The Two Tragedies of Jen Angel

Posted by Mitchell - March 2, 2023 (entry 743)

I met Jen Angel at the Allied Media Conference, which was held (the two times I attended) on the campus of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, Ohio. Jen was one of the conference organizers, and also one of the editors of the esteemed independent magazine Clamor. Jen was, like me, keenly interested and active on matters regarding media reform and independent media, and so we also encountered each other at other media-themed conferences, most notably the National Conferences for Media Reform that were organized from 2003 through 2013 by Free Press.

Clamor ran for seven years, after which Jen Angel wrote a memoir of her time and experiences at Clamor. Jen moved to Oakland, California, to continue her work: she co-founded a public-relations agency for political anarchists called Agency, she helped organize the Bay Area Anarchist Book Fair, and she founded a namesake bakery. I knew of many of these developments as they happened since Jen and I followed each other on Facebook.

And it was on Facebook where I learned, on February 7, 2023, that Jen had gotten into some calamity that put her in the hospital. Head trauma, pretty bad. That day, surgeons had worked for hours to alleviate the pressure on Jen's brain. Then a time of waiting, to hope in the nerve-wracking next few days that Jen could return to consciousness. But it wasn't to be: despite those efforts, Jen Angel was declared brain dead, taken off life support, and died on February 9, 2023, at the age of 48.

Jen's passing did get some media attention. On February 10, 2023, Democracy Now! devoted a headline to Jen's life and death. In two paragraphs, Democracy Now! provided an excellent summary, particularly her focus on independent media efforts, anti-captialist efforts, and opposition to the prison-industrial complex.

There was also some corporate media coverage of Jen's passing in local affiliates in Oakland and in San Francisco. Agency compiled many of the news stories on their website. These headlines offer a shameful window into the corporate media prioritization of gratuitous violence and death in their coverage -- a tragic irony for someone who devoted a serious portion of her life and work in opposition to the corporate media establishment in America:

NBC Bay Area: "Bakery Owner Dies After Violent Attack in Oakland"

ABC7 News: "Oakland bakery owner dies from injuries after being dragged by suspect's car during robbery: Family"

KRON (MyNetworkTV): "Beloved Oakland bakery owner dies after violent robbery, friends say"

KTVU (Fox): "Oakland baker, who was on life support after robbery, dies"

CBS San Francisco: "UPDATE: Oakland baker Jennifer Angel dies following brazen purse snatching"

San Francisco Chronicle: "Oakland baker dies after brutal car break-in"

If you read or watched any of the above (many of the links include video clips), some of the stories provide a bit additional coverage of Jen's life and work. For example, KRON described some of Jen's work involving Clamor, as well as a logistics and event production project Jen founded called Aid and Abet. The San Francisco Chronicle's story about Jen made reference to anarchism and to Jen's work in making zines (the Allied Media Conference, before it was called that, was named the Midwest Zine Conference).

A number of these reports highlighted that Jen's organs would be donated and would help as many as 70 people; CBS San Francisco even devoted an entire story to the organ donation, complete with an assortment of photographs. And also, some number of the reports quoted a statement from Jen's family and friends seeking restorative justice, using those very words.

Despite these bits of positive attention (about which more in a moment), the main focus of all the corporate commercial coverage was the grisly details of Jen's death, highlighting the violence and ignoring Jen's work for a better media system. CBS San Francisco's story about the donation of Jen's organs began with a paragraph about the graphic details of Jen's death. CBS' earlier reporting as well as that of KTVU highlighted a police reward. KRON even quoted the police.

The corporate media skew this way for a number of reasons: The reliance of official sources (like the police) over time leads to a warping of coverage that hew to those sources. Since the corporate media are businesses, there's a need to maximize attention to draw attention to the product and ultimately to advertisers, the default setting for which is to shock. Sad to say, it's quite possible that if Jen hadn't died in as gruesome a manner as she did, her death would not have gotten as much or any corporate media coverage.

Which leads us to the coverage in an article published in the Guardian, which had by far the best summary of Jen's life and work. It was full of details about Jen that none of the other outlets mentioned: It mentioned the Allied Media Conference, as well a story I didn't previously know where Clamor refused to disclose a whisteblower source used in an article about resistance in women's prisons. This is another example of media structure affecting coverage, but in a good way -- the Guardian is funded by a nonprofit trust, which returns any profits back into journalist efforts.

The Guardian article also included meta-commentary on the media, reporting on the effort by Jen's friends to ask media outlets to "not use Jen’s life legacy of care and community to further inflame narratives of fear, hatred, and vengeance. Jen would not want to advance putting public resources into policing, incarceration, or other state violence that perpetuates the cycles of violence that resulted in this tragedy."

As we saw above, that request was honored some of the time. It wasn't honored fully, to the shame of these corporate media outlets. We owe it to ourselves and to Jen Angel to continue the struggle to change media structures, improve our media, and in so doing improve our world.

Jen Angel, presente!

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