New risk for Occupy Wall St: less media interest

Tue Oct 25, 2011 4:57pm EDT

Related Topics

* TV, newspaper coverage declining

* Twitter trend also softening as days go by

* Experts say protest needs a "second act"

By Ben Berkowitz

NEW YORK, Oct 25 (Reuters) - "Occupy Wall Street" is occupying less space in TV broadcasts, newspapers and social media as the story settles into a familiar pattern and protesters dig in for what could be a protracted fight.

While the movement's reliance on Twitter and Facebook to spread its message is well established, it has also benefited from becoming a media curiosity, at times drawing legions of TV crews and reporters to its encampments. Coverage fed on itself, as more people joined in more cities.

But experts say the protests are now making a natural -- yet challenging -- progression off the front page and cable news, as new events like the death of Muammar Gaddafi take prominence.

Any loss of the limelight, especially when the onset of cold weather has already started to reduce the ranks of protesters prepared to camp out overnight in lower Manhattan, could dampen the momentum of the movement.

"Without the oxygen to fuel their fire they're very much at risk of losing relevance," said Daniel Tisch, chairman of the Global Alliance of Public Relations & Communication Management, a confederation of national PR societies.

To some extent, even the protesters agree they are likely to get less attention as time goes by.

"People know what the general storyline is," said Senia Barragan, a protester from New Jersey acting as a spokeswoman for the occupation when not working on a doctorate at Columbia University. "I think they're moving on to other stories."

The loss of media interest is the latest roadblock to Occupy's momentum.

Experts on social movements have said the protesters need a "second act" of sorts as fatigue sets in and as cold weather starts to descend on New York and other protest sites.

In the days leading up to a series of worldwide protests on Oct. 15, there were practically as many reporters as occupiers at Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan -- to the consternation of some protesters, who started charging to have their pictures taken.

But with more than five weeks gone since the concrete plaza was first taken, the media's fascination with the story has started to wane.

DOWN SHARPLY LAST WEEK

The Pew Research Center produces a weekly News Coverage Index, which charts what percentage of total news coverage across dozens of outlets is taken up by a variety of topics. In the week ended Oct. 16, coverage of Occupy Wall Street peaked at 10 percent of the total "newshole."

But last week it fell sharply to just 4 percent of news coverage, according to the latest version of the index, about the same as the mass release of exotic animals in Ohio.

Other data also support the finding. The Factiva news database shows 18,341 mentions of "Occupy Wall Street" in the week ended Oct. 23, down 19 percent from the week prior.

While mentions rose daily during the week ended Oct. 16, the numbers declined steadily the following week. From Oct. 17 to 23, the number of daily uses of the phrase fell by more than half.

Even on those social media platforms that have been a backbone of the Occupy protests, there is less attention now.

Trendistic, a website that lets people monitor Twitter trends, shows clearly that the "#OccupyWallSt" hashtag has been declining as a percentage of overall hashtag use worldwide since Oct. 15.

The same holds for other popular tags of the movement like "OWS" and simply "Occupy."

TV data is harder to come by, but anyone who has spent any time at Zuccotti Park over the last month can tell there are fewer TV operations than there were before. On Monday morning, there was just one satellite truck and a small handful of foreign camera crews.

Media watchers said all of these changes were to be expected in the context of what has been an extremely busy news year thus far.

"There's a lot of other things going on. This could just, instead of being front page news, be relegated ... further in the newspaper than the front page," said Brad Adgate, senior vice president of research at Horizon Media.

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