On journalism and activism- drawing lines and acting accordingly.

A long time ago, back before I was occupying, I fancied myself a writer. I spent hours a day typing away, blogging or free writing or adding pieces to the long list of Google Docs that probably I’ll never do anything with. I have a book contract that I have been quietly plugging away at throughout all of this occupying; I’ve been published here and there from time to time. Occupying has taken up all of my time and energy lately, but my brain is still the same writer’s brain that it always has been. I tweet constantly now, simply because I only have tiny snippets of time during which I can do that which I naturally feel compelled to do. That said, I’ve never thought of myself a journalist, not by a long shot. I considered following that career path many long years ago, but I knew that journalism wasn’t something that I could handle. I have been an activist for more than half of my life now, meaning that there’s an inherent bias and lack of legitimacy to any sort of neutral reporting that I could do. Also, for whatever reason, I tend to lack the ability to remain disengaged or impartial when collecting, studying, and reporting facts. (For all of you who wonder why I’m not a facilitator at general assemblies: there’s your answer. Within ten minutes I’d quietly drop the mic and walk off the stage.)

Over the weekend a member of Occupy Boston called a meeting to be held Sunday night. The meeting was expressly private; all recipients of the email were BCC’ed, and we were asked only to share the information about the meeting with people whom we personally trusted and knew to be interested in discussions about the general topic at hand. This meeting was not an Occupy Boston-sanctioned event. It was never mentioned at general assembly; it was not called as part of any working group. A decision was made at Sunday night’s meeting to hold a follow-up meeting on Monday, and the guidelines for this meeting were the same as Sunday’s. Both meetings were held at a private off-site location, and was semi-private: not invite-only, but not exactly public, either. It was sort of a “tell your trusted friends!” sort of a deal. The best analogy I can come up with, as odd as it sounds, is that of a Saturday night house party: bring some friends, but don’t bring the guy who gets too wasted and pees in closets.

At this juncture of my post, it is important for me to explain both what autonomous action is, and what its place in the Occupy movement is. Autonomous action is the notion that someone can take an action as part of the movement, but that it doesn’t speak for or on behalf of the movement. What the Occupy movement is up against is huge, and involves focus that must come from a vast number of angles. Different people are passionate about different issues; an occupier can use their values and skill set independently in order to achieve important goals (another key movement buzz term: “diversity of tactics”. Look it up). Therefore, autonomous action is considered by many of us to be a key to our continued and eventual success. It isn’t an easy concept to endorse, as it sometimes means going against our own individual tactical or political beliefs, but it is important. Occupy Boston expressly supports the use of autonomous action. For example, on the first night of our occupation, a group of occupiers marched around downtown, culminating with a spontaneous occupation of the plaza in front of the Federal Reserve. Many of those of us who had remained at Dewey Square freaked out, wondering what exactly was going on as blue lights flashed all around us. It took many difficult discussions about the intersections of autonomous action and diversity of tactics before we felt fully comfortable with them. Now the practices feel like old hat (to me, anyway).

The meetings that were held on Sunday and Monday were both autonomous actions. They were called by one person, and were eventually attended by forty to fifty people (the people in the crowd weren’t the exact same ones each night). I won’t discuss what was discussed at those meetings, out of respect for the people there. That said, I will say that plans were made. This was a planning meeting- a non-“officially Occupy Boston” planning meeting (there were some unfamiliar faces in the crowd, according to “regular” OB-ers), but a planning meeting nonetheless.

During the second meeting, it was made apparent that a member of the media, Ariel Shearer from The Boston Phoenix, was in attendance. Word about this traveled through the room pretty quickly, and a vote on media presence was placed at the top of the agenda. Members of the media were asked to be transparent about their presence. Ariel identified herself. A vote was taken, and by show of consensus, she was asked to leave. She did leave, after making a statement about her notebook being “this is what democracy looks like,” and was followed by some men who had come with her. In her blog post (more on that later), she seems to claim to have been supported by shouts of “Ariel Solidarity!”, but no one I spoke to who attended the meeting heard anything of the sort.

After some tweets that I interpreted as being snarky, one of which was factually incorrect in multiple ways (she said that the meeting was a general assembly- definitely untrue, as GAs are open to anyone- and that it was about “eviction,” which isn’t exactly correct, plus could be misinterpreted as though we were facing immediate eviction), today Ariel added a blog post to the Boston Phoenix blog. The post is riddled with factual errors (all of which I will address directly), and seems to show a grave misunderstanding about the general function of the Monday meeting, our processes, and how Occupy Boston functions, as well as why she was asked to leave. I’m going to address factual errors first, so that there is clarity for readers who may not be familiar with the inner workings of Occupy Boston.

