s how I typically read quotes around new terms that are related to
      existing ones.  An isolation and an indication that the words might not
      mean quite what we are used to. Am I the only one?

      1.  I’ve never been a professional journalist. But I have sold photos and written specials to local newspapers. Starting in the 1970s. That made me a citizen-journalist then, I think, and the term was current even at the time. It has nothing to do with having a journalism degree – I don’t – or getting paid to report the news – which has happened to me only rarely, sporadically and unexpectedly. It has everything to do with telling the story.

  3. “using videos and images via portable technology like a cell phone camera. ”

    What’s interesting about this is that the “portable technology” is not the key to this new form of “journalism.” Portable technology has been widely available for decades (longer for still pictures). The essence of this new development is the means of distribution. People took pictures of the 1968 protests in Chicago, but if the press did not run the pictures, they would have very limited distribution. Now they can be distributed world-wide in the moment of creation.

    1.  There used to be a proverb, “The freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one.” Now that everyone has a press, there seems to be a widespread belief that the freedom of the press must somehow be diminished to compensate. Such a belief is neither sound public policy nor coherent constitutional law.

      1. It’s also not relevant or my argument.
        *I* am not the one fetishising the press. I just think that people who go through the effort of producing journalism are different from people who take a few pictures and comment on them. Journalism is hard work and ought to be treated as such.

        1.  And I was pointing out that the reporter in this case was a professional journalist engaged in just the sort of hard work you describe. He was, that is, until the work was interrupted by police hauling him off to jail and taking away the tools of his trade. This particular story was reduced to “commentary” in your view by the fact that the police left him with no voice but his own. It’s kind of hard to synthesize sources and produce a broad story from a jail cell.

        2. You actually *are* the one fetishizing the press.

          Verb: Have an excessive and irrational commitment to (something).

          if it ‘ought to be’ some particular thing, just your way, that’s fetishizing.

  4. Sounds like _not_ carrying a press pass might be a good way to get more of a story, tho you probably shouldn’t take a high-end camera out if that’s your plan

  5. At some point there is a line between “some person who has a blog” and a journalist.

    Not in Mexico.  The narcos have decided they’re one and the same.  (Not that you want to be on the receiving end of that endorsement.)

  6. Moderator note: Given that the gentleman in the article is employed by a news organization, this back and forth about whether or not he’s a ‘journalist’ will henceforth be considered threadjacking.  You have been warned.

    1. I wasn’t questioning whether the reporter was a journalist. I questioned his quote – as it’s posted – “Anyone…can be a citizen journalist.”  What he’s referring to are called eyewitnesses. Not journalists. It’s not a threadjack – it’s the topic the PBS affiliate journalist is reporting on.

      1. I wasn’t questioning whether the reporter was a journalist.

        Your entire first comment consists of,  “Eyewitness. Not journalist.”

        And I’ve edited my previous comment to be clearer.

        1. The guy from The Wire once put it something like this “If I throw a bucket of water on a trashcan fire, does that make me a ‘citizen firefighter?'”  Basically, people who have been working reporters for a long time, perhaps gone to school for it, and have the *experience* necessary to excel (as with any trade) take exception to someone who decides to set up a wordpress account instantly earning the same title of “journalist.”  It’s not because they don’t like citizen journalists, necessarily, they just don’t like the implication that their job is so trivial that it can be easily done by someone with no experience.

          I’m a web developer.  I went to school, I’ve worked at several large companies and as a contractor for a while, I’ve been a full time developer for a few years.  The not uncommon claim that someone’s cousin or “son in high school” who has a blog can deliver the same quality product as me is* irksome to me. It suggests that all my work experience and training is worthless. I can see why it would be the same for a professional journalist.

          *Used to be.  I’ve long since stopped caring about this particular claim :p

          1. “If I throw a bucket of water on a trashcan fire, does that make me a ‘citizen firefighter?'”

            Yes. Although, that’s just a name. You could also write an blog-entry about it and be a citizen-journalist at the same time. Even more mind-blowing, you could simultaneously be  a citizen tax-payer, a citizen war-protester, a citizen stay-at-home-mom, and a citizen watch-wearer. The possibilities for naming are endless!

            These are labels for actions. An attempt to describe and categorize. Not things in and of themselves (whatever things are).

            Currently, for example, I am a citizen blog-blog-commenter. Although that shall be ending in a couple of seconds….

