The Boston Occupier goes old school
Dan Schneider says print editions have more impact
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misidentified the original name of The Boston Occupier. It began under the name The Occupy Boston Globe.
Media watchers who proclaim that print is dead might be shocked by Dan Schneider. In November, the Emerson College film major opted out of a semester at the school’s Los Angeles program to stay in the Hub to edit and write for the print and web versions of The Boston Occupier. The newspaper covers the Occupy Boston movement in the city and beyond.
Like similar publications in other cities, The Boston Occupier initially operated as The Occupy Boston Globe, but decided to change the name since the paper “is trying to present [itself] as something new,” according to Schneider. More than $9,000 was raised to get the publication off the ground through Kickstarter, which enables journalists, filmmakers, and other creative types to raise money to fund projects. Four print editions have been published so far, and a core group of 12 people work to get out the paper, which costs about $900 to print and distribute.
Schneider, a Wisconsin native, plans to shift coverage to new causes now that the occupation of Dewey Square is over. Areas of focus will include the proposed MBTA fare hikes and service changes, other Bay State Occupy groups, and national issues like student debt. What follows is an edited transcript of my conversation with Schneider.
Why are you publishing a print edition of The Boston Occupier?
When you have a paper in your hand, I don’t mean to sound grandiose, but you have a sense of history that these events are happening right now. You can read 50 articles a day on the Web. It doesn’t impact people as much. There is something about staring at a blue, glowing screen while you also have email open in another tab, you go back to watch a video, and then read an article. You forget about it five minutes later. It’s passive. But reading doesn’t have to be passive. It can be very intellectually active. A newspaper lends itself to that. Not only that, but I appreciate the value of keeping an archive of sorts to track the movement outside of twitter posts, blog posts, and photos posted online.
You are a film major: Why not use film?
I have always had a profound respect and fascination for journalism, especially political journalism. I’ve always been a big fan of Hunter Thompson. Timothy Crouse’s The Boys on the Bus, is a great book. I love going back and re-reading Ernie Pyle’s old writings. Just reading newspapers, that’s always been one of the best ways to educate people about a problem. Film sometimes can obfuscate fact or not present a fully clear picture, like Michael Moore’s documentaries. I tend to agree with many of his viewpoints [but] sometimes he doesn’t present the picture wholly and clearly.
Did the digital divide play into your thinking?
Absolutely. We’ve been trying as much as we can to get it out into the areas of Boston where people might not have access to digital devices. It’s been harder because we can’t print as many as we would like.
What is the print run?
The first [edition] was 25,000, the second was 15,000, the third 10,000. We are back up to 15,000 [for the January 18th edition]. We may increase to 20,000, but right now we are trying to tackle the problem of our funding head on. This next issue, we’re going to be offering subscriptions.
You used Kickstarter to raise funds. Are you still working from that pot of money?
From that, and we’ve also received about $1,400 [more] in donations. We usually get a couple of hundred every time we start printing.
How many more editions do you think you’ll be able to print?
Based on our printing and distribution costs so far, I would say we’ve got about seven or eight more issues that we can run through.
What types of articles do you look for?
I’d like to see pieces about actions planned or actions that have happened where someone was there; one-on-one interviewers about other Occupiers and what they are doing and why; the kind of things that happen within a protest movement and how activist groups get together. Those things tend to go under-reported or not reported at all.
And we’d also like to publish reports from points of view that aren’t fully represented in the mainstream media and even highlighting reports that haven’t gotten much play. I wrote a piece on the Government Accountability Office’s report on the Federal Reserve and the Board of Directors, which is me sitting down and reading a 100-page report and writing about what I found.
Do you think that one million people will follow Occupy Student Debt Campaign’s lead and default on their student loans?
I’m not wholly convinced yet that asking a million people to default on their student loans or to refuse payment is even the best course of action. What I do think, though, is that putting that idea, the concept of refusal, out there is really important. They generated a ton of commentary and a ton of conversation around the idea of student debt after it sort of petered out after the USA Today article came out.
