AFTERBURN REPORT 2008
MEDIA AND PUBLIC RELATIONS OPERATIONS
The 2008 "American Dream" event attracted the attention of media outlets from around the world. Media Mecca hosted international press from places such as The United Kingdom (BBC), The Netherlands (for coverage of DADARA’s "DreamYourTopia" installation), Norway (TV2), Russia (NTV), Germany (VOX Film), Rome, Sweden and Japan. Domestically, the Current TV crew returned to the playa for another year to produce their Emmy-nominated "TV Free Burning Man"broadcast, and participants generated content for the commercial-free TV Free broadcasts by creating video "Postcards from the Playa" that were aired via satellite.
Once again, we carefully reviewed all media proposals before the event to be sure that crews given permission to shoot imagery at Burning Man would conduct themselves in a professional manner and behave as members of the community, and that their projects would offer a unique and interesting perspective on the event. In line with our endeavor to limit the number of cameras participants encounter at the event, of the 320 proposals, 260 were approved, and 60 were declined.
Every year, members of the press who do not pre-register come to Media Mecca to complete walk-up registrations. Their projects are assessed on a case-by-case basis and photographers are sometimes accommodated, but very few latecomers are actually granted permission to shoot video for professional use; this encourages early registration and development of projects, and allows us to limit the number of cameras participants interact with in Black Rock City. Though Media Mecca didn’t "officially" open for business until the dust storms on Monday - making onsite registration a bit of a challenge - many members of the press arrived early and were eager to get their contracts completed and their cameras tagged so they could get to work following artists and projects as BRC began to take shape.
To accommodate the growing interest from the press at Burning Man and to ensure that we were adequately staffed (read: not burning out our beloved volunteers) both before and during the event, the Media Team expanded in 2008 to include a new Volunteer Coordinator, 20 new Media Wranglers (many of them actively "recruited" for their talents from regional burn communities across the map), and several new set-up volunteers, all contributing to an incredibly fun team. The strong leadership of our returning Media Captains made for a smooth acculturation process as our new volunteers quickly learned how to welcome and register the press and direct their questions to the appropriate Media Specialists. An expanded team of designated Artery [LINK to art process report] Liaisons assisted press in their coverage of art installations and led two well-attended art tