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Live From The Financial District

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San Francisco has a new breed of journalist: the protest livestreamer.

Most mornings I start off my day off clicking through several local news sites. But on Friday, January 20th, my normal web-surfing routine took a two-hour detour.

After scanning the local news stories on Bay Citizen, I clicked onto SFist, which featured a lead story, "Occupy Wall Street West Plans Day Of Disruption, Activism In S.F." Editor Brock Keeling had included an embedded Ustream link to live coverage of the protest by someone using the twitter handle @pixplz. Turns out the livestream was from an San Francisco State University Journalism teacher Justin Beck 'reporting live' from the protest.

But this wasn't the usual 40-second on-the-scene report, Justin is panning his camera in all directions with his color commentary to give us an impression of the full scene as the protest unfolds.

First, we see the organized protestors chained to the entrance of a Wells Fargo building. Second, we see the wet and huddled, albeit still fashionably well-heeled, employees waiting to be let into the building. Next, Justin's camera pans to the police gathered, and presumably, waiting for further instructions.

The tension is palpable (even for a viewer, still comfortably lounging at home, sipping coffee). One wonders what will happen next. It's riveting to watch in the moment as the encounters between protesters and employees and police unfold. I can't turn away, I'm totally sucked in by the drama of the situation.

The minutes pass, the view count updating every few seconds shows @pixplz has just over 70 viewers now. Justin is receiving chat messages and tweets. He is answering questions about what he is seeing at the moment, he reads aloud a message from one of his viewers, "'Employees standing in the rain, can they get in?'" and responds, "No, they cannot get in because occupiers have blocked all the doors. They've blocked all the entrances to this building as you may have seen a few moments ago. I walked all the way around the building and as far I could tell, there was no way to get into the building."

Off-camera we hear a woman explain to Justin the irony of her situation. She is trying to get into the protester-blocked building for a job interview. He asks if she'd be willing to be interviewed but she declines. Our cameraman sympathetically responds, "I am also underemployed. Hoping that changes soon. We'll see. Anyway, I'd just like to thank everyone for watching. "

The camera pans back to the employees on the corner, and as Justin walks towards them he pleads, "I really wish somebody would talk. I just feel like, I don't know... I just feel like I want somebody to say something."

He addresses the employee crowd en masse, "Any 1-percenters want to give an interview? No. Anybody want to give an interview? ...Do you agree with this action? Disagree with it? Do you want to talk about Wells Fargo, the financial crisis, fraudulent mortgages, fraudulent evictions, millions of foreclosures? Anybody want to comment on that?" He persists, "How about bankers getting millions in bonuses while millions of people get kicked out of their houses and lose their jobs?... Do you know anybody who has lost their home to foreclosure? Do you know anyone who has lost their job in the economic meltdown? Do you care about any of this?"

The employees look away. It's apparent they hear Justin's questions but are unwilling to answer. Some of them turn to hide behind umbrellas, some shuffle off out of camera view. This goes on for a few minutes. The tension mounts, as the viewer count grows, now up to 80. (See Ustream archived video from 27:30 to 30:30 for Justin's encounter with employees.)

Justin walks further down the street to check out the scene on the other side of the building. He meets freelance photojournalist Steve Rhodes, aka @tigerbeat and they exchange a few words. He heads over to the Bank of America branch nearby where another set of protestors are using the 'mic check' method of amplifying their protest message. There are performance artists, perhaps a Martha Graham-inspired blob making its way along the sidewalk.

By the time I must log off and head to work around 9:30am, the view count has risen above 150. When I return home, I hop back online. @pixplz has logged off but he has archived 11 of his streams throughout the day.

Protest media coverage has risen to new heights. No longer must we rely on summary news reports or snippets of YouTube video to see how police confrontations unfold. Now, the protest livestreamer is here.

Since @pixplz has logged off, I now tune into two other protest livestreamers @MikeQtips and @punkboyinsf who are at the old Cathedral Hill Hotel. The suspense builds as we await to the police to confront the trespassers. What happens next, you can read about it or watch for yourself.

For more information about Justin Beck, you can check out his SFSU profileor his website. Photos of @pixplz and his ustream can be found here. Photo Credit: Justin Beck on Ustream from @OaktownPirate.