1. In her post Ariel neglects to divulge the location of the meeting, saying only that it was “at a Chinatown location.” On Twitter she refers to the space as being “a public space.” Due to the vague description of the location, a reader could assume that the meeting was held at our Dewey Square encampment, at a park, or at a restaurant: some space that is legitimately public. The meeting was held at Encuentro 5. E5’s status may be confusing to Ariel, as they hold many public events there, but it is not a public space: it is private. The facilitators of the Sunday and Monday meeting asked permission from Encuentro 5 to hold the meeting there, and were granted that permission. The meeting wasn’t held at Dewey Square precisely because it was a semi-private meeting between certain individuals. The meeting could have just as easily been held in someone’s home, had the meeting been smaller.

2. The first sentence of Ariel’s post reads, “About 40 members of Occupy Boston met in a working group last night at a Chinatown location to discuss strategy.” There are three factual errors in this sentence. One, not every person in attendance could be confirmed as a member of Occupy Boston. Two, there was no “in a working group.” On a semantics level, we never describe ourselves as meeting “in a working group”; we would say “a working group met,” or “there is a working group.” The meeting isn’t the working group; the working group is having the meeting. Three, this was not a working group meeting. I cannot stress enough how important it is to make this clear. There was no working group that called this meeting. As far as I know, new working groups very well may form as a result of this meeting, but that is something that could happen long after the fact, not a cause of the meeting itself. Ariel saying that this was a working group meeting indicates that the meeting was officially sanctioned by Occupy Boston. As I’ve said before, that is not the case.

3. Ariel claims that she was asked to leave the meeting “20 minutes into the discussion.” According to seven different people I’ve talked to, this is not true. As is often the case with activist meetings (and meetings in general), everybody sat around shooting the shit for awhile before starting the meeting so that latecomers wouldn’t feel left out. Once the meeting began, media presence was the first item on the agenda. The discussion about Ariel’s presence happened pretty quickly. She may have sat there for twenty minutes, but the meeting itself didn’t begin as soon as she sat down.

4. The title of Ariel’s post is, “This is what a journalist getting evicted from an Occupy Boston meeting looks like.” First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, this was not an Occupy Boston-sanctioned meeting. Also, Ariel was not evicted from the meeting; she was asked to leave. She freely admits in the article that she left of her own volition. Using strong language like “eviction” makes it sound as though she was forcibly removed. For those of us who are a part of Occupy Boston, this is an especially harsh term to hear thrown around. We have successfully evicted exactly two people from our movement- Paul Carnes and Sydney Sherrell– and it was a difficult, complicated process. We have never evicted anyone from a meeting, nor am I certain that we have the power to do that. Even meetings like these that aren’t officially about Occupy Boston don’t contain evictions.

6. This isn’t in response to a specific point in the post, but it’s an overarching theme throughout: the piece makes it sound as though Ariel’s identity as a journalist was clear to everyone in the room. This is not the case. She did not identify herself as a journalist until she was asked to do so. In fact, many people with whom I spoke after the fact were shocked to learn for the first time last night that that Ariel is a journalist (one did so publicly, via Twitter). Ariel is a familiar face at camp, but lots of times she’s hanging out with people in an apparently social way: no notebook, phone, or press badge. The fact that Ariel wasn’t transparent with some other occupiers about her job (not with me, for the record; she has always been up front with me) is seriously troubling to me. Every time a journalist approaches me at camp, they make their reason for being there known, either via a press badge or by openly identifying as such, often followed by them handing me a business card. My guess is that either Ariel is having a hard time figuring out which side of the fence she is on (journalist vs occupier), or that she is engaging in stealth journalism. If it’s the latter, we are a very transparent group of people, and many of us tend to grant interviews pretty freely. There is no reason for her to engage in that type of behavior. I seriously hope that isn’t the case. If it’s the former, then she needs to be transparent about her struggle in her blog post. She identifies solely as journalist there, which seems to me to be misleading. However, if she does identify solely as a journalist, she needs to follow the same ethical guidelines that every other journalist covering Occupy Boston has.

Because she is such a familiar friend-type face around Occupy Boston, my guess is that the group of people who walked out with her did so as friends, rather than in solidarity with her as a journalist. I’d love to hear their side of the story; I know at least one of them considers her a friend. This dynamic, I understand, is tricky. I don’t say this easily, but I feel like there are a few journalists who cover us that I’ve become friends with. I didn’t anticipate that happening at all. That said, I am careful to hold these journalists’ work and their behavior separate from who they are as people, and I feel that they do the same with me.

