As cops approached the perimeter, Jacks bolted to a nearby safe-house and began tweeting. Mazen stayed on the front lines shooting video, while operatives by his side relayed messages to those in remote locations. Gregg Housh, a Web wiz famous for his role in the hacker group Anonymous's war on Scientology, rented a 12th-floor room at the Intercontinental Hotel to record an aerial view.
In the middle of it all, the group got a resounding boost from liberal icon and Current TV personality Keith Olbermann, who tweeted, "For those asking 'where is the media coverage of the police riot at #OccupyBoston' — Twitter IS the media coverage. Follow @Occupy_Boston." Within hours, the @Occupy_Boston following tripled from 5000 to 15,000.
Without much infrastructure in place — its primary Web site, occupyboston.org, was still in early stages of development — the media team found itself the focus of national attention. Swooping in to help, veteran Web activists from groups like the Independent Media Center and Global Revolution, both of which had already helped power Occupy Wall Street's message, also put Boston on full blast.
When the smoke cleared, the media troop had dominated the online conversation — or, as Housh puts it, instead of telling "corporate media to go fuck itself," they "got them to report what Occupy Boston wanted them to report." Adds Jacks: "We didn't even have to spin things, because we're the ones being spun on."
Despite the viral myth that there was a media "blackout" at the beginning of Occupy Wall Street, there were in fact hundreds of stories posted during the first days that protesters took Zuccotti Park — including sympathetic coverage from such mainstream outlets as the Guardian and ABC. So by the time that Occupy hit Boston two weeks later, local, national, and even international media were poised to swarm like paparazzi.
Occupy Wall Street's media ops have come under scrutiny, with a widely syndicated Associated Press story from last week noting a "chaotic and complicated relationship with [outside] media." In their turn, Occupy Boston has tried to learn from New York's PR wins and errors. Gunner Scott, a seasoned activist and executive director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition, has handled the bulk of the press releases. Recently, multiple Twitter jockeys were finally given access to all house accounts, so that they can crowd-source coverage and amplify concurrent happenings.
In the coming weeks, the media team plans to conduct internal demographic surveys in order to help outside outlets get their facts straight. Mazen also says they'll concentrate on disseminating more videos. All this while press inquiries haven't slowed down — they still get dozens of calls every day, and spend time correcting lazy journalists and deflecting slanderous conservative trolls.
One month in, Occupy Boston media still has yet to hone its purpose — not unexpected,d considering the New York theater's continuing ambiguity. But they are aware of their shortcomings, the most significant of which is a glaring digital divide among occupiers. Despite the Limbaugh line that they all pack iPhones, most Dewey Square campers lack Web access. Technological inequities have even caused breakdowns; just last week the media tent was occupied by members of the direct-action committee, who demanded more access to electricity.