NYU Local Reporter Reflects on ‘Biggest Story of the Year’

This past February at New York University, NYU Local reporter Charlie Eisenhood embedded himself inside a cafeteria at New York University to document a highly publicized sit-in staged by a fringe student group, Take Back New York University (TBNYU).

For more than forty-eight hours, without much food and even less sleep, Eisenhood reported basically nonstop through real-time blog updates, video interviews, and photos, many of them exclusive, leading to an unprecedented spike in Web traffic and interest in the new media upstart.  Literally, unique visitors to the NYU Local site more than sextupled in a single month– from 7,000 in January to nearly 47,000 in February– a rise that publisher Cody Brown attributes directly to interest in the reports filed by Eisenhood, now known as “everyone’s favorite liveblogger.”

As one student blogger opined, “[T]here is at least one clear winner in this standoff: my alma mater NYU Local, and more specifically . . . Charlie Eisenhood, whose been providing, bar none, the best news coverage of any media outlet on this story from inside the occupation. Hats off to him and the rest of the NYU Local team for owning this story and getting well-deserved plugs from everyone from Gawker to, oddly enough, The American Spectator.”

Below, UWIRE 100 honoree Eisenhood (whose DJ name is just fantastic, DJ Eyes In Hood) chatted exclusively about the ups-and-downs of what I absolutely nominate as one of the top student reporting feats so far in 2009.

NYU Local Reporter Charlie Eisenhood

NYU Local Reporter Charlie Eisenhood

According to Eisenhood, this shot is "a terribly blurry screen grab of me from the live stream [that the student protest group] had running during the occupation."

According to Eisenhood, this shot is “a terribly blurry screen grab of me from the live stream TBNYU had running during the occupation.”

1) How did you originally learn of the sit-in and what made you decide to embed yourself inside?

I was tipped off by a friend who heard about it from one of the higher-ups at TBNYU.  He told me, “They’re gonna take over a building” about a week before it happened.  What you have to understand is that NYU Local had a history with TBNYU. Some of our writers called them out for being obnoxious at a town hall meeting with NYU President John Sexton. So they hated our guts and we didn’t like their attitude. So when I heard about the takeover, my spider sense tingled. I told Cody [Brown] and [top editor] Lily [Q] the night before, “I know about the biggest story of the year.”

2) Your reporting displayed a wonderfully personal, opinionated slant that really made me feel like I was there on the inside. What led you to go that route versus the detached, objectivity-only option?

That’s what NYU Local is all about. We don’t pretend to be objective in our coverage and I wasn’t about to start during such a strange and hilarious event.

3) An especially memorable reporting moment during the protest.

When TBNYU decided to accept food from NYU dining staff.  They bring out an entire pan of chicken, mashed potatoes, and vegan sandwich wraps (very popular with the protesters). I ate the chicken- it was my first real meal in almost 24 hours.

4) What was the toughest part of the experience?

Trying to stay focused during the last three-four hours. Your brain starts acting weird after almost two days without rest.

5) What is one thing you would do differently if you had the chance to relive it all?

Honestly, I would have stayed until everyone was rounded up. I wish I had been the one to capture this footage. One hundred thousand views?! You can call yourself a YouTube star at that point. I could have also started my own “corporate water” brand and made millions. I might still do that. [Ed. note: No water companies have yet been registered in Eisenhood’s name.] :-)

6) What’s your advice for future student journalists seeking to make an impact through similar embedded-style reporting?

Don’t back down from hostile situations and make sure to bring lots of batteries for your camera. And bring your own food!

7) What tools did you find indispensable for your reporting and general survival during the ordeal?

I really only used two things: a laptop and a digital camera. I took notes on my computer and kept in touch with the outside via IM. And, big thanks to NYU for keeping the Internet connection on. That was key.

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