  7. I am floored by Lawrence O’Donnell’s editorial on this protest. (09-26-11) I have rarely seen a more stinging and plain-spoken statement of the ugly truth of how tenuous our freedom here in North America really is.  A must watch.

  8. Forgive me for the double post – I missed the news that JP Morgan and Chase recently made a 4.6 million dollar donation to the NYPD.  Just a stray bit of trivia. Probably not in any way related to the outrageously illegal behavior by these senior officers.

  9. Boingboing would not have struck me as the place where people would resist the notion that journalists do something different than purely disseminate information.

    You might be less surprised if you could back up your arguments with something other than red herrings and One True Scotsman critiques. A person who represents themselves pro se may not be a lawyer, but neither is a jailhouse lawyer. Huh? How did that word get in there? Oh, because the effects of their interest brought about the same result as the True Scotsman would. You are quibbling in semantics.

    So, rather than follow you down the capital-J Journalism “guys, we need a definition here” path, is it still unreasonable to say that no commentary can be considered to be a journalistic act? If you’re going to huff and puff for cut-and-dried definitions, let’s try starting from the other end and see if it makes any more sense.

    In other words, who gives a crap whether it’s called “Journalism?” No matter what, it’s subject to 1A protections. Deal.

  10. Wait, he’s talking about power when ordinary people are getting arrested for doing a peaceful, widely regarded as justified, protest. To me it looks as if people in the USA find new ways to convince themselves that they are powerful and in charge, pretending that every new shitty situation holds victories, and that there thus is no reason to act further.

    How is this not just incredibly worrisome and warranting large scale fucking action instead of mere observation of the “power of civil journalists”, as an example. You are getting steamrolled by authorities constantly–just look at the teachers protest–and all you do is claim something good about the end result, take it in the ass and ask for more.

    I know we live such comfortable lives there is little reason to risk anything but fuck, we’re all going to be more than miserable way sooner than we’d like to think if we don’t do something now.

  11. I caught a story about these protests on CNN today in a restaurant. It was a heavily slanted piece clearly designed to discredit and ridicule the protesters. If it was Fox News I might have understood… but seriously, WTF? Did CNN run stories like that about tea party protests?

  12. I’d like to know what the reason for detainment was actually booked as and what actions, if any are going to be taken for wrongful arrests. Police cannot, despite what they believe, arrest you without cause. Simply being at a location adds to the fray, but this was not some spur of the moment protest, it had been going on for days and the police were well organized. 

    I also find it curious that he is not considered a credentialed reporter based upon the length of his show. He’s gainfully employed by a respected news organization, this should be sufficient, though I can see the need to prevent anyone from abusing the rights given to the fourth estate.

    While I understand why the protesters are protesting, I still am confused by the end goals of the protesters. What resolution is there that is proposed to end the corruption, without causing damage to a fragile financial ecosystem? Socialism and communism, the two other leading economic theories, while valid theories have not shown the promise that was intended and with a coming shortage of available work due to the ability to produce dropping to near zero, perhaps it will be time for a new economic theory to emerge. 

    To those in debate about nomenclature why not use the following terminology to dispel the argument: 

    A commentator is someone who comments on a series of events and disseminates to others, they may also be eye-witnesses, however they do not use the majority of their media to act as an agent of news dispersal. A blogger is someone who posts commentary on a particular area of interest in an online format, but does not actively seek out new reports. A citizen journalist is one with a dedicated focus to news media, actively seeks out new stories, posts regular reports, usually of items they find of personal interest, adding value above commentary to include analysis of events.A  journalist would be someone dedicated to news, who actively seeks out new reports,  who posts regular reports on multiple issues, some of which may not be of personal interest and is employed by a credentialed employer.

  13. I see all of the arguments here about what is a journalist and wonder why it is being argued. The first amendment, among other things, includes freedom of the the press. Journalist is never mentioned. Simply put, this is the freedom to print or publish without government interference. No one prevented this reporter from publishing his report on the situation.
    As for who freedom of the press applies to.. it applies to everyone. You don’t need to be a journalist, professional. citizen, or otherwise, in order to enjoy this protection.
    With that said, the report is an interesting read.

  14. Everyone in the #occupywallstreet movement should read this book:  http://amzn.to/oJuaFB.  It  discusses systematic media blackouts & how this Global Generation is using social media to challenge it and create a social revolution.  We need to bring the voices together.  

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