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Occupy Chicago Tribune cofounder | Interview

Joel Handley discusses reconciling activism and journalism

Photograph: Allison Williams
Chicago 12/8/11Occupy Chicago Tribune co-founder Joel Handley hands out copies of the newly printed publication near the Chicago Board of Trade.

As the Occupy movement has grown, so too have its media projects. After Occupy Wall Street launched The Occupied Wall Street Journal, several other cities followed suit with publications offering an inside view of the demonstrations. Last week came the four broadsheet pages of issue No. 1 of the Occupied Chicago Tribune, which is not affiliated with the Trib. Cofounder Joel Handley, 25, assistant editor for In These Times and a graduate of Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, talked about what the mainstream media usually gets wrong, the pros of a paper pub and the intersection of journalism and activism.

Why is it important for the Occupy movement to have its own publication?
The mainstream press consistently ignores the problems that have caused the Occupy movement to begin. Articles will say things like, “Demonstrators protest what they see as growing wealth inequality,” as if the divide between the rich and the poor hasn’t measurably increased for the past 40 years. It’s absurd to cover verifiable facts like income disparity and corporate influence in politics as if they are he-said-she-said opinions.

Occupy is kept nimble by the quickness of social media and blogs. What can a printed publication add?
We plan to use Occupied Chicago Tribune as an outreach tool to introduce the movement to people outside of the online Occupy network. We want to take a step back…to see how Occupy ties into the bigger issues afflicting Chicago. Issue No. 1 features an article about the consequences of Mayor Emanuel’s 2012 budget, write-ups of local Occupy sites and a map so readers can find them, articles from progressive luminaries like Naomi Klein, and information on how readers can get involved.

OCT’s staff is made up of activist-journalists. Will participation in the movement you’re covering curb your ability to take a critical look?
We’ll definitely criticize Occupy if necessary. Participating and reporting—I can really only see that combination as a strength and something that’s going to help us report. We’ll be down in it and we’ll know the competing desires, actions and ideas involved in this very broad movement.

The OCT logo looks similar to the Chicago Tribune’s T. Are you worried about legal issues?
I can see a slight similarity, but as soon as people read our content there’s no way they’ll confuse the two papers.

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