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AFTERBURN REPORT 2001

Media and Public Relations

Public relations and media work for Burning Man is a year-round effort. Inquiries from the press and requests for interviews occur all year long and come from all over the world, and it is the Communications department that handles this task. In addition to managing the onsite media relations (see report below), this role involves speaking with members of the press about the year-round story-- for example, informing a Reno-area newspaper about a group of fire performers whose rehearsals for the playa begin in January, or helping Irish documentarians find burners from their own country to interview about traveling to the event from overseas. Occasionally a publication will request an image from the event or a statement about some aspect of the phenomenon of Burning Man.

This year, a media registration database was created to streamline the process of registering media who requested permission to cover the event. Information about the process of registering the media at the event can be found in the Press Here section of the website. You can find a list of press about Burning Man on the media page.


Photo: Charles C. Benton

At the event, the Media Team oversees the process of personal-use camera tagging. Each participant who enters Black Rock City with a motion-capturing camera is required to fill out a Personal Use Agreement before they are permitted to film. This casts a wide net of legal protection across the rights of Burning Man participants. Since each participant signs this form, they enter into an agreement to not use the footage for any purpose beyond personal use. In doing so, it is guaranteed that every camera in Black Rock City has registered, either as personal or professional use, and this guarantees Burning Man's right to prevent footage from being exploited or used in a manner inconsistent with the community's wishes. This program has been enormously successful and well received. Not only does it protect images of participants and art from showing up in commercial advertising, but it provides better control of what kinds of images are used and in what context.

Burning Man's founder, Larry Harvey, is often asked to appear as a guest speaker about the event and its philosophies at various public forums-- for example, his lectures in 2000 and 2001 at Austin's South by Southwest Interactive Festival, The Portland Art Museum, Chicago Art Institute, and San Francisco's Grace Cathedral. The Communications department assists with scheduling these appearances.

Media Team Report

Team Overview

The media team is the primary interface for all media who write about the event. The team works extensively prior to the event with reporters to help them prepare for the desert-- connecting them with local participants, helping them identify ways to participate beyond writing a story, and generally doing whatever is needed to help them prepare a more personal story.


It is a year-round operation consisting of approximately 55 silver cowboy-hatted volunteers, half of whom live in the Bay Area and the rest spread around the U.S. We also have reps in Beijing, Canada, and the UK. Twelve experienced members respond to inquiries from the press and help answer questions sent to press at burningman.com. We operate Media Mecca in Center Camp from Monday through Sunday during the event.

While the organization does provide support services for members of the media, one of our key messages to them is that they are equal citizens of Black Rock City. While press credentials for other events usually allow reporters "VIP" access, the Burning Man press credential states:

Press Pass

Media Participation

Roughly 220 media outlets sent reporters to the 2001 event. This is down from 260 who attended last year, due in large part to the number of webzines that ceased operations in the past 12 months. Close to half of the media attending BM2001 were international. We had representatives from newspapers, radio stations, TV news outlets, TV feature shows, documentary film crews, webzines, as well as book authors. An incomplete list of coverage can be found on the media page.

An interesting trend is that members of the media are arriving earlier in Black Rock City than in past years. In past years the average stay was three days. In 2001, reporters began arriving on site on the Saturday before the event, and the majority were on the playa by Tuesday.


Photo: Margot Duane

New in 2001

  • Reduced number of film crews allowed on the playa-- At the request of many participants, we greatly reduced the number of film crews that were allowed on the playa this year. We received about 70 proposals and approved 35. Film crews were required to submit proposals to the organization which were rated for their originality, subject matter, past experience of the crew at the event, and their distribution plans.

    Examples of those that were approved this year were an individual doing a documentary on how bicycles play an important role in different societies, a woman doing a film on Burning Man's gift economy, and an employee of the City of Carpenteria covering the event from a recycling angle. We rejected proposals from individuals wanting to shoot music videos, "extreme" videos, projects primarily looking to use the event as a backdrop and two proposals related to covering "sex at Burning Man."

  • Increased monitoring of commercial use of Burning Man name and imagery-- In the past year the organization has seen an increasing number of individuals who want to sell Burning Man-related products, particularly via eBay and other online auction services. Examples include "Burning Man" tents, "Burning Man" barter coins, an original set of "Burning Man" construction plans and a "Burning Man" 10" wall clock. Many individuals don't realize that the organization maintains the copyright to the Burning Man name and certain imagery related to the event (including the image of the Man.) Most sellers pull their auctions after receiving a friendly reminder.

    Commercialization issues extend to video and audio. The organization has initiated court action against a videographer who is selling videotapes of naked people at the event dating back to 1997. We've also seen an increasing number of individuals recording DJ sets and wanting to distribute them as "Burning Man mixes." As a result, we've begun working more closely with music-related camps to map out guidelines for inviting and promoting "big name" talent to perform at the event. Burning Man is not a "venue" so we strongly discourage the promotion of "talent" that would serve as a draw to the event primarily to see that artist. If an artist comes to Burning Man and wants to perform for the community, it's a wonderful gift, but there are no "celebrities" in a city where everyone is a star.

  • Improved relations with local government officials-- Burning Man maintains a year 'round presence in Gerlach and works extensively with local, state, and federal officials. Members of the media team briefed and gave tours to several local and Reno-area government officials, many of whom had not previously attended the event. Media Mecca also hosted, for the first time, a trailer for Bureau of Land Management officials, who were on hand to address BLM issues related to the event.

  • Media workshop-- The media team sponsored a workshop for the community at the Artist's Television Access in San Francisco for the first time this year. The team showed Burning Man footage from TV news broadcasts and documentaries and, through the resultant dialogue, received input from participants on how we could improve our interaction with reporters and film crews to better help them capture the event.

  • Internal changes-- The media team reorganized after the 2000 event, establishing a "Media Center" group of veteran team members who met to set policy on media operations. Thanks to the efforts of the volunteer coordinators, the team recruited 20 new members and we established a standardized training process required for new and existing members of the team.

    If you have any questions related to media team operations or policies, please don't hesitate to contact Jim Graham, director of media operations.