A narrative non-fiction feature on the Occupy Wall Street movement and the occupation of Zucotti Park, by Niko Bell.
Published in The Dalhousie Gazette
What I Changed
Up until this project, The Dalhousie Gazette had never sent a reporter outside Nova Scotia. Occasionally, a travelling student would report back with some travel-diary from another country, but it was generally assumed a student newspaper couldn’t handle the oversight and coordination required to deal with foreign correspondents. I changed that.
Four Days Occupied is the narrative non-fiction product of sending two reporters and a photographer to New York during the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Dalhousie Gazette was one of the only newspapers to produce first-hand, primary source reporting during the protests’ final days leading up to the eviction.
As editor-in-chief of the paper, I recognized the need to ensure this coverage represented the Gazette and personally oversaw all coverage in coordination with the news and photo editors. I arranged for travel, established coverage plans, found reporters who could both make the trip and produce what I envisioned for the final piece: daily coverage, photos, and a long-form piece from inside the protest movement. This involved arranging compensation and expenses.
Once back, a week before deadline remained to get the long-form piece written. I helped edit the product quickly so that layout had time to arrange it properly in the paper. This ended up following a Waterfall model, but I budgeted as much time as possible for iterating on the piece, allowing us one round of changes in the short time available. This ensured we got basic attribution and names correct and helped provide a bit more structure to the article.
What I Learned
This project required light-speed collaboration and management throughout. The opportunity arose very quickly and I had to make quick decisions about who to send. I learned a lot about selling a coverage plan to the paper’s staff and mitigating concerns about the ambitious approach. I also learned how to brief reporters to ensure the original vision we set out with was what we received.
I still look back at this project as how I learned to operate in Waterfall management. There could only be one iteration in New York–the vision had to be clear before setting out. Check-ins during the travel were difficult due to lack of internet access in the protest zone.
Once the piece came in, I had to focus my editing on what could be achieved in the time available. I learned to both edit under pressure and to target the most critical issues on a single pass, rather than try to rework the piece. This allowed the piece to be produced on time and to the vision both me and the writer shared.