If the federal government continues to cut financial assistance for students, how do you think students will respond?
I would see more direct actions and protest marches, especially in the spring. What I would like to see personally is a push towards more state and federal government subsidies for college education and higher education in general.
What kind of subsidies?
It’s been clearly proven many times over that federal loans, versus loans from private loan companies, tend to result, more often than not, in less debt. But I think the problem is that we used to prioritize education a lot more. There are stories from the tech sector about how people always started in their garages and people like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates dropped out of college. But for the vast majority of people, college is necessary – a bachelor’s and sometimes a master’s, and sometimes a doctorate. If that is the case, and increasingly it is, we need to ask ourselves what can we do to make sure that everyone gets an education that will propel them forward without having to take on a massive amount of debt.
What sort of feedback have you gotten about the newspaper?
I’ve only heard good things. At worst, “Why are you guys publishing a dead tree edition?” [The newspaper] is not something that keeps the movement alive. If we were gone, the Occupy movement would still be here, but it does help to educate people.
What is your relationship with Occupy Boston?
The central governing body has no say in our editorial content. We don’t bring anything in front of the [General Assembly], which is something Arun Guntpa of The Indypendent [suggested.] We had never wanted to, but he made a big point that it would be a bad idea not only in terms of our credibility, but in terms of keeping the newspaper running smoothly and efficiently.
I’ve tried to make a very strong point since the beginning that writers need to leave certain conceptions and preconceived notions at the door. If you can’t prove something is true or an article that you put in just descends into pro-movement rhetoric or “99 percent” rhetoric, I have no interest in reading it. I don’t think it’s worth publishing because there are many, many different outlets for that kind of discussion and those kinds of pieces.
What did you think of mainstream media coverage of Occupy Boston?
There were some bright lights. Steve Annear (of The Boston Metro) definitely. He gets no space to write what he wants to write, [but ] it has the biggest daily readership of any daily paper. Chris Faraone [of The Boston Phoenix] also did an excellent job. I don’t know when he sleeps, sometimes. He was at Dewey Square very frequently and reporting at other occupations, too.
I’ve seen isolated incidents of reporting in The Globe and even once in the Herald that I thought was good, that gets beyond the typical media narratives of occupiers versus someone or painting this as constant confrontation. The media lives off conflict, but it tends to get boring and old for me.
If you were the editor of The Boston Globe, what would you have sent your reporters out to do an in-depth story on?
I would have liked to seen them do a story on the structure. This is a movement that’s put itself forward as decentralized, allegedly structure-less, but that’s rhetorical. There’s actually a loose structure in place. There are working groups. They’re fluid and people can move in and out at will, but they are somewhat formal bodies for how actions get carried out and how people do things.
Do you run into people who are concerned by the fact that you are not trained journalists?
From other journalists, I haven’t seen any of that. They really appreciate that we are putting out a newspaper and we are taking that step to do what many people are saying is dying, even if they don’t agree with our ideology or the group that we affiliate with. Even the Herald wrote a story about that that was very fair, even nice. Where I personally have run into trouble is in contacting other groups, such as hospitals and local government. I tell them I’m from The Boston Occupier and then I have to explain all that and a lot of people will kind of shut down.
Where do you see deficiencies in mainstream media political coverage?It’s like watching sports, honestly. It’s process coverage, and it’s really demoralizing and unnecessary, focusing on these picayune points, points made on the stump, or points made in an IHOP in Goose Creek, South Carolina. It’s really like watching a horse race. If you flip to ESPN from CNN or MSNBC or Fox News, it’s kind of the same thing. [Schneider does an impression of a sportscaster.] “This team’s made an advance, but if he makes this move right here, they might have a real shot at taking this!”
Honestly, in a way, it hurts my heart less to watch ESPN because that’s the only way they can talk about sports. But there is another way to talk about politics. It’s the way to continue a conversation between sides, a conversation about what are the best policies we should pursue as a country and who is the best candidate to help further those.