According to a City Room blog entry that appeared yesterday on NYTimes.com, a New York Times reporter was out and about in Manhattan on Friday, March 14, when he saw three young men hanging up posters for Rocko’s new album Self Made. Obviously this type of street promotion (which according to my knowledge, Steve Rifkind is the pioneer of) is an old school tactic that labels still use to build awareness for an album. The actual effectiveness of such a campaign is highly debatable in this era of digital record sales, but that’s a marketing and promotion conversation, and I don’t want to stray too far off topic here.
The reporter, knowing that hanging up posters on public property like lampposts is illegal in New York, sensed a story unfolding right before his eyes, and decided to start taking pictures of the signs with the Rocko promotional posters attached to them. The Times reporter, David W. Dunlap, writes,
“After about two minutes, one man asked me why I was taking pictures. ‘Because what you’re doing is illegal,’ I replied. He answered, ‘Breaking cameras is illegal, too, but if you don’t stop taking pictures, I’ll break your camera.’ He modified ‘camera’ with an adjective I am not permitted to repeat here. I identified myself as a reporter from The Times. ‘I’ll break your camera,’ he said, using that adjective again, ‘and you can print that in your paper.’ I distinctly remember thinking, ‘No, I can’t.’ Then, rather than antagonize him further, I started taking pictures of the poster-covered scaffold pipes across Broadway. The approach came so swiftly, I cannot even say whether it was from in front or behind. But I do remember a furious face inches away from mine as the man said he had warned me not to take any more pictures. The next few minutes are — as they say — a blur. I was suddenly on my back on the sidewalk, near the curb, trying to hold on to my camera and fend off my assailant, with my right leg pressed against his chest.”
Dunlap goes on to cite many eyewitnesses from the scene who say his Nikon D40 camera was snatched from him and then smashed on the ground. Luckily, the camera’s memory card was able to remain intact and he salvaged the pictures. He says he doesn’t have much in the way of injuries except a bruise on his right knee, and that he won’t press charges. He also notes that he doesn’t feel like much force was used beyond what the street team member needed to wrestle the camera away from him. So it’s not like dude was just intentionally looking to whup his ass or anything like that.
My thing is this, having been on both sides (yes, I, a journalist, have actually illegally hung up posters myself at one point in time, shame on me), I can see why the street team member insisted on snatching the camera away and smashing it on the floor. Things just get like that when you know you’re out in the street doing something you’re not supposed to do. Regardless, you’ve got a job to do, and it’s not like the laws that govern regular people and corporations apply to the music business. Right or wrong, they just don’t. This is a “by any means necessary” type of game, and in order to succeed, you gotta walk it and live it. I imagine anyone who’s out in the street hanging up major label posters on a cold Friday night in New York, is an intern or at the very least someone not that high up on the food chain (I could be wrong though). They’re in this music game to get rich or die trying. How dare you take pictures of their illegal handiwork when he warned you not to? Shame on you, New York Times reporter!
At the same time, let’s be real here. Is a poster hanging up on a lamppost going to affect the marketing and promotion of Rocko’s album that incrementally that one needs to resort to barbarian-like tactics to make sure it actually gets done? Yeah, the reporter provoked the situation by not listening to the street team member and continuing to take pictures. As a reporter, that’s actually his job, just like the street team’s job is to hang up posters. So either way, that night someone wasn’t going to get their respective job done. Or the street team member could have just continued on doing his job while the pictures were snapped. What’s the worst thing that could happen, the reporter publishes them in the paper? It’s not like anyone actually takes newspapers seriously anymore. No harm, no foul. Then again, maybe a simple conversation between the two of you might have ended the beef right there. It would probably go something like this.
Street team member: Hey, why are you taking pictures?
Reporter: Because it’s illegal.
Street team member: Damn man, why you gotta do me like that?
Reporter: It’s my job.
Street team member: I know, but it’s my job to get these posters up. Tough times in the music biz right now, I’m just trying to get get get it.
Reporter: Yeah man, same thing in the Newspaper biz, tough times, I’m just trying to get it too.
Street team member: It’s a Friday night, people are out having a good time. I’m just trying to do my job. What do you say we each just forget about this whole thing and let it be what it is?
Reporter: You’re right, I can find something more interesting to take pictures of than some Rocko signs. Who’s Rocko anyway?
Not like that could ever happen in real life though. That would just be too mature for anyone involved with hip-hop or the music business, right?