Lest anyone think CNBC is a nonstop cheerleader for American business, there was a counter demonstration this week. The network set up a podium in the heart of the Occupy Wall Street protest in lower Manhattan, inviting one and all to step up and explain their frustrations.
A camera streamed the protesters’ commentary live and unedited for hours on CNBC.com. The CNBC “Speakers Corner” gave each speaker the appearance of holding a personal press conference for several minutes.
It was a remarkably enlightening play by CNBC. With the emerging story, traditional news coverage can only go so far in attempting to get at the motivations of the protesters -- time and space constraints often yield a reliance on sound bites.
The unfiltered online stream, however, provided insight into their frustrations and reasons for spending the day – or days – mulling around the park off Wall Street. It put a face on the movement by a self-described “99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.”
And, it allowed CNBC.com visitors a chance to assess their arguments and evaluate whether they are part of an absurd fringe group or one they can relate to.
“Television is linear,” said Meredith Stark, the vice president and executive producer of CNBC.com. “They have to choose what are we going to do now, next and next. Because of the nature of the Web site, we can cover all of this.”
The genesis of the live feed came as CNBC.com’s Stark struggled to find a way to wrap her arms around the multi-faceted story and provide a “clear narrative on what was on people’s minds.”
So, producer Alex Crippen was sent to the sit-in to set up the Speakers Corner, while posing three questions to the participants:
-“Who are you?”
-“Why are you here?”
-“What do you want?”
What resulted was sort of a Twitter feed with volume, without a 140-character limit, as Stark pointed out.
“I was concerned that it was going to be one type of person, one type of point of view, and we have seen an incredibly diverse group here,” Stark said as Monday's feed continued.
There were men in suits, a taxi driver, children. And while there were random messages -- from a need for net neutrality to encouraging further investigation of 9/11 -- an overarching theme was the expected: financial greed is rampant and corrosive.
A Columbia Ph.D. candidate said “income disparities hurt everyone, including the rich.”
An “international model” said her visit to the sit-in “really showed if we get together and people start to protest and voice their opinions, something will be done.”
Then, there was David Intrator, who owns an advertising and marketing firm in New York, and has done work for multiple financial institutions, including Chase and Barclays. He said companies would benefit from an economy where more people prospered.
“It is in our interest as business people for people to have jobs, to spend, to increase demand … for corporations to be able to maintain their legitimacy as institutions because they are facing a crisis of legitimacy,” he said.
The scene did bring a striking contrast: people railing against banks at a podium with the CNBC logo -- while the CNBC network reported on share prices of Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase surging on Monday. “Bruce,” a professor at New York’s City College, at one point suggested financial regulations have failed and there may be a need to “nationalize some of the bigger banks.”
CNBC.com’s Stark said the protests are an important global financial story and CNBC is a news organization, which has always "been about the democratization of the market.”
CNBC could have hit the mute button during the streaming, but as of about 2:30 p.m. Monday hadn't gone to it. Sometimes the best way to cover a story is to just get out of its way. Web streaming is an ideal venue for that.