Now, onto the general points Ariel raises in her article. She states that the meeting attendees “were engaging in a form of censorship” by asking her to leave. This is a problematic choice of wording on her part. For one thing, no one forced her to leave. She was asked to leave, and freely did so. The meeting attendees did not ban her speech, or black out anything that she wrote. For another thing, as I’ve expressed throughout this article, the meeting was private. Referring to the act of asking members of media to leave a closed meeting as censorship walks a very wobbly tightrope. If I have a small, vaguely Occupy-related meeting in my living room, am I required to invite members of the media to attend? If I don’t invite media into my home, am I censoring them? Similarly, as Ariel said at the end of her article, am I participating in “an effort to prevent the free flow of information”?

My response: no, no one censored her, and no, we aren’t required to invite media into private meetings that are held in private, offsite locations. Sure, the line feels blurry; with a movement as different as ours is, LOTS of lines are blurry. That said, as individuals and as groups of individuals, we deserve to maintain some privacy. In these past few weeks, we have given up a LOT of our personal privacy for the sake of Occupy Boston, and we have heard no complaints from members of the media who’ve happily gathered and disseminated that information. But to be perfectly honest, this is starting to feel a bit like a situation where we’re giving a lot of ourselves, and now we’re expected to keep giving beyond a reasonable expectation. No one is saying that we should shut off the complete movement transparency that we’ve managed to maintain. What we are talking about here is individual privacy. By describing the consensed-upon feelings of individual members of a meeting as “censorship,” Ariel reveals either a lack of understanding of how our movement works, or a very deep lack of humanity. As individuals, we have a lot of reasons for not wanting media to show up at our private meetings. Some people who consider themselves part of Occupy Boston never come to camp and to GAs because they fear losing their jobs or public housing, being deported, facing arrest. They come to private meetings because there’s some modicum of safety there. Some people who voted to ask Ariel to leave simply felt uncomfortable having a discussion with media present. Ariel never mentions these very human aspects of the consensus vote in her article, leading me to presume that they never occurred to her.

Another important point: when Occupy activists ask you to leave our private meetings, we aren’t keeping secrets from you. Rather, we just aren’t telling you what is happening YET. Believe me: everything that was discussed in that meeting will  be seen and known eventually. But why would we tell you our tactics now, rather than let you see the results of them? We are still telling you the story, and are maintaining transparency. We merely want to choose the narrative. It is our narrative, after all, and we have the right to create it. Hypothetically speaking, how would it help anyone to have Ariel write down all of our plans for protests and publish them, meaning that they’d immediately be thwarted by the city and/or the police? Journalists: what is it that you want to report on, actually? Do you want to watch us sitting around in a room eating Gummi Bears and shooting the shit about direct action events, or would you rather watch them unfold in real time? Which is the real story here? When you choose the former- specifically, when you cross the line, interfere and prevent our actions from happening- I can’t help but wonder whether you’re participating in “ooh lookie at me, I got the scoop first!” journalism, rather than genuinely covering our movement.

Whether it’s expressly clear or not, the transparency of the Occupy movement is in direct response to the glaring lack of transparency that we see on Wall Street and in our government. I’ve participated in hundreds if not thousands of political actions, and have definitely attended thousands of activist meetings. The Occupy movement has been much more transparent than any other activist work I’ve ever been a part of, despite the fact that we stand the most to lose, and despite the fact that this thing is literally bigger than the accumulated mass of everything else I’ve done in my life. Some of us have been called out by name by police officers, followed around downtown, and even to our homes. We are risking a lot for the work that we are doing, and we deserve a level of basic human respect. Our very real fears for our safety should be taken into consideration, not played for manufactured outrage.

Lots of journalists seem to understand the interconnections between our movement’s transparency and the sad lack of it in our economy and government. I notice that many more journalists have begun working to dismantle the deep levels of secrecy that our political and financial institutions maintain. Similarly, most journalists understand that above all else, we are people, and that as individuals we have literally put our lives on hold in order to effect change. On a personal level, almost all of the journalists that I’ve interacted with have treated me like a human being who is deserving of dignity, and I thank them for that.

