Sky Adams, whose online name is CrossXBones, uses a headset and a smartphone… (Patrick T. Fallon, Los Angeles…)
The man who goes by CrossXBones finagled his way into the center of the scrum. Sweat beaded on his shaved head, an American Spirit cigarette dangled from his mouth and a massive can of energy drink was holstered on the strap of his backpack.
Hundreds of protesters had taken over the parking lot in front of police headquarters in Anaheim, where police shootings over the summer had stirred anger in the densely packed neighborhoods in the heart of Orange County's largest city. Protesters scrawled messages in chalk condemning police and chanted as officers on horseback galloped by.
But CrossXBones, as Sky Adams is known online, was not one of them.
Instead of being armed with signs or chalk, Adams wore a headset and held a smartphone, its broadband connection linking him — at that moment — with hundreds of others. Adams would be their eyes and ears when it came to this latest unrest.
"I'm not an activist," Adams explained. "I'm just a journalist."
In many ways, Adams is similar to those spurred to action over their indignation with the status quo — whether it pertains to financial institutions, politics or police behavior. He is a 35-year-old who stepped away from a job that gave him stability but not fulfillment. Now he is constantly moving and putting himself in such precarious places that he often has a gas mask in his pocket and a helmet hooked to his belt loop.
His new life also comes with the rush of being at the front lines of a movement.
Interactive timeline: Occupy Wall Street
Adams provided an on-the-ground perspective to viewers when police swept through the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall last November, clearing the holdouts from Occupy Los Angeles. He did the same during protests in Chicago outside a NATO conference and the Occupy demonstrations in Oakland. More recently in Anaheim, he filmed as protesters shattered shopping center windows and lit fires in dumpsters, and as police responded by firing beanbags into the crowd.
Now on this Sunday afternoon, blocks from where fires had burned days before, a woman whose son was killed by police implored the crowd to shun more violence. "I'm not asking!" Theresa Smith bellowed into a bullhorn. "I'm demanding!"
Adams stood just feet away, wedged between protesters and news cameras.
CrossXBones was streaming live.
Adams is one in a collective of street journalists whose passion was kindled in the encampments that sprung up across the country last year as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Since then, he and other streamers have traveled from protest to protest to provide what they see as an unfiltered view of events as they unfold.
They have been enabled by technology, allowing them to broadcast with only a smartphone, a data plan and enough battery life to keep them running.
Streamers, for the most part, don't have formal journalism experience or training. Some veer into commentary or even taunt the authorities. But others subscribe to the journalistic canon of being an impartial observer, offering live streams with bare-bones narration.
"It's another tool, and technology is neutral. I'm not part of their agenda," said Tim Pool, who began streaming in New York's Zuccotti Park, where Occupy Wall Street began. "It's an outlet to collect information and opening a window to something people may care about."
Pool, 26, said he has had millions of viewers tuning into his "TimCast." At one point during Occupy Wall Street, he claimed that nearly 750,000 people were watching.
He calls himself a social media journalist, and like other streamers, he has been driven in part by an aversion to coverage by mainstream media outlets. He remembered thinking: One television network during Occupy Wall Street showed only ragged transients in the crowd while another focused on clean-cut professionals. "It's just people who are here, just everybody," he said. "Why can't they say that?"
In some respects the distaste is mutual, but a symbiotic relationship has emerged. Traditional reporters tend to be skeptical of a roving band of people with cellphones calling themselves journalists, yet some are quick to click on to their feeds and television stations have replayed their footage. Some streamers are often appreciative of their work being spread.
Pool, who moved to Los Angeles from New York earlier this year, has given up on accepting donations — which many streamers rely upon — because he doesn't see it as sustainable. He's trying to find other ways to finance his work.
"Right now, I'm burning through savings to do this," he said, adding: "But it's really cheap to do."
On a Saturday morning, as Anaheim's Stoddard Park bustled with children's soccer games, a handful of streamers and would-be streamers sat in a circle on a shaded hill. The protest at police headquarters was set for the next day and organizers had put together a workshop on how to stream.