[The Other 99. Foreground: reporter, videographer Tim Pool; background: Henry Ferry]
I first spotted Tim Pool on Nov. 4, in New York, amid the unfolding events at Zuccotti Park. He was wearing a Voltaic backpack with a solar-charger and high-capacity battery for powering a cell phone. (He has since upgraded to the $150 Energizer XPAL, 1.8-amp battery that sustains a day of continuous video streaming.) The 25-year-old Pool revealed deep insider knowledge of the scene at the place where Occupy Wall Street activists were gathered. He knew about the new General Union, formed by the maligned hardcore campers fom the western “ghetto” end of the park as an alternative to the well-known General Assembly. About a week later, a prominent member of the General Assembly’s PR team still barely knew about it.
About two weeks later, Pool had become world (wide web) famous. He captured much of the early morning raid and diaspora from Occupy Wall Street’s Manhattan encampment, staying on and webcasting for most of the 20 hours straight he spent covering the event. His video stream drew more than 20,000 simultaneous viewers and 250,000 unique visitors throughout the course of the day. It was also rebroadcast by Al Jazeera English and other outlets. Pool stayed mostly on for 12-and-a-half hours during the string of protests on Nov. 17 and drew 737,000 unique viewers.
In terms of on-the-ground coverage–it’s the most compelling kind for events like this, really–Pool and the budding media company he’s part of, The Other 99, has been cleaning the mainstream media’s clock (he has been featured by MSNBC, Time Magazine, NPR, and others). Even the police are watching, according to comments by Pool himself–he described passing by a group of officers during a recent march, one of whom looked at him and said to his colleague, “That’s the live stream.”
Pool and his partner Henry Ferry are doing more with $500 Samsung Galaxy S II phones on Sprint’s 4G Network than TV networks can muster with thousands of dollars of gear, satellite trucks, pretty anchors, and helicopters. CBS News’s UStream, for example, offers an unfiltered feed from its eye in the sky. But the CBS feed has often felt like a mere complement to Pool’s on-the-ground coverage. (Plus, Pool and Ferry hope to get flying video drones that would augment their coverage–read on). On Nov. 17th, for example, when Pool was among thousands who first gathered at Foley Square in Manhattan then walked over the Brooklyn Bridge, the helicopter pilot on the CBS Ustream searched for the right shot, panned around the city randomly, and talked to a person presumably back in some studio about his wife’s prowess for holiday tree decorating.
On Nov. 18, the day after the Foley Square and Brooklyn Bridge events, Pool sat down for a chat but had to keep breaking away–for a phone interview with The New York Times, at one point. Then we spoke as he simultaneously hosted a chat on alt-culture website Reddit. He also read a few of his 300 emails, including one from a fan who thought he should win a Pulitzer, another from a book agent, and one from a woman who wrote, “You probably get a lot of these, but I think you’re real cute.”
As well as being the eyes of OWS, Pool has also been the voice–providing all-day narrative, spontaneous interviews, and dialog with viewers who comment on his UStream site. He is best when the action heats up. His voice raises in pitch. He catches himself getting excited, but he never quite gets wrapped up. (Even as he walked ahead of the thousands making their way from Union Square to Foley Square Nov. 17, and the march passed tony stores on West Broadway where one-percenter types were shopping, Pool could be heard warning them: “Careful, there’s a lot of people coming,” he said.
He constantly keeps his viewers up to date and shares his location, a practice some say they find repetitive over a long stretch of time, but it’s perfect if you’ve just tuned in, which more and more viewers have. He’s up front about the raw nature of his facts and tries to later check them. He’ll stop and interview random people about what they’ve seen then try to qualify that, too. Occasionally, he even turns the camera on himself.
Young, handsome, and gregarious, Pool is the face of the newly spouted media operation. He’s the one grabbing the attention of more established, glossier media (including this one). But the full story of the startup comes from its founder, Henry Ferry.
Were it not for their shared passion to tell the Occupy story, it seems unlikely that Pool and Ferry would have met. As a foil to Pool’s scruffy, skate-punk persona (Pool was making skateboarding instructional videos before joining OWS), Ferry beams a classic image of yuppie corporate America–tall and stocky, with thick brown hair parted to the side, horned-rim glasses and his ever-present necktie. While not in the 1%, he was closer than most people. “I had a six-figure job,” he said. “It was a charmed life.” He never slept in Zuccotti Park.
Unlike Pool, who has been a videographer, a nonprofit web developer, and even a robot-building hacker, Ferry is a n00b. “I didn’t have Twitter. I didn’t have Facebook. I didn’t have MySpace,” he explained.
His importance in The Other 99 operation might never have surfaced had he not been the one to keep talking while Pool wolfed down a turkey sandwich at Café Bravo a few blocks from the cleared Zuccotti Park around 9:30 p.m.–and then promptly put his head down and fell asleep.
In April, 31-year-old Ferry lost his job as a sales manager for an academic publisher. (Prior to that, he’d been a Realtor.) He went to Zuccotti Park after hearing about Occupy Wall Street on the first day, Saturday, Sept. 17.
When he saw the conditions–broke students in a then-desolate park–he began a fundraising campaign, announced on liberal website The Daily KOS, asking for donations of a symbolic $9.17. In less than nine hours, he reached his goal of $1,000. (He went on to raise another $9,000.) Ferry handed out umbrellas, Band-Aids, socks, prepaid phone cards and cell phones, and many other items.
