In an earlier incarnation as the editor of a weekly newspaper, I did everything in my power to prevent my reporters from covering demonstrations like the Occupy Wall Street protest now clotting the news.
It’s not that I opposed the right of the people to peaceably assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances. It’s just that my newspaper was published in Washington, D.C., where the list of scheduled demonstrations, picket lines, and budding riots would scroll off your page if you loaded it in your browser.
The agony of familiarity that deterred me from allowing my people to cover the Free Tibet protesters at the Chinese embassy or the abortion rights rally on the Mall or the Justice for Janitors drum-bangers outside a downtown office building didn’t sit well with my staff. In their eyes, my blanket disqualification made as much sense as banning coverage of new films, books, and records in the review sections, or prohibiting stories about political speeches. The book publisher—like the political demonstrator—wants publicity for his message. Why, my staff asked, should you let the publishers in every week and exclude the demonstrators?
Because even awful books are more compelling than your generic Washington demonstration, I would say, banging my ax on the floor. Having reviewed too many awful books since making that statement, I should probably refine the point, but you get my drift.
One of the appeals of covering a demonstration: it’s easy work. On many stories, the subjects don’t really want to talk to a reporter, or if they do, they spend their time and yours saying nothing. But walk into your average demo with a reporter’s notebook and the masses will fill its pages within minutes; the only problem you’ll have filing a story is deciding which characters or scenes to leave out. Nobody ever suffered writer’s block after attending a demo. Video journalists will tell you the same: It’s a cinch to shoot brilliant footage of a boulevard teeming with chanting, marching protesters.