“Fair and balanced” isn’t fun

Local media outlets have covered Occupy Iowa City as 1) a phenomenon to be explored through wonder and amazement, 2) as a chance to meet “real people” through shiny personal profiles, and 3) as a grassroots/underdog storyline of citizens v. local government when the city demanded protestors comply with codes, permits, and other “restrictions.”

So perhaps in an attempt to seem “fair and balanced” in covering an admittedly progressive cause, this Daily Iowan story looks at the downside to public protest. Its headline: “Occupy Iowa City: Neighbors call protest ‘disruptive.'”

This story attempts to pit conflict between two sets of “regular people” – protestors who have taken up residence in the park and “regular” residents who already lived in the neighborhood. Identifying this conflict, it would seem, would reveal the media’s objectivity by reporting the do-gooders bad side.

But we never get there, ’cause right away we see how confused news media continue to be about the purpose of the 99% protestors – or how unwilling they are to make the connections between fairly simple human characteristics (greed, perhaps being the most clear) and social and ideological structures (ie corporations, desire for consumption, complacent governance) that have allowed greed to overpower society.

First, an honest lede (with my bold) that reveals the complexities of any conflict that might exist:

Iowa City residents living around College Green Park are mixed in their opinions about the ongoing Occupy Iowa City protest in their neighborhood.

Then, we have a resident who waffles on his concerns, which really aren’t concerns, but kinda are.

“Normally, I would hypotenuse through the park, and [the protest] is kind of roadblock in that sense, but apart from that, it isn’t much of a concern” said Gregory Markus, a resident of 116 S. Dodge St.

(By the way, “hypotenuse” is his classist way of saying, “yo, bitch, I just cut through that fuckin’ park.”)

Oh, good. Finally we get to some “conflict” when “Anna Adams, a University of Iowa junior who lives near the park, recalled a confrontation she had with the protesters.”

“On the day of the [UI’s Homecoming] parade, there were two of them sitting right here on my steps,” Adams said. “When I asked them who they were and what they were doing here, they said ‘We’re just occupying this spot.’ “

But then, the conflict fails…

Adams said she told them to leave, and they complied.


One more try?

One resident “admitted she’s noticed an increase in noise in the area — even on weeknights — as some protesters stay up all night talking. She said the protesters set off firecrackers one night, and some of her friends have refused to come to the house because of the protest.”

Hmm. Sad.

Where is all the conflict I was promised in this story, this attempt to be fair and balanced by showing me the “other side” of the protestors?

Here it is:

But a common complaint is the lack of purpose among occupiers.

“Do you know what they want? Do they know what they want?” said Frank Riehl, who owns a house at 630 E. Washington St. “They are not causing any trouble, but they don’t know what the solution to their problem is.”

The conflict wasn’t in daily interactions with protestors. Conflict continues to be about ideology.

And instead of doing this story on the opinion page, or in a breaking news story about a flash mob of conflict between protestors and protestor-protestors, reporters went to the neighborhood to tell the same story about a clash of beliefs and politics that’s veiled by non-story conflict.

After this brief ideological turn, the story falls back on the normative storyline — a neighborhood resident who really doesn’t have much to say:

To UI senior Trent James, who lives near the park on Governor Street, the protest isn’t disruptive, just a little annoying.

“They keep telling me about what they have going on and try to invite me over, and I don’t want to discuss politics when I have better things like classes to worry about,” he said.

Thoughts? Why did this non-story story run? Just to fill space? Does its meaningless-ness make sense, though? Did we know, or expect, this story to be about ideological conflict and not interpersonal conflict? Was this story to be about anything other than ideology?