He also bought cables, memory cards, and batteries for the Global Revolution livestreaming video team. Ferry himself started shooting on the 17th, from his iPhone 4. And he was one of the few people to capture the first arrests, on day four.
Videos like that motivated Tim Pool to leave his home in Newport News, Virginia, and join Occupy Wall Street on its fourth day, September 20. Pool and Ferry met sometime the first week (neither remembers exactly when), and they began working together, shooting video as The Other 99.
The perplexing name was recycled from Ferry’s project, A Conversation with The Top 1%. In a mock panel discussion, he introduced himself as one of “the other 99 percent.” The elite was represented by an empty chair with the nametag “The Top 1%.” Ferry invited anyone to take the chair and explain the opposing view, and three passersby actually did.
Ferry also appears in an uncaptioned photo in a slideshow on New York Magazine‘s website about well-dressed protestors. “I wear the necktie so people will come talk to me,” said Ferry, to challenge the dirty-hippy image of the protesters.
The Other 99 first influenced national news when Ferry received a MicroSD card from the cell phone of an anonymous source who had been on the march to Union Square on September 24. On it was the now-infamous video of NYPD officer Anthony Bologna (aka Tony Baloney) pepper-spaying two seemingly harmless women.
One of them was Chelsea Elliott, a designer who had helped Ferry with a project. “When I saw the video I definitely felt that level of culpability,” said Ferry. Because he had left Elliott at the march so he could post video from Zuccotti Park. “She got pepper sprayed, I didn’t.”
Pool and Ferry also won notoriety by streaming from the Times Square occupation on the Oct. 15 international day of action and from an assembly later that night in Washington Square that ended in arrests. They were excited about what had been record simultaneous viewership for them up to that point–1,600 viewers (and about 7,000 for the whole day). They also broadcast from the first two days of demonstrations that became Occupy D.C. on Oct. 6 and 7.
How reliable are journalists who began as activists? Pool addresses the issue by stating upfront his bias toward the movement. But his goal is to show everything. During the Zuccotti eviction, for example, Pool spied people letting the air out of the tires on police vehicles. The vandals and others demanded he stop videoing, but Pool continued. “Day one, transparency has been our principle of solidarity,” he said. “And if you break this, you are not part of this movement.”
Ferry claims that he’s been strictly a journalist since day 10 of the Occupation. “I was a chanter,” he said. “All that stopped when I decided to start a media company.”
Ferry uses the word “startup” to describe The Other 99. He sees it as not merely a project, but a business. And they already have an office, about a 50-square-foot space that they rent for just over $1,000 per month at wework, a co-working space in SoHo.
As a business, they need revenue to sustain the operations and pay the staff–currently four full-time volunteers: Pool, Ferry, 25-year-old Will McLeod, who mostly runs the site’s blog, and 23-year-old Alec Pomnichowski, their creative director. All four were unemployed before beginning their volunteer operation. (Ferry at least has severance from his last job.)
[The Other 99’s cramped office space, with Will McLeod (foreground) and Henry Ferry]
Ferry’s goal is to survive mostly on small donations from citizens, so they are not beholden to big funders. They have collected over $25,000 for the media operation so far. Most donations are around $25; the largest has been $500.
But relying on small donations may not be realistic. Pulling in significant money is tricky for a company started in a movement founded as a reaction to corporate greed. Still, large grants and even advertising are possibilities, say Ferry and Pool. “We would take anonymous gifts if there is no input on our reporting,” explained Ferry. What about sponsorship from Sprint, whose wireless network they are using? “I’m 50/50 on that,” said Pool.
Pool and Ferry also debate charging for re-use of clips from their massive video archive. For nonprofit activist Pool, the concept is antithetical. (He wants to organize the videos into an interactive timeline of the movement.) Businessman Ferry thinks charging media outlets for use of the video could be a good idea.
The best way to provide objectivity, says Ferry, is to be relentless fact-checkers. “This is a fact-based resource,” he said. While reporting from a protest near Mayor Bloomberg’s home on Nov. 20, for example, Pool first took a statement from a woman who identified herself as Mary DeBlaise, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s office. Pool then thought out loud that he shouldn’t trust what she said unless she could provide a business card, which she couldn’t. He eventually determined that her last name was Notari, and she was probably pulling a prank.
But they have to balance thoroughness with the imperative to report quickly. “You need to be first,” said Ferry. “Because that will be used as the source, especially in the age of the retweet.”
What comes next for The Other 99? Quite a lot, at least based on their ambitions. Pool continues to cover the marches that occupy sites around Manhattan, such as the Brooklyn Bridge and the neighborhood around Mayor Bloomberg’s home. And both men plan to follow Occupy-related issues and events, such as campaigns to change the capital-gains tax in the U.S., the strike planned for Dec. 12 in Oakland, and the May 15 G8 meeting planned for Tim Pool’s hometown Chicago. They just bought the domain name theother99.tv.
They also want to beef up coverage of other occupations. In addition to tapping the organization’s stringers around the country, Pool is raising funds for a project called The Occumentary, a kind of Truman Show road trip, continuously livestreaming a cross-country trek to as many occupations as he can reach.
Over the weekend, they received another $500 donation, specifically to purchase an AR Drone, a smartphone-controlled mini helicopter with a wireless web cam. With it, they can provide aerial coverage for a tiny fraction of what big media spends.
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[Images: Sean Captain]