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AFTERBURN REPORT 2002

Public Relations/Media

Each year, hundreds of reporters from newspaper, radio, and television descend on Black Rock City, along with videographers, academics, webzine writers, authors, and photographers, to capture the sights, sounds and (once) the smells of our unique community. Almost all of them, at some point prior to arriving, have been in contact with the Burning Man Media Team.

The team operates year-round, providing media outlets with information on the event, connecting them with local artists and participants, and helping them with whatever they need. In the months leading up to the event, the team begins registering media personnel who plan to attend. Team members review video proposals and, without hand-holding, help these peole prepare for their trip to the desert. On the playa, the team operates Media Mecca, a “press room/camp” in the desert, where reporters check in, find information, charge batteries, and connect with others. After the event, the team fields questions from outlets preparing stories and collects example of coverage.

In addition to overseeing media operations, the team tracks copyright issues related to use of the Burning Man name and provides media support for the growing number of regional events that are happening around the United States and throughout the world.

The Media Team

The team consists of about 55 volunteers, roughly half residing in the San Francisco Bay Area with the remainder spread across the North America. Team members in Canada, the United Kingdom, and China handle Canadian, European, and Asia/Pacific media inquiries. Team members are PR professionals, reporters, writers, academics, videographers, IT managers, insurance analysts, business school grads, TV producers, fashion designers, photographers, and Web developers.

The team members met a number of times during 2002. One meeting was dedicated to a training and review of the Media Team Bible. Unlike previous years, when volunteers received training only on the job, in 2002 we also held a formal team training on the playa.

The size of the team is tied not to proactive PR efforts but to year-round web-based inquires and activities during the event. The team is structured with the expectation that members will contribute about 12 hours on site, leaving them plenty of time to enjoy the event. Most team members contribute substantially more time before, during, and after the event. While working at Media Mecca, Media Team members can be identified by their silver cowboy hats with a black Burning Man symbol.

Media Participation

In 2002, nearly 300 media outlets sent representatives to the event, the largest number ever. During the year leading up to the 2002 event, the team fielded an additional 100 inquiries from media outlets or companies that requested information on the event but either did not attend or had their proposals rejected. We typically reject proposals that want to focus on sex or portray Burning Man primarily as a music venue, that want to use Burning Man as a backdrop for an otherwise unrelated storyline, that want to film music videos, or that want to use Burning Man imagery to promote commercial ventures. This year saw a dramatic increase in the number of video proposals by first-time videographers. We believe this change is due, in part, to the decreasing cost of mini-DV cameras and digital editing software packages.

Video crews are required to register with Burning Man in advance of the event. Once on site, they sign a video contract that outlines what they can and cannot do with their footage, and the Media Team tags their cameras with large yellow media tags. Participants shooting video strictly for personal use registered with Playa Information rather than Media Mecca and were given smaller white tags. Professional videographers are also instructed to ask permission to videotape individuals and to explain to participants what they plan to do with the footage. As a result, we had only a handful of complaints about videographers this year.

Continuing a trend from years past, media representatives spent more time on the playa, some arriving the weekend before the official start of the event. Those who request interviews with Larry Harvey are required to be on site no later than Tuesday, and we found that the majority of media arrived by Wednesday. Another trend is the increasing percentage of media outlets from outside the United States. In 2002, roughly one-third of the media people attending the event were international, with the majority coming from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, and Canada.

Streamlined Media Registration Process

In 2002, we revamped the media registration process to reduce the amount of labor required both for preparing registration materials and for processing when registrants checked in on site. We also shipped the majority of video and still photo contracts to media outlets in advance of the event. These changes reduced the time spent to process media requests from an average of 15 minutes down to less than 5 minutes each. This simplification allowed Media Team members to spend more time interacting with writers and video crews and dramatically reduced the complexity of processes to track contracts after the event.

Webcast Revamped

The crew that had done the live webcast of the burn for several years was not invited back in 2002 after organizers received several complaints about the webcast website, the inane commentary, and product placements during coverage of the burn. Instead, a long-time participant with extensive wireless webcasting experience volunteered to webcast the event. The changes included eliminating narration and using ambient sound; running the webcast from Burning Man’s own servers, and promoting it only within the Burning Man community. The wireless webcasting system eliminated the need for a large satellite truck to be parked at the edge of the circle around the Man on the night of the burn. More than 130 individuals watched the burn live via the Web, and we received several positive comments from members of the community who were unable to attend the event but who could, in a small way, feel connected to it by watching the burn live online.

Media Mecca

On the playa, the Media Team operates Media Mecca in Center Camp. In 2002, Media Mecca incorporated the Media Team, the Black Rock Gazette, the Documentation Team, the Bureau of Land Management information trailer, the webcast crew, and Canadian-based radio station KBK. Consolidating the multiple media operations on a single site opened up more space in Center Camp for other organizations and camps.


Setup and take-down of the organization-related camps in Center Camp is a challenge for all infrastructure-affiliated groups. Our trials and tribulations mirrored those of the others. We had a good setup team, but barely enough people were available to accomplish take-down. If we hadn’t stowed everything by sundown on Monday night, the dust storms would have more seriously affected striking the camp.

Nic Valle Art Piece

Media Mecca’s Center Camp placement provided the team with the opportunity to showcase a work by a Burning Man artist. Nic Valle, a painter from Southern California, prepared an 8-foot by 24-foot painting titled “The Floating World” which was installed to hide the eyesore that is our storage container. Valle painted the interior of the Chamber of Attainment in 2001 and the doors to the lighthouse in 2002.

