When Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen was critically injured last week at Occupy Oakland, the eyes of the news media turned from Wall Street’s encampment to Oakland’s. A projectile used by police had fractured his skull, and accusations of police brutality quickly became the lead story in the coverage of the worldwide Wall Street protests. Video of police actions went viral, were discussed on national television, and analyzed in a number of national and international outlets. Even protestors in Egypt expressed their solidarity with the occupiers in Oakland.
At Oakland Local, a hyperlocal news site produced by professional journalists, a post about police officer’s actions went live the following morning, and when Susan Mernit, executive editor of the site, saw that her story was being referenced, tweeted, linked to, and discussed by people in the community, she realized their strength as a local news source, “I saw that our brand meant something to people,” says Mernit, “We decided at that point to go all out to cover it.”
Oakland Local reporters started posting two to four stories a day, along with reflections from those who live in the area, both for and against the movement, titled “Community Voices.” They found a plethora of local, nuanced stories that meant a lot to the people who call Oakland home: coverage of the General Assembly meeting and upcoming marches; analysis of a memo from Oakland police officers themselves; information on bank transfer day with list of local credit unions. In the works is a story on how the protests have effected local businesses.
Oakland Local is a nonprofit, so Mernit and her colleagues have stepped up their fundraising efforts to insure neighborhood coverage of Occupy Oakland. They partnered with an editorial cartoonist and publicized her spot.us campaign to fund a graphic reporting series on the inner workings of the Oakland movement, which will be published in a number of outlets, including Oakland Local. They’ve also used spot.us to ask community members for direct support of their daily coverage, and are almost halfway to their goal of $1200.
All of this coincides with the Bay Area News Group’s massive layoffs and consolidations for the newspapers in the area. In August it was revealed that eleven newspapers would be combined into two, and that some forty editorial staff members would be let go. Last week, Bay Area News Group announced that the papers would keep a number of their regional mastheads, and the editorial layoffs were reduced to twenty-five total. Mernit says cutbacks like these make Oakland Local’s coverage all the more critical, “For a small site like ours, this has been an opportunity to be on the ground in the center of things,” says Mernit. “We know all the sources, we have the connections. It’s interesting to find yourself at the center of something so big.”