AFTERBURN REPORT 2003
BLACK ROCK GAZETTE
For the second straight year, the Black Rock Gazette team produced six editions, a Gate Edition and five editions on-playa. Our on-playa editions, once again, had themes. We covered goats, cults, radical self-reliance, timely information, and exodus. We urged people to wear pants.
This year, we steered our ship toward new horizons, eschewing naked-truth journalism for an "infotainment" model. We saw no need to be so serious that we could not poke a little fun sometimes. Was everything we printed true? Was Dorothy happy when she saw the man behind the curtain? Suffice it to say that fact checking is a different process in the desert, as is most life in Black Rock City.
For the first time in many years, we featured puzzles in the Gazette. We featured gadgetry. We had the confidence to quash rumors, and sometimes we promoted them. (See Wednesday's temple article, for example.) We covered sports and footwear. We featured an interview with a candidate for the California governorship and another with Mountain Girl. We reported on art and people. We published an aerial photo, a photo of the Man being built, and a photo of the Man burning. In sum, we showed a microcosm of Black Rock City from soup to nuts. And, yes, it was a little nuts at times.
We encouraged reporters and photographers to go out in teams, and they had fun meeting and greeting BRC. The papers made it out to the desert, and under budget, too. Just about every member of the team, said that they would like to return to do it again. We can't imagine a better standard for success than what actually occurred.
Teaming reporters and photographers, morning meetings, and a streamlined story approval process were successes this year. Our people worked hard to get the news out. Mediation of issues between teams worked (even when it worked against us). Communication between LLC contacts and paper staff was better than we had ever experienced or even anticipated. We were inclusive of others, and we felt included. Our association with Media Mecca helped with our work, and we gained some recognition from the foreign press, based largely, we believe, on our proximity to their location. Snacks worked well to attract and motivate regular contributors. Our photo wrangling system helped us get some great shots into the paper. Additionally, we retained much of the information that we gathered, making it easier to produce our Blacktop Gazette paper at Decompression. Contributions of content and performances from other groups within BRC worked (though reasonable minds may differ).
We had problems with distribution this year. Not all of the city was covered, forcing some people to make that lonely trek downtown to pick up the paper on some days. Our computers sometimes did not work. (We encourage folks to donate Macs!) Staying in the production trailer until 2 a.m.became a problem. All-day editor shifts did not work, and that will change in 2004. Lack of our own designated, gas-powered news vehicle was a limitation. Oh well, maybe next year.
Speaking of next year, in 2004, we expect to maintain a production schedule similar to this year's, which will afford our folks at least one day off during the event. (Our core staff never really did take a whole day off, though.) We will work to secure both day and evening editors so that nobody takes on any 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. shifts. We will try to schedule dinner meetings between editors and designers to make sure that we put our paper to bed as early as possible each day. We may change past patterns and become a bit more rigid on deadlines, letting some stories wait a day or even until Decompression if they are not complete by the 5 p.m. deadline. Yes, we are performing a service, and it is an art project; but no, it does not need to take all day.
We also plan to seek additional assistance from groups inside and outside Project staff to provide content. Truly, anyone who can write can write for the Gazette. We can provide editing help, and sometimes we choose not to edit and let something magical happen. We have pushed envelopes, but problem solving can be fun.
We learned that templates, embedded fonts, and organizational systems are not dirty words. We learned that having two designers at two different stations each produce a page of the paper was a good thing. We learned that if we need to ask for help with infrastructure, we should do it early, often, and vocally. We learned that people really like the paper and that our fans include the event organizers. On one particular evening, we learned that we were willing to let a day of production just not happen - and at the same moment, we learned that some people would be willing to make the effort to drive our PDF file out to Gerlach to upload it to Reno. Somewhere around the same time, we learned that if you asked the right person, miracles could happen. Maybe you saw some of your own miracles at Black Rock City. We hope so!
BRG staffers also worked together to create an off-playa Blacktop Gazette to keep the Burning Man spirit going, even after the Man's embers cooled. It’s our gift to you. We hope you like it!
Some people build art at Burning Man to burn it, and the only things left are the pictures and the memories. Some people create art based on the written word and the mood of the city with the hope of leaving a lasting, tangible thing. At the Black Rock Gazette, we did a little of both - we built our lasting written word art project, and then we burned some of it. Of course, if you burned your copies of the Gazette, you can still print out the PDFs.
Some have already said that 2003 was the best year ever for the Black Rock Gazette. We agree. We hope that this year's success does not set the bar too high for 2004. Experience tells us that we will rise to whatever challenges we may meet. It ain't easy publishing a newspaper in the middle of the desert, so we need all the support and encouragement we can get.
If you would like to learn more about volunteer opportunities at the Black Rock Gazette, go to http://www.burningman.com/participate/brc_gazette.html. If you have any story ideas, comments, or suggestions about the Gazette, send them to brgazette(at)burningman(dot)com. Burn on!
Black Rock Gazette Publisher 2003