Trademark Protection

Organizers have seen an increase in attempts to link the Burning Man name to a product or service. Burning Man is not entirely opposed to commerce within context. After all, coffee and ice are sold on the playa, and sales of approved videos and other materials relating to the event also contribute to revenues. Organizers do not, however, condone commodification of the Burning Man name by having it linked to products that are in no way relevant to the event.

Organizers have trademarked the Burning Man name and logo, and trademark registration is underway for the terms Black Rock City and Flambé Lounge. In the year leading up to the 2002 event, the media team dealt with roughly 100 issues related to trademark or copyright infringement, most related to individuals selling items on eBay with names like “Burning Man tents,” or “Burning Man solar showers,.” or trinkets promoted for barter at Burning Man. Some of the more serious issues involved images or video taken at the event being displayed without the filmmaker or photographer securing prior approval from organizers, pictured participants, or artists whose work was featured. From September through November 30, 2002, the team has dealt with 22 trademark issues, the majority relating to video.

In the vast majority of cases, individuals contacted regarding a trademark conflict resolve the issue immediately. In only rare cases has any additional legal action been required. One such case involving unauthorized footage is still being pursued; Voyeur Video, Inc. engaged in the sale of nude videos from Burning Man, obtained without the permission of the event organizers or the subjects. Despite Burning Man’s objections and in violation of established policies and several cease-and-desist letters, Voyeur Video has persisted in selling the tapes on the internet. In September 2002, Burning Man filed for an injunction against Voyeur Video to stop the sale of the tapes, citing breach of privacy and breach of contract in its request for injunction. The court found that while breach of contract claims may be valid, the Burning Man Organization could not speak for the privacy claims of participants without actually naming individuals as plaintiffs. After researching the identity of as many participants as we recognized on the tapes, the case returned to court.

Distribution

Post-event, the Media Team must maintain relationships with those who create works for distribution, such as videos, photographs, books, and films. When a film or video piece other than news coverage completes its post-production phase, members of the Burning Man staff review it before permission to distribute is granted, and in many cases, a distribution contract is composed with members of the Legal team . This year saw the approval and subsequent distribution agreements of several works, including Renea Roberts’ “Gifting It” documentary and Holly Kreuter’s “Drama in the Desert.”

Public Relations

Although Burning Man does not seek to grow the event through proactive public relations, it does reach out within the community and around the world to increase awareness about the ethos and philosophies that the event embodies. Appearing at a number of speaking engagements, Larry Harvey and other staffers have represented Burning Man to various audiences, from architects and artists to event planners and academics, and of course, participants worldwide. In 2002, Larry traveled to New York City to speak at Cooper Union during a benefit for the Black Rock Arts Foundation and the Society for Experimental Arts and Learning, a not-for-profit endeavor started by the New York community. His speech, “Viva Las Xmas” was attended by hundreds of members of the East Coast community, as well as many people who have never attended Burning Man. Larry was also honored with an invitation to speak at the Commonwealth Club’s INFORUM series in San Francisco in September 2002. The appearance was attended by several hundred people. Likewise, Mistress of Communications Marian Goodell was invited to speak at the International Special Events Society in November, where she relayed to a delighted audience of event planners some of the highlights and challenges of planning an event such as Burning Man. Harley DuBois and Larry Harvey spoke at the annual Volunteer Dinner for Lighthouse for the Blind.

The Jack Rabbit Speaks internet newsletter continued to thrive and grow in 2002, ending the event year with around 30,000 subscribers. Each edition of the JRS is a new experience in learning how to write and present news and information of interest to the Burning Man community in an effective, concise, and entertaining way. In 2002, we made the decision to abandon the previous practice of saving up information and posting announcements at random in favor of making the JRS a regularly scheduled, weekly newsletter (or, at least as close to weekly as was possible in a chaotic environment). This change resulted in a concise, more organized, and easier-to-swallow JRS presentation. Likewise, efforts continue toward refining the type and length of information presented in the JRS, maintaining standards that keep it focused on Burning Man-related news and events, and keeping it fresh and exciting.

Proteus Film Crew

Beginning in 2001, a film crew out of San Francisco undertook one of the most ambitious motion picture productions ever to be proposed on the playa. The Proteus film project tracked the experience of four first-time participants with the hopes of taking them to the silver screen. The crew returned to get additional footage in 2002, and the Media Team continued to work closely with them in their endeavor. The filmmakers also accompanied Larry Harvey to New York for his appearance at the Cooper Union and assisted a New York-based crew on attaining archival footage of that appearance. Their film, “Confessions of a Burning Man,” is nearing completion and is being shopped to major film festivals across the United States.

2003

Plans for 2003 cross into a number of areas.

The Media Team intends to articulate a use policy for our logo and trademarked name and to step up protection of these properties. The Voyeur Video suit will continue to keep us busy. Burning Man organizers are planning to do outreach and talks in cities across the country. Larry will be speaking in Atlanta in early May, and he is exploring a possible engagement in London. We will continue minimizing the number of video crews allowed to film at the event. However, we will be working closely with folks from Substance TV and their production group, now called Gone Off Deep. A team proficient in DVD and film production, they’re the only group who have ever received behind-the-scenes access to the year-round event production process.


Media Mecca will continue nurturing returning team members and actively engage team members in training and education for better management of our intellectual property issues. Production of the camp will involve a tighter setup and expanded take-down team. This year we will live a tighter “clean as you go” ethic. We will also help spread the word to the rest of the community to help ensure the most efficient possible clean-up for all of us. Certainly, 2003 is likely to be a busy year for all public relations and media-related endeavors.

Submitted by,
Jim Graham, aka ronjon

Click here to read the 2001 PR/Media report.