AFTERBURN REPORT 2004
Burning Man's crack team of Media Wranglers saw continuing worldwide press interest about Burning Man in 2004. Documentary filmmakers, news outlets, photographers, and academics continue to pursue their interest in our desert civilization; if anything, worldwide familiarity with the event seems to be translating into more depth of coverage that addresses the more intricate or specialized aspects of the Burning Man Project. In 2005, filmmakers, photographers, and reporters went beyond the general overview of the event and dove in deeper to cover topics ranging from political activism at Burning Man (a significant theme present in this election-year event), individual artists, city planning, performance ritual, and hula-hooping. One crew followed an Irish band on their first visit to the playa, part of the significant portion of our media registrations from the international press, including crews from France, England, Spain, Japan, and even the Ukraine.
Registrations began to roll in at the beginning of the year, and the team processed each inquiry case by case and with personal attention. As usual, contacts from video crews were reviewed with particular scrutiny, since we share participants' desire to limit the number of crews at the event. A very small number of applicants were denied permission to film or shoot, generally owing to concerns about content, such as a porn website seeking photos of nude and topless women, or about participant disruption, such as a narrative film hoping to use Black Rock City as a backdrop for a fictional story.
On the playa, we made a few changes at Media Mecca. Buildings and containers were shifted slightly to try to mitigate issues of traffic flow, wind, and sun. Some modifications were successful; others will be re-examined again in 2005. The Media Mecca plot in Center Camp was more dense than ever, making space for the Black Rock Gazette, the Documentation team, and a Tech building, plus the new addition of a shade structure in which the Census team conducted its task. An attempt to relocate the bar that serves our daily press happy hour left the bartender and the line of thirsty journalists standing unshaded in the heat of the afternoon each day. This location also required daily unloading and setup of the service items. The placement of these areas and the mapping in general are due for another look in 2005.
Happily, though, a team captain undertook the important task of improving the atmosphere at Media Mecca, adding a sound system, morning coffee for reporters and staff, and additional fun decor. Upon unloading our team's container, we performed major surgery on our inventory, getting rid of some unnecessary detritus from previous years that had fallen out of function. We had previously conducted pre-playa Integrated Plan Meetings that did make for a smoother setup than ever, but we still scrambled over some confusion about a wood order, which resulted in an extra shipment. All was resolved readily, but for 2005, logistics will receive even more careful attention from a newly named Media Mecca Site Guru, a caretaker role created by combining parts of the roles of several managers.
For the first time since 1997, we conducted an on-playa press conference, creating an open forum for staffers to answer questions from the press (including reporters from our own Black Rock Gazette). Not only did this event provide the press with greater access to the organizers whom they hoped to interview, but it made for a much less manic playa experience for those busy staffers, since the panel presentation spared them any frustration that might arise from answering the same questions repeatedly in multiple interviews. The format and focused subject regarding Regional outreach sparked intelligent dialogue and saved both staff and reporters the hassle of trying to manage scheduled interviews on playa time. Even our director, Larry Harvey, enjoyed the benefits of a much-relieved schedule in 2004, since the few interviews that could not be completed prior to the event were easily consolidated into the single appearance, with only a few notable exceptions.
Operations at Media Mecca went smoothly, and a majority of the press representatives who registered did arrive at the event. (A good number of no-shows is quite typical, as news events drive unpredictable schedules.) Happily, more volunteer hands showed up for setup, and for striking the set after the Burn, than ever before.
Post-event, our team's longtime manager announced the intention to move on from his volunteer position, after helping with seven Burning Man events. While this departure represents a major shift and the loss of a beloved manager, it did provide the opportunity to examine the workload of the role and maximize the potential for future success in his absence. This post-event review has resulted not in only the creation of the Site Guru role, but also in the appointment of a very enthusiastic new Volunteer Coordinator. The VC task had been performed by the team manager, who also dealt with traffic to the press@ email alias, other year-round press inquiries, and the mapping and on-playa management of the Media Mecca site. By more logically dividing up parts of these roles that were formerly performed by one person, we hope to continue to grow a cohesive and effective team, maintain competent coverage of press inquiries, and enjoy an ever-more efficient and attractive camp.
Plans are already afoot to make a trip to the Black Rock Station work ranch in spring 2005 to enjoy some camaraderie while making improvements to our beloved 1950's Spartan trailer, which serves as our office, and getting rid of some of the heavy hide-a-bed couches that we have dragged onto the playa for years. We intend to replace them with functional tables and chairs for media registration, retaining our lightweight couches for our social area. We aim to streamline the registration process in a way that simplifies the task of training our team and establishes a proper paper trail for the legal documents associated with press registration. We also plan to more fully utilize the extranet and volunteer databases that are available to us in the management and coordination of our team. A new, stronger team identifier will help press to spot team members when they need help, and we will assign team members to more specialized roles in order to streamline operations and increase efficiency.
We look forward to another fun year serving Burning Man in 2005 as we continue our important work of helping incoming press to acclimate to the intense societal, environmental, and cultural stimuli that face every reporter during a trip to Black Rock City. We hope our efforts will provide a foundation for increasingly relevant and intelligent coverage of our beloved community and our annual desert home.
Andie Grace aka Actiongrl