AFTERBURN REPORT 2001Media 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
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
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:
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
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
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."
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.
If you have any questions related to media team operations or policies, please don't hesitate to contact Jim Graham, director of media operations.