A young reporter got caught in the crosshairs of a chaotic scene in Lower Manhattan. John Farley (left) of WNET’s new online local news magazine, MetroFocus was at the Occupy Wall Street protests on September 24th. He had covered the demonstrations when they began a week earlier.
His story angle last weekend was citizen journalism, but Farley moments later would become the story. After cops allegedly shot pepper spray at two women, Farley approached them for an interview to find out what happened.
Despite using his reporter instincts, Farley found himself being busted for civil disobedience. Dozens were taken into custody and brought to the First Precinct.
While many citizen journalists were arrested, Farley contends that he was the only legitimate journalist to be handcuffed with plastic ties.
“[I was] surprised,” Farley tells FishbowlNY. “I pulled out my employee ID card and showed them my audio recorder.”
Farley, 24, made a last-ditch effort to remain free, telling the officer that he was with the press working as a reporter for WNET, and “please don’t arrest me.”
The reporter, who previously wrote for Pittsburgh-based popcity.com, would not give many details about the arrest because of the pending case.
“I was pushed up against a wall,” Farley says. “I wouldn’t say it was violent, but it was definitely forceful.”
Before being loaded onto the police van, Farley had a MetroFocus editor Heather Grossmann contact the NYPD’s Office of the Deputy Commissioner for Public Information. However, the request fell on deaf ears.
At that time, as police closed in on protestors, and any collateral damage, Farley was fearful.
“The scene was pretty terrifying.”
His colleague Sam Lewis was not arrested, though, she was “pushed up pretty forcibly against a car,” Farley recalls.
“It was very chaotic. There were lots and lots of people with cameras,” Farley says. “In a way, I think that what we’re seeing right now with Occupy Wall Street is… very confusing to know who’s the reporter and who’s the demonstrator.”
Caught in the whirlwind of pepper spray and pandemonium, Farley acknowledges that he did not obtain the proper press pass.
“I don’t have NYPD credentials because they have a lot of requirements and because Metro Focus is also a three-month old site, none of my [colleagues] have the necessary qualifications.”
“You have to have like six clips that show you cover breaking news,” MetroFocus editor-in-chief Laura van Straaten says.
However, MetroFocus concentrates on three sections for its Website: News, Culture, and Metrolife.
In the end, Farley was held in police custody for approximately nine hours, eight of which were spent in a jail cell.
Once behind bars, the frenetic situation desisted.
“It’s what you would expect in jail,” Farley says. “Jail is pretty boring and it’s cold.”
Split by gender, Farley estimates about 35 other men were in his cell.
Farley says his recorder, and other equipment, were confiscated prior to arrest. The items were later returned intact.
“Journalists come to the scene just like medical professionals would come to any scene,” van Straaten says. “They’re trained to kind of do what they do. It’s a big risk that John personally assumes.”
“As more people are doing the work of journalists because of all of the new technology, it’s harder and harder to tell who’s a reporter and what does that mean for the future of reporting,” Farley says.
If he had the chance to do it all over, Farley would make one critical alteration.
“I would probably be on the other side of the street.” Farley admits.
Farley is scheduled to appear in court on November 3rd.
Photo Credit: MetroFocus/Sam Lewis