New Media Plays Central Role in Coverage of Campus Protest

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Friday's occupation of Wheeler Hall was marked by more than just confrontations between students and police throughout the 12-hour stand-off.

Many UC Berkeley students joined the crowd, which assembled outside Wheeler Hall, after hearing developments from friends. Campus administrators meanwhile followed the occupiers' activities, and videos of alleged police brutality were seen by a worldwide audience.

Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and other new media chronicled the day, providing up-to-date information in a way never seen before on campus to such a large extent­-a sharp contrast to the days when accounts of campus protests were confined to print media.

"I think they were great ways of getting people there," said Will Heegaard, a UC Berkeley sophomore who was one of the occupiers of Wheeler Hall. "Once people got there was when they really got wrapped up in why (the occupation) was going on."

Claire Holmes, associate vice chancellor of communications and public affairs, said the administration realized the potential of new media after following occupiers' tweets.

"I found it helpful to understand their perspective and their experience inside the room," she said. "It became very clear to us that we had not taken advantage of that kind of a tool to give a quick status to people."

But Holmes added that some reports the protesters made on Twitter were inaccurate, which raises questions about possible dangers new media could pose.

"The question that I have around these tools is that they can also perpetuate incorrect information quickly and then you have to spend a lot of time correcting that," she said.

Joan Bieder a professor at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism said reporters also used Twitter to cover the story, which improved the media coverage for the public.

"Reporters were filing their breaking news stories to their Web site to keep their audience informed continuously and immediately," she said in an e-mail. "Such immediacy on issues of interest pulls more and more people into social groups at critical moments."

Other students said they appreciated the way that Twitter allowed the occupiers to reach out to the community.

"It was fantastic the way they were trying to engage those who were supporting them" said Kate Maich, a UC Berkeley graduate student.

Neil Henry, dean of the journalism school, said in an e-mail that the coverage of the strike reflected larger trends in the way people are getting their news, as was the case recently during Iran's disputed presidential election.

"Social media tools are becoming increasingly useful and powerful conveyors of news and information, much of it provided by citizens who are either involved in the news events, or observing it," Henry said.

Zach E.J. Williams of The Daily

Californian contributed to this report.

Tags: FACEBOOK, TWITTER, NOVEMBER STRIKE


Contact Hannah Edwards at [email protected]



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