Recently, Alexis Madrigal, the technology editor of The Atlantic and pretty much the smartest young journalist ’round these parts, re-described occupy Wall Street as an API, or Application Programming Interface.
What he meant is that one of the distinctive features of the movement is its “open” design. “From the beginning, the occupation was meant to take on a life of its own. Organizers and occupiers alike have not tried to maintain control of the message or methodology for spreading ideas or occupations. Anyone who wants to support Occupy Wall Street can just do something, trusting they’ll be able to connect to the movement. Hence OccupyHistory and hundreds of like sites.”
How is Occupy Wall Street “like” an API? Madrigal explains:
API is an acronym for Application Programming Interface. APIs allow data to be pulled from an online source in a structured way. So, Twitter has an API that lets app developers create software that can display your Twitter feed in ways that the company itself did not develop. Developers make a call to that API to “GET statuses/home timeline” and Twitter sends back “the 20 most recent statuses” for a user.
What an API does, in essence, is make it easy for the information a service contains to be integrated with the wider Internet. So, to make the metaphor here clear, Occupy Wall Street today can be seen like the early days of Twitter.com. Nearly everyone accessed Twitter information through clients developed by people outside the Twitter HQ. These co-developers made Twitter vastly more useful by adding their own ideas to the basic functionality of the social network. These developers don’t have to take in all of OWS data or use all of the strategies developed at OWS. Instead, they can choose the most useful information streams for their own individual applications (i.e. occupations, memes, websites, essays, policy papers).
I think it’s a beautiful way of describing the movement. Madrigal’s section on social media:
GET Strategy/social media: Occupy Wall Street had a social media strategy from the beginning. They encouraged all protesters to record their experiences with cell phones and cameras and then used that media to drive awareness of the protest in its early days. Since then, a whole network of social media has emerged from Twitter accounts to Facebook pages to wikis. This web is woven together by a media team as well as outsiders who have begun to act as signal amplifiers and filters. A particularly effective outside effort was the WeArethe99Percent tumblr, which presented stories of everyday people who were struggling despite their hard work.
The social media API works in tandem with the Big Media “interface,” a portion of which is:
GET Decentralized leadership structure: Repeat mantra that the movement is ‘leaderless.’ In practice, have no single leader on whom the media and/or public can focus. Avoid profiles of organizers….
That’s all background to this letter I got. It’s a perfect example of… “Anyone who wants to support Occupy Wall Street can just do something.” The letter tells of an adventure in citizen journalism unfolding around Occupy Wall Street. Chris Fornof explains it as well as I could, so I am going to shut up and let you listen to him.
Nov. 18, 2011
This is Chris Fornof. You likely don’t remember me, but I was involved briefly with Assignment Zero. I’m a huge supporter of citizen journalism and try to help out in little ways where I can.
I’ve been glued to media coverage of #Occupy, and I saw something this week that I thought you’d be interested in.
Something very special is happening here.
Basically he’s a protester-turned-reporter with a cell phone who is doing some very uniquely awesome things with his streaming ustream coverage. He’s been doing 20-hour live reporting marathons, but what’s extremely powerful is the feedback loop that he has with his viewers (numbering in the 15k+ live, 100k+ daily).
There’s a unique symbiosis happening. Being a livestream he acts as “eyes and ears” for the viewers. Literally. People will tell him to move the camera somewhere and he’ll do it. They’ll ask for interviews with someone, and Tim will go over and do so (taking extensive feedback, questions, and commentary from the channel viewers). The viewers will ask him questions and he won’t rest until he gets them their answers. There is no delay or time to press. It’s instant. And it’s awesome.
But it goes both ways.
When his camera battery goes low, people swarm into action. Purchasing batteries, locating someone on the ground to deliver, and coordinating delivery. He’s got a dozen batteries, pack and chargers just donated to him so he can keep recording. He mentions he’s getting hungry and somehow people make sure he’s fed with a constant stream of random strangers exactly what he needs when he needs it. This also extends to a few thousand people that will devour twitter and live news feeds to give him active intel so he can stay safe.
