Unrest in Oakland: Who’s On The Case?

    by Lisa Williams
    January 9, 2009

    My friend and fellow citizen-journalism thinker Amy Gahran once asked, "Was Zapruder a journalist?" Zapruder’s home-movie camera captured the famous footage of the assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in Dallas, TX.

    If your answer to that question is yes, then there were an untold number of journalists on the Oakland BART train platform on New Year’s Day, where they pointed increasingly ubiquitous pocket-size video cameras toward Oscar Grant and BART transit police officer Johannes Mehserle.


    The videos these onlookers took show the chilling final interaction between Grant and Mehserle, which left Grant dead, and Oakland in a state of high alert as protesters took to the streets. Clashes with the police have resulted in over 100 arrests.


    Oakland is a city exceptionally well-served by placeblogs, but as I scanned them today, many either remain on a particularly poorly timed holiday hiatus, taking advantage of the traffic lull many such sites endure over the Christmas-New Year holiday.

    My friend and colleague Susan Mernit recently reviewed the Oakland local media’s response to the shooting of Oscar Grant and concluded that they’ve flunked.

    I too was surprised at the dearth of local coverage of the shooting and the protests on independent Oakland sites. Oakland itself is fairly well supplied with placeblogs, but when I reviewed their feeds over the week I wasn’t seeing much.

    It was odd enough that I went looking, which is when I found what I believe to be the one standout in the Oakland independent local site scene on the Grant shooting, and that’s Oakland Focus.

    My current theory, gleaned from loading Placeblogger’s feed each day and doing the work buffing up and adding blogs to new metros, is that once a city is above a certain size placebloggers don’t attempt to replace what they perceive as the work of traditional media outlets. But as newsrooms at papers, local television affiliates, and radio stations continue to dwindle, the "news hole" that characterizes most American suburbs that are covered only thinly by chain weeklies, and rural areas, which may not be covered at all, is extending into major American cities — like Oakland.

    It’s that very atmosphere that may embolden the writers and creators of local sites once they come upon the realization that depending on the day, the story, the neighborhood, they may not be competing with Goliath: they may have no competition at all.

    This was not the case with the Grant shooting, but I can easily imagine the day when the attention from the San Jose Mercury News and the San Francisco Chronicle recedes, and that will be a day like any other in Oakland: one with plenty of things to write about and with the web’s infinite news hole.

    Tagged: cameraphone citizen journalist oakland protesters
    • Hey Lisa,

      Our startup, DotSpots.com, is aiming to help all those citizen journalists upload their content directly in-context into anemic mainstream media stories in the form of “dots” that contain text, photos and videos.

      Each “dot” that is placed in a news story is then automatically distributed by Dotspots to all other relevant story.

      In this way a “citizen journalist” need only find any copy of the lacking mainstream story, attach her / his dot to it and watch it be placed on all other copies as they are ‘manufactured and syndicated’ by the mainstream media.

      What we hope will be the outcome is that instead of bypassing mainstream media and its huge reach, we create a platform for people improve it and make it informative again.

      Would love it if you signed up for our beta and told us what you think.



    • Farhad, I’m not sure I understand what it does, but I’m betting it’s one of those things that you “get” more quickly when you see it in action — and I’ll be taking a look!

      Thanks for letting me know about your project — LW

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