If Ariel is so upset about a lack of transparency being “one of the biggest systemic problem[s] choking our democracy,” I can give her a long list of story topics. For example, Mayor Menino secretly gave JP Morgan/Chase a 3.5 million dollar tax break, but he continues to complain about a much lower (and likely inaccurate) supposed cost to Boston created by Occupy Boston. If she’s worried about true censorship, perhaps she can write about police departments’ refusal of journalistic access to the front lines during various Occupy raids, as well as police brutality directed toward and arrests of journalists covering those stories. Perhaps that isn’t as easy as writing a short, factually inaccurate blog post about being asked to leave a meeting related to various means of drawing attention to, uncovering, and stopping awful things like that tax break, but heck: good journalism is never simple. If there is one thing I’ve learned from this movement, it’s that as much as I enjoy consuming it, being a journalist is ridiculously difficult. I’m glad it’s not my job.

I’ll continue to direct the best stories at camp toward the journalists who understand the peculiarities and intricacies of all of this. You folks who take the low road and write blog posts like Ariel’s: maybe y’all should consider covering something else.

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20 Responses to On journalism and activism- drawing lines and acting accordingly.

  1. Lauren says:

    Thanks for clearing up a lot of things and explaining your side.

  2. ciara says:

    do you think it was obvious to ariel & most of the other people at the meeting that it was a semi-private meeting where a “diversity of tactics” & possible plans for direct action were going to be discussed? because if she wasn’t clear on that (& it kind of sounds like she wasn’t, unless her posts are just blatantly disingenuous), then i can see how she might have gotten the idea that she was being asked to leave a public meeting just because she is a journalist. if she was invited to the meeting by friends who were like, “oh, hey, there’s this meeting thing happening, we’re going to talk about what to do next, you should come,” she might not have had any idea that it wasn’t the kind of thing that maybe people wouldn’t want to have reported in “the phoenix,” especially if journalistic presence has been embraced at the camps & at GAs & stuff.

    perhaps i am the one being naive, but this whole thing sounds like maybe ariel is feeling a little bit hurt over being asked to leave a cloak & dagger-ish meeting that might have wound up feeling kind of clique-y & exclusive, & maybe she is using the whole “journalists being censored” angle to cover up hurt feelings? i know that so often when people get down on radical movements for not “being transparent” or for “censoring” people (especially by asking them to leave groups/meetings/etc), the real issue is that things are feeling clubby & people are hurt over not being in the club. as sympathetic as i am to occupy boston & as much as you know i love you, & as much as i totally recognize the need for some secretiveness when people are planning direct action-y things, this is sounding awfully clique-y. there’s just no way to pretend that the radical scene doesn’t often behave like a junior high lunch room when it comes to choosing who gets to be in the know or in the thick of the action, even if it is backed up with the best of intentions.

    plus it’s tricky when we are dealing with journalists that might also be occupiers. but i totally agree that if ariel is going to present herself as a straight up journalist in her “phoenix” article, that’s how she needs to present at occupy events (& semi-private meetings that she thinks are occupy events), & then not be surprised when sometimes journalists are not 100% welcome. it’s kind of dishonest to present as an occupier at the camp when you’re palling around with everyone & a journalist in the paper/on your twitter.

    • msjacks says:

      I fully get that Ariel probably didn’t understand the dynamic(s) involved in the meeting. I hope so anyway- I’d much rather know that her feelings were based on misunderstanding rather than maliciousness. That said, as with any journalist, it was incumbent upon her to do her job and research what the meeting was about before writing an article about it. Her article was filled with half-truths and non-truths, all of which apparently exist in order to bias the reader toward her point of view. That’s terrible journalism.

      I am definitely hearing from people that the meeting sounds cliqueish, but I’m not sure how to remedy that. The meeting was on the Occupy Boston calendar (although we took it down last night, after some discussion about how non-official events maybe shouldn’t be there), and it was open to anyone who wanted to attend. A guy who “works” at the info tent says that he was transparent about the fact that the meeting was happening to anyone who walked up and asked him where people were. A lot of what comes across as clique-y is less about that, and more that people aren’t involving themselves in the community. Of course, that’s easier said than done, I suppose. I know I have it a lot easier because I’ve been there since pre-day one. On the other hand, I hear a lot of people say that the Women’s Caucus is clique-y because it’s a women’s only space. I guess I feel like I’m at a loss at how to deal with the general accusation of clique-yness. Since it’s about a group dynamic, I’m pretty sure it’s not something that I can handle on my own.

      Thoughts?