The goodwill he’s engendering is ridiculous. Beyond the participation, there’s relationships happening here. I have never seen this kind of support for a journalist before. He logs off for the night and hundreds of people stream in their “THANK YOU!”s and undying gratitude.
He’s got some TIME people following him for the past few days. I expect you’ll hear more about him soon. (Link.) I strongly feel that the kind of reporting he’s doing represents the future of what citizen journalism could be.
There have been a few dozen livestreams of the protests that have been fascinating to watch, but Pool has been one of the first to engage viewers like this.
I was hoping sometime that you may be able to get in touch with him. Perhaps advise him. You are well connected in the field of journalism and can likely appreciate the uniqueness of what is happening here. From watching his interactions, Tim seems very level-headed and could likely serve as a good case-study for citizen journalism in action. Who knows?
Thank you for your tireless support for citizen journalism over the years. It’s a long-haul trip but I think the world is finally waking up to the things you’ve been saying. Keep up the great work!
Occupy PressThink (see how well that API works?…) has a few comments about this.
When the people formerly known as the audience employ the press tools they have in their possession to inform one another, that’s citizen journalism.
Tim Pool is a perfect example. In fact, I can’t think of a better illustration of what I was trying to get across in sculpting that definition.
2. It’s hard to overlook the fact that his name is Pool. In pressland, a “pool” report is what happens when the entire press corps can’t have access to a news event, so a representative team of 3-4 reporters is sent and their accounts are then shared with the whole gang. They have to be the eyes and ears for others. They have to ask what others would ask. They can’t keep what they find out to themselves. In a way, that’s what Tim Pool does.
3. In his epic post, Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable, my colleague Clay Shirky writes: “If the old model is broken, what will work in its place? The answer is: Nothing will work, but everything might. Now is the time for experiments, lots and lots of experiments, each of which will seem as minor at launch as craigslist did, as Wikipedia did…”
Yes. And one of the things we need to experiment with is the relationship (sorry, can’t think of a better word) between journalists and the people who depend on them for reports. “When his camera battery goes low, people swarm into action…” is just that: an experiment in what this relationship could be like: We’ll help you, we’ll feed you, just keep the reports coming.
I wrote about an earlier example of this kind of relationship here: They’re Not in Your Club but They Are in Your League: Firedoglake at the Libby Trial (2007.) As Shirky says, we need more experiments in how the (dependent) users can support the (independent) reporters.
5. This might be a good time to mention that Tim Pool is clearly an activist and supporter of Occupy Wall Street as well as a reporter of it. If you believe those things can’t possibly go together, fine, I know where you’re coming from. But don’t expect me to freak out or even care that you wouldn’t call Pool a journalist. As I’ve said before, we should focus less on “who’s a journalist” and more on valid acts of journalism. When we can recognize the act, the “who” becomes easier: anyone committing the act!
6. When young people ask me what they should do if they want to become a journalist, here is what I normally tell them: the most important thing is not to go to J-school, or start a blog, or get a newspaper to hire you (though all those things are good!) but to get yourself into a “journalistic situation.” A journalistic situation is when a live community is depending on you for regular reports about some unfolding thing that clearly matters to them.
If you really want to be a journalist the best experience you can have is to be depended on by people who need you as their eyes and ears, their interviewer, their man or woman in the field. Tim Pool: he’s in a journalistic situation, classically so. And I bet he’s learning a lot from it.
After Matter: Notes, Reactions & Links…
See also my Tumblr post: Tim Pool, the man behind @TheOther99, is bringing the Max Headroom prophecy to life.
GigaOm: Occupy my TV: The birth of the citizen video reporter. Follows up on this post with a trend story.
NPR’s On the Media: Q and A with Tim Pool.
Mathew Ingram: What happens when journalism is everywhere?
Photo by Paintballbudd. Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.)
You can follow Tim Pool on Twitter and get word on when he’s live streaming that way.