Covering Occupy Oakland/May Day General Strike @ Oakland Local

It’s 10:15 on May 1st.  At 8:30 am, I started getting materials ready for Oakland Local’s team to cover the Occupy Oakland General strike. With three people in the field, and 3 volunteers in the office, OL managed to pump out more than 300 photos, 60 tweets from the scene, and 3-5 articles, depending on how you count the updates to the stories. We’ll be filing more stories tomorrow, including some reflection/opinion pieces from the reporters, who are welcoming a chance to share some impressions now that May Day is (almost) over.

How did we manage to create content that was picked up and carried across the country with a team that’s part-time, could definitely be better paid, and was 50% volunteer?

Or–to put it another way–how come we keep doing this work when the calls for support for funding our Occupy Oakland coverage-which probably more than 6,000 people read today, if previous stats mean anything–didn’t even net us contributions to cover the way too small sum we spent on our hard-working reporters?

Part of what keeps me working at making Oakland Local work is the pride I have in the talented team.  We have a number of people–our managing editor and several reporters among them–who’ve worked with Oakland Local for more than 2 years (we’re 2.6 years old).
These people tell me they stay with OL because they believe in what we’re doing and think it can work–and they thing our reporting and trainings are making a difference in Oakland.

To me, that sense of dedication was evident in the reporters we had out there today. Our team started at 10 am, covered more than 3 actions and marches all over the city, came into our workspace and filed and dumped photos so volunteers could process their work, then went back out and kept working late into the night. Unlike the folks at the mainstream media outlet when went off shift and were done for the night,our team chose to keep going right till the last policeman moved people out of Frank Ogawa Plaza.

As the editor/publisher of this enterprise, this is a great moment to reflect not only on the good work we did, but on how Oakland Local motivates people.  With the late-night,woozy haze of a glass of wine and post half-watching a movie, some reflections:

People on the team choose to work here.  OL doesn’t pay well enough that people who are unhappy, feel misunderstood or unappreciated have incentives to stay. In a way, it’s a zero sum game–if it works for you, you enjoy it. If it doesn’t, you split.

People on the team know their work has impact and makes a difference. In such a flat organization, people are appreciated for what they can do–and they can make substantial contributions fairly quickly.  One of our newer reporters, who has a flair for social media, has incredibly enhanced our work by live-tweeting from the field, for example.

We try to have a play to your strengths environment. You do video, you like to live tweet? You’re all about data visualization?  Because OL is about shared and mutual incentives, we try to support and use the skills and passions people have, as well as help them learn new things.

We haz food.  Yep, food. I’m positive that our reporting team did such a good job, in part, today because when they came back for lunch, as we’d arranged, they found trays of Vietnamese sandwiches (including a vegan one for the vegan), fruit, salad, home made smoked trout salad, crackers, cold cuts, a fruit smoothie, soft drinks, beer, chips and energy bars.  This food a) gave them some more energy  b) showed them people cared and valued what they were doing.

We’re all invested in what we do.  Yes, we’re all proud of Oakland Local. We’re proud of what we do even as we wish it paid more, swear it needs to pay us more, and wonder when it will. The money’s not so great, but the human capital and the pride are valuable–as is the resume credential for many of our writers.