      • ciara says:

        i think that accusations of clique-ishness are often misguided. for example, anyone who complains that the women’s caucus is clique-y because it’s a women-only space is obviously at least a little bit of a misogynist. we don’t even really need to talk about that.

        but with things like semi-secret meetings…i hear that it wasn’t totally secret because people were being told about it…if they asked the right questions. but how would a person know what question to ask? it’s like if i am hanging out with a friend & i ask, “so, big plans this weekend?” & they say, “gonna see some friends,” & i find out later that they were going to see friends at a big house party with all of our mutual friends & i could have gone had i known to ask, “is there a party this weekend?” i mean, obvs i would feel a little bit excluded by virtue of having to had ask the right questions to get the invite to something i didn’t even know existed.

        then again, i totally see the need to keep certain activities on the DL, or at least not openly advertise them. & i think it’s fair & responsible to keep activities that are not directly affiliated with occupy boston off the occupy boston calendar. i agree that sometimes accusations of clique-ishness are just coming from people who have not made an effort to stay connected with their communities, & that it’s kind of entitled to expect an invite to something when you haven’t made it at all apparent that you are still interested in what’s going on. on the flip side, there are a lot of different interpretations of what “connected to one’s community” might look like, & some of the definitions may be involve pretty unrealistic expectations.

        at the end of the day, i think that if you are making a reasonably good faith effort to be inclusive to the community you are hoping to include, fretting over accusations of clique-ishness might just be a waste of energy. you can’t please all of the people all of the time & because radical scenes pride themselves so much on things like openness & transparency, accusing them of being secretive & clique-y is a really easy way to smear or dismiss them (although sometimes purportedly radical scenes really are exclusive & clubby). which is what i think ariel is doing in her article. so i say, do what you need to do & don’t waste too much energy worrying about the haters, but also remember to try to take a step back every now & again & view your activities as objectively as possible to make sure you are still operating according to your values.

    • msjacks says:

      I’m definitely working on the stepping back and taking a look at the bigger picture thing– I’m taking a self-imposed break this week and perspective-gaining is my main goal, particularly in regards to breaking down the camping dynamic– but yeah, it’s hard. I mean, even though we’ve all only known each other for two months, I have made real friends at camp, and I suspect that I’ll remain friends with some of these people for the rest of my life. How do I negotiate that? How do I continue to develop these friendships without being clique-y? I am meeting new friends every day, so it’s not like it’s a closed off process, but when the police come at me with batons and pepper spray, I want to have my arms linked with people who I know, trust and love, not people I’ve never met before. It’s not that I doubt a stranger’s commitment to the movement, particularly when they’re willing to be beaten and arrested for it. I just don’t KNOW them. Even though I meet new people every day and am continually interacting with strangers, it’s a difficult path to navigate. Trust is a biggie. I (and we, I suppose) can’t just go tossing it around.

  3. lols'r'us says:

    By moderating my comment critical of you while allowing all the others you have proven that you have no transparency whatsoever. You are the biggest threat to the movement.

    • msjacks says:

      I didn’t approve your comment for the following reasons:

      1. Your comment was trollish, and therefore unproductive. I don’t have time for this.
      2. You spent the day trolling me and three other women about freaking astrology, as well as trolling various other people, leaving me to believe that you aren’t trying to stoke productive conversation, but that you are trying to fan flames (i.e be a troll).
      3. You still refuse to tell me who you are, or to introduce yourself to me publicly, which gives me the creeps times a trillion.

      This is my (and another person’s) personal blog, not a movement blog. If I’d wanted to open my piece up to trolling, I would have submitted it to a newspaper or a public blog.

      • EB says:

        Just so you know.. when you click on your name or picture this is what comes up: “This is the public, global profile of msjacks” …sounds like these here interwebs consider you Public

      • msjacks says:

        Indeed. That’s my WordPress profile, which I use in order to post to my personal blog.

      • dan says:

        When did a troll become anyone who disagrees with you? I will attempt to post this link to an article again because I think reading it would be productive: The Tyranny of Structurelessness by Jo Freeman, http://www.jofreeman.com/joreen/tyranny.htm

        It’s a feminist critique of some flaws she saw in the organization (or lack thereof) of the women’s liberation movement in the late 60s/70s. Hopefully you won’t find this post too inflammatory, because I think what she wrote is important and touches on my main problem here, which is not so much that Ariel was asked to leave a meeting but that people felt the need to attack her after she spoke about her experience publicly. I understand the press should not be privy to every meeting, but if you are planning some direct action you want to actually happen, maybe don’t invite 50 people to the meeting? Is it really a surprise to you that a college student who occasionally writes for an alternative newsweekly might slip back and forth between observer and participant? It’s not like Anderson Cooper showed up with a Groucho Marx disguise on, and if you’re such a feminist I’m not sure why you feel the need to disparage a young woman by twittering about how she’s just at Occupy Boston to flirt with cute boys. Either way, here’s a quick strategy session for you: pissing off media sympathetic to your cause is not a good tactic.

