Churning a Story, While Reporting the Little Apple

by Steed Dropout
February 21, 2012


Let’s say that Manhattan is the Big Apple, and Berkeley just a bite.

And let’s further say that the New York Times speaks for New York, while we, here at Berkeley Reporter, and at the Berkeley Daily Planet speak for Berkeley.

This is as close as BR will ever get to the Times, where they still manage to do journalism, while we are busy practicing churnalism, or as the co-founder of the international Occupy movement has characterized us — “crap.”

If you think the news you read is manufactured (Chomsky), or even invented (Mencken), you’ve found a home at BR. We admit it.

Churning a story defined: it’s when you contribute to a story you are covering in a way that alters the story. The motive: to inflate the story. Bigger stories read better than honestly paltry tales.

My last Planet piece covered, the popular performance artist, Billy Palen, and his alter-ego, Reverend Billy, who was here from the Big Apple for a conference at the university. He’s so big he stayed at the Faculty Club.

Famous Cafe Mediterraneum, home to many demos. Photo by Ted Friedman.


Rev. Billy, dressed in White, but giving himself away as a faux preacher (“never trust a man in white shoes,” he warned) worked up a crowd outside the Cafe Med last week, and led them to a Bank of America up the street — for an Occupy.

Only later, did I find out that most of the crowd, had been recruited on-line by Occupy Oakland.

Rev. Billy suggested we enter the BA lobby in groups of four. I entered in the first group, and immediately began taking photos in the lobby. On my way in, I told the security guard to “get backup.”

On anything but the National Enquirer, I would be fired for this.

Why would a reporter do such a thing?

The bank subsequently locked us in, and the demo out. That’s how I got the pic of Rev. Billy and his demo beating on the bank’s glass door. You could say I was rewarded for my misdeed.

When I re-joined the demo outside, I was immediately berated by a free-lance journalist covering the event. He had seen me speak to the guard, and noticed the doors had been locked, seemingly in response to my tip.

Churn this. Rev. Billy is seventh from left. BR is locked in the bank, shooting this, after tipping-off security guard. Photo by Ted Friedman.


“You say you heard what I said? Maybe you misheard,” I replied. Although I hadn’t been thinking ahead when I tipped the guard, I was way ahead of the kid.

“You wouldn’t need me to confirm what I said, if you had heard it. Maybe I was exchanging in pleasantries with the guard. I do (did) know him. “No, the kid, said he thought I had said something about police.”

The kid saw the guard thank me, and touch my shoulder. That drove the kid crazy.

Rev. Billy leading a block-the-secret-Bank of America vaults-movement last week, in Berkeley. Photo by Ted Friedman.

The kid was tiresome. He threatened to write this into his story, which he was submitting to Bay Citizen, which has ties to the New York Times. “Great,” I bluffed, I need their publicity.”

As the kid kept hounding me, I called him “an imbecile,” and advised him to do his own piece, but to stay out of my way. He took a lot of pictures of me, but left me alone.

I then shamelessly steered the demo back to the Cafe Med for lunch, where I could hog, and churn the story some more. Seated next to Rev. Billy, where I got great background, I felt cheap, and guileful.

After Rev. Billy left, I picked through his salad, and took the $5 magnifiers, he left behind, because I had stumbled, groggily, out of my apartment without my own.

I had no more to lose.

After the demo--back where it all started, Cafe Med. Salad, with its own table, right, BR picked over the salad remains. Photo by Ted Friedman.


I have used the Cafe Med many times for psychotherapy, and gotten relief.

This time, my confidants were a new friend, and an old friend, who joined us.

We all concluded, that my act was indefensible, but moot, since the story had not been influenced by me. Cops didn’t come, and Rev. Billy had doors shut him out on similar bank demos of the past.

Besides, as a street performer, Billy could turn anything to entertainment. Whether cops came, or doors shut, or a local reporter churned his story — it was all grist for Billy’s mill.

Two days later, I got my “medical report” from Dr. Tim, a disabled former ER doc, who sometimes is vicious, especially when you can’t take his calls, because you are a “self-important” reporter, on deadline.

Dr. Tim Vicious said that I had a serious personality disorder — Borderline — was seriously ill, and would undoubtedly seriously commit suicide, perhaps to confirm his diagnosis. That I had never tried suicide, was irrelevant to him.

I was not only impulsive, but I was deluded to even call myself a reporter. He’s never read me, but he knows all about it. A journalist, according to Vicious, has an M.A. in journalism from a top journalism school (but not the University of Illinois where I studied journalism), and ten years experience on a major newspaper.

The more he prattled on, the better I felt. It was like all the bawling-outs I’d gotten as a kid. After awhile, the scalding rebuke flows over me like soothing water.

Some on-line browsing convinces me, I can curb my impulsive behavior if I try real hard, using self-help strategies. Dr. Vicious says I’m in no position to help myself.

But as I told him, I would find it difficult to live without the entertainment my life is becoming.

Steed Dropout, as Ted Friedman, has been churning things up at the Berkeley Daily Planet, since 2007. He has an M.A. in Creative Arts (writing), SF State, and a B.S. in Communications from Illinois (Champaign).

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