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Gawker: How Occupy Wall Street Cost Me My Job


Joining the Occupy Wall Street protests has its dangers. You could get pepper-sprayed or end up in handcuffs. Or, as Brooklyn-based journalist Caitlin Curran explains, your boss could see a photo of you holding up a sign at a protest and fire you the next day.

-by Caitlin Curran

October 28, 2011- It all started with an article on The Atlantic's web site. Conor Friedersdorf's piece "Occupy Wall Street's Greatest Strength Is Neutering It," echoed what many people are wondering about the movement: what are they fighting for?

Friedersdorf criticized the Occupy movement for rallying against a symbolic, abstract Wall Street—"the average American's idea of Wall Street," rather than against specific people, regulations, or the board at Goldman Sachs, for example. The case against symbolic Wall Street is much weaker than the one against actual Wall Street, Friedersdorf wrote. Occupy supporters shouldn't focus on the impossible debate about whether or not Wall Street is good or evil, but instead should ask concrete questions, like whether regulations should exist for derivatives of mortgaged-backed securities. The Occupy movement has attracted many supporters who blame "Wall Street" for the present state of our economy. But for many people that's a confusing argument. Friedersdorf summed it up:

Figuring out precisely how to feel about Occupy Wall Street or ‘We are the 53 Percent' is difficult for many. Much easier to decide that it's wrong to create a mortgage-backed security filled with loans you know are going to fail so that you can sell it to a client who isn't aware that you sabotaged it by intentionally picking the misleadingly rated loans most likely to be defaulted upon.

My boyfriend, Will, and I decided to take Friedersdorf's words and use them, perhaps more literally than he intended. We printed them out, taped them to poster board, and headed to the Occupy Wall Street march in Times Square, on October 15. The plan was for Will to hold the sign, and for me to observe what happened and post reports to my personal Twitter account. (Video of Will attracting attention with the sign before I did is on your right, or click here to watch it.) But, inevitably, Will developed sign-holding fatigue, and I took over momentarily. I was standing beneath a news ticker near West 43rd Street and Broadway, and people began cheering as a headline about the movement scrolled across the ticker. I looked up, and at that moment a photographer took a photo of me holding the sign, and posted it to Twitter shortly thereafter.

The next day, Boing Boing co-editor Xeni Jardin posted the photo as the site's Occupy Wall Street sign of the day, the post circulated around Tumblr, Friedersdorf himself saw it and wrote about it, as did Felix Salmon at Reuters, who called me "one of those protestors that photographers dream of" and the sign "true, and accurate, and touching, and grammatical, and far too long to be a slogan, and gloriously bereft of punctuation, and ending even more gloriously in a mildly archaic preposition."

Beyond that, Salmon noted, the sign's internet notoriety showed that there was something about it that resonated with people. Which was really the whole point of why we made the sign, and of Friedersdorf's piece.

I thought all of this could be fodder for an interesting segment on The Takeaway—a morning news program co-produced by WNYC Radio and Public Radio International—for which I had been working as a freelance web producer roughly 20 hours per week for the past seven months. I pitched the idea to producers on the show, in an e-mail.

The next day, The Takeaway's general manager fired me over the phone, effective immediately. He was inconsolably angry, and said that I had violated every ethic of journalism, and that this should be a "teaching moment" for me in my career as a journalist. The segment I had pitched, of course, would not happen. Ironically, the following day Marketplace did pretty much the exact segment I thought would have been great on The Takeaway, with Kai Ryssdal discussing the sign and the Goldman Sachs deal it alluded to in terms that were far from neutral.

FULL STORY HERE:

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