      • msjacks says:

        As I told you via email, I am well familiar with The Tyranny of Structurelessness. Many people have tried to apply it to Occupy Boston, and while I’ve found it useful in many situations, the problem with the common application of it at OB is that people do so in order to prove some point about us being a structureless movement. This isn’t the case. We have a LOT of structure; it’s just nontraditional. There are some places where I see it being very applicable. For example, I am frustrated by how people used mic checking to shut each other down and shout over each other during the sink incident- I think TTOS is very applicable there. But applying it to a facilitated meeting about DA and tactics? Not so much.

        It doesn’t surprise me that a college student who writes for an alt weekly can’t figure out which side of the fence she is on. That said, she needs to pick a side. Every other journalist or activist has. What makes Ariel special? In her Phoenix piece, she takes the stance that she is 100% journalist. Everyone who knows her from camp knows that is not the case. She changed her perspective in order to convenience herself, and to solidify her position. That is evasive (flat out untrue, really).

        I never tweeted that she was “just at OB to flirt with cute boys.”

      • Leigh says:

        With respect to your last point (the one not numbered), you chose to directly link from a PUBLIC article to your personal blog regarding the movement. So I fail to see why you would think you would be able to avoid less than savory comments from strangers.

        Also, you wrote about 10 times more than Ariel did while saying really nothing of substance or relevance towards the bigger picture of what the movement is really all about. Perhaps YOU need to start writing about other things as well.

      • msjacks says:

        To be quite simple, it’s my blog. I can approve or deny comments however I want to. Nobody’s forcing you to read it.

        This article isn’t about the bigger picture of Occupy Boston or OWS. It’s about one night.

  4. Robin: as you know, I’m Ariel’s editor. And as much as I’d like to write off your post as something written in the heat of the moment, I can’t let it stand without a response. You’ve smeared an honest reporter, and the above account includes outright-false as well as intellectually-dishonest statements. I’m not going to get into back-and-forth debates about the fine points of Occupy semantics and procedure – everyone knows that’s what GA is for. These things should be noted, however. 1) You were not at the meeting she’s writing about. All your accounts are second-hand. 2) Ariel Shearer was invited to the meeting by participants in the meeting. She never made any attempt to hide her affiliation, and when asked to identify herself, did so immediately and voluntarily. When it became clear that a majority of the members were uncomfortable with her being there, she left. Good luck getting your corporate media friends to play by the rules of common decency – because there’s no code of journalism that prohibits a journalist from being present at a meeting that she’s been invited to attend by the participants. 3) I removed the location of the meeting from Ariel’s report, because the status of the meeting – you claim it was closed; others who were there disagree – is in question, and, as we do in any story, we gave the benefit of the doubt to privacy. Your decision to publicize the location of a supposedly private meeting should cast further doubt on whether the meeting was actually private or simply hostile to public scrutiny. There’s a difference. Contrary to your assertion, Ariel is quite familiar with the location; before Occupy, indie journalists used that space to meet about (here’s irony for you) open-media initiatives. And while you accuse Ariel of being ambiguous on the point of closed vs. open, her report makes clear that the moderator characterized the meeting as being private; and furthermore the first sentence of the report makes it clear that it was not at Dewey Square, unless the cops have somehow moved Dewey Square to Chinatown. 4) You slandered Ariel by accusing her of being dishonest in her reporting methods. Coming from someone else, I’d consider that statement merely ignorant. But it’s far more malicious coming from you, because you have reason to know those accusations to be false. You admit that Ariel has always been forthright with you. You then go on to repeat anonymously-sourced and therefore unverifiable assaults on a reporter who has spent more time at Occupy Boston than all of the reporters from the Boston Globe, the Boston Herald, WGBH, WBUR, Channel 4, Channel 5, and Channel 7 combined. Here’s a newsflash: if you see a reporter at Dewey Square day and night, talking to Occupants, and getting to know them even when she’s not actively interviewing sources, that’s not evidence of malfeasance. That’s the rare sight – and I realize that Occupy Boston doesn’t get to see many real reporters – but that’s what it looks like when a journalist is doing her job. It’s what the old, corporate media used to call beat reporting, and it demands that you immerse yourself in the subject you are covering. Ariel’s interactions with Occupy are no different than the way a City Hall reporter interacts with politicians, or an arts reporter interacts with performers, or a business reporter interacts with investors. There are no rules prohibiting friendships. The Phoenix was born out of the protest culture of the 1960s, and as an independent, locally-owned media company (one of the very few left), we have been covering progressive movements for over 40 years. Ariel is an heir to a tradition of valiant young reporters who out-hustle the corporate MSM because we are immersed in this city, in these issues, and in these actions. We don’t pull punches, and, no, we don’t wear badges – although you will see some of us with Phoenix jackets, just because. But all of our reporters – Ariel included – are vigilant in identifying themselves as reporters whenever they’re reporting. If you’ve got even a SINGLE provable instance of Ariel quoting someone in a story who didn’t know she was a journalist, bring it. If not, you might want to think twice before you level inflammatory and false accusations at one of the very few reporters in Boston who has given the movement a fair shake. 5) Your personal attacks on Ariel – questioning not her reporting but sinking to the level of questioning her “humanity” – are the tactics of repressive, cowardly elites. Those attacks have no place in public dialogue, and they are beneath you. By stooping to those tactics, you’ve brought shame on yourself and to your cause.

    • msjacks says:

      This is really long, and it’s hard to respond to. I’m going to try, though.

      1. I was not at the meeting, but I was talking to about ten people via text and phone during the buildup to the vote where consensus was reached on Ariel’s presence making people feel uncomfortable. According to everyone who responded to me in private or here re: this entry, the only mistake I made was that she wasn’t actually asked to leave- the vote was merely a statement of discomfort, and she was told that she could do what she wanted with that information. That’s about ten or fifteen people.

      2. She wasn’t invited to the meeting by “the participants.” She was apparently invited by a couple of the participants. We play by the guidelines of consensus. There was no consensus on this invitation.

      3. I didn’t say that the meeting was closed. It started off as a private meeting, then evolved into a semi-private one. Eventually it was placed on both the whiteboard where we post events and on our occupyboston.org public calendar, along with the location of the meeting. It was no secret. Dewey Square is close enough to Chinatown that when people are looking for it, we often tell people “it’s where Chinatown meets the Financial District.” It’s not like we were having the meeting in Somerville or something. It’s within a short walking distance of camp. Also, just because E5 hosts open-media initiatives, that doesn’t mean that every meeting they hold is public. They hold plenty of meetings for people who fear, for example, deportation. Those meetings are private. Check E5’s Twitter- they made it expressly clear in a tweet to Ariel and to me that they don’t police the public or private nature of the meetings they (very graciuously) allow us to hold there.

      4. Calling my very valid opinion of Ariel’s behavior at and around camp “slanderous” is pretty fucking malicious, man. For one thing, I don’t think that she’s spent more time at camp than every reporter in the city combined. That’s a hilarious thought. Also hilarious- the idea that she is spending time at OB because she’s some intrepid reporter embedding herself at Occupy Boston as a beat reporter. The fact is that she doesn’t know what side of the fence she’s on, occupier or journalist. That’s okay; I completely get that, and I feel bad that her feelings were hurt when people expressed their discomfort with her being at the meeting. She completely misrepresented herself in the article by claiming to be 100% journalist. I’m not convinced that her reasons for being at the meeting were entirely centered around reporting. Granted, the reporting aspect was what made people uncomfortable, but that’s not entirely what is going on there. Also, I am very cognizant of the fact that friendships between journalists and occupiers often arise. I have had that happen, as I mentioned in my post. But as I also mentioned in my post, I don’t feel like that negatively interferes with the work I do, nor do I feel that it negatively interferes with the work they do. To be perfectly blunt, you should be GLAD that I have made friends with two of your reporters, because I’ve gone above and beyond to help them out with matters that I wouldn’t for people whom I don’t trust. For an occupier, to make friends with a reporter without knowing that they’re a reporter (as people have had happen with Ariel) is a scary thought. If you can’t understand why that is scary, then you don’t have any clue what kind of siege we are constantly under as a movement.

      5. My opinions are my opinions alone, and they’re worth as much as your opinions are. I am not trying to be “repressive,” and if I were “cowardly” I would’ve shut the fuck up and said nothing. You can’t call someone a bully and then act like a big bully yourself. You are the editor of a newspaper. You are above trading blows with an activist who is pissed off about the unprofessional behavior of a writer on your payroll. Although after watching you literally troll a writer on Twitter tonight after completely misreading one of her tweets, I’m kind of wondering why I’m bothering to trade blows with you, either.

    • americanpaki says:

      Is this for real??

      I cant even get through reading this because this is painfully embarrassing.

      Is this really a newspaper editor who appears to be out on a frenzied internet prowl obsessively seeking out critique then going on a zealous full throttle assault on those offering a different perspective and/or criticism? Really? I mean really?!

      Christ almighty. Allow me to step in for a moment: journalists, indy and MSM, are all adults and are therefore perfectly capable of handling themselves when countering critique – should they choose to do so – without their editors stepping in and acting like overprotective nannies. My jaw is on the floor.

      I wholeheartedly suggest you seriously take a long hard look at your recent behaviour because you have severely compromised the integrity of the Boston Phoenix. Personally (and I am fully aware that you dont give a rats ass about what I think), I will most likely tell every and all of my contacts (researchers, academics, to local community orgs) to now dismiss for the Boston Phoenix simply because of your lack of candor and professionalism in dealing with your readership and those you write about. You have gone beyond the trust between yourselves as a source of trusted news and those you represent and serve.

      Your actions and words, as editor of the newspaper you are attempting to defend, are nothing but emotive sensation. They are deplorable and are outside the realms of journalistic principle. You are nothing but a loose cannon and you have placed the reputation of the Boston Phoenix on the line.

      In the meantime, I will go out on a non-professional limb and recommend you invest in some tranquilisers and a box of tissues while I also suggest you begin to internalise that journalistic scrutiny from your readership comes part and parcel of your job, Carly. Grow up and grow some thick skin.

  5. Farhad says:

    As somebody who was present at the meeting in question, I’d like to thank Robin for taking the time to respond to Ariel’s blog post in such detail.

    I’d also like to make one clarification: what happened was — to my recollection — even milder than what Robin has described. Ariel was not asked to leave. Quite to the contrary, we simply indicated that we were not comfortable with her being there. By her own admission, “The facilitator told me I could take this information and do with it what I wished.” She choose to leave, and we thanked her for the respect that showed us.

    I don’t know Ariel, and I didn’t know she was a member of the press until she raised her hand in response to the facilitator’s initial question. I bear her no ill will, and I can totally understand how she could have ended up at the meeting without realizing that it was such a sensitive space. I imagine she felt ambushed, and that’s a terrible way to feel. All that having been said, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable discussing anything had she stayed — I probably would have left myself.

    Those of us who have been involved in Occupy Boston have strived for transparency as much as we possibly can. But! The goal of 100% immediate transparency is in direct conflict with the goals of working groups such as Legal or Direct Action, and as a result exceptions have to be made. This is a complicated truth that’s often overlooked, but it is nonetheless true. This meeting was just such an exception.

    • msjacks says:

      Hey Farhad- did you read @diceytroop’s* back-and-forth between Tim Pool (sp?) tonight on Twitter? Basically, Tim wanted to livestream from his personal livestream at a foreclosure eviction blockade, and @diceytroop thought it’d be a good idea to check in with the family first. Tim kept ranting about transparency and openness, while @diceytroop felt that it was an issue of personal privacy. It reminded me a lot of this moment. What was interesting to notice was that Tim stood to gain personally from this; he’s supposedly made tens of thousands of dollars off of the livestreaming he’s done during OWS. However, he hid under the shield of transparency in order to get what he wanted. It offends me when people do that. There’s transparency, and there’s common decency.

      *using his twitter handle b/c he doesn’t use his real name on there

  6. This is an interesting topic and I agree with Robin’s analysis. Since day one at Occupy Boston, I’ve made it known that I’m both journalist and occupier. I’ve also made it clear that when push comes to shove, I’m putting the occupation before my story. For example, I learned about the planned Oct 10 expansion onto “Rose Park” two days before it happened, but I didn’t leak the info. Does that make me a crappy journalist? I hope not. I don’t think a war correspondent would give away tactical info, and this falls into the same category. My current relationship with DA is that everything they say to me is off the record unless it’s obviously non-sensitive info or I specifically ask, “can I use that in a story?” As someone in a similar situation as Ariel Shearer, I can understand her hurt feelings – most of us would feel dejected and indignant if people we’re friendly with asked us to leave a group activity. But if Ariel Shearer really understands the culture and workings on Occupy Boston, she should realize that we do have some situations where some people are invited to a conversation while others aren’t. This seems to have been an instance of that but it probably could have been handled more delicately by those involved.

    • msjacks says:

      I think this is very true. It’s complicated, but we have to keep things secret. Besides, like I said in the article, tactical things come out eventually. There’s no hiding them. For a journalist to leak information about tactics, that’s stopping the process from happening. The story is better when things can flow organically, anyway. Which story would you have? “Breaking! Occupy Boston is going to do this, which will now be cut off by the police!,” or “Breaking! Occupy Boston glitter bombed Newt Gingrich while blasting C&C Music Factory’s ‘Gonna Make U Sweat’ from a gigantic boombox!” (yes, that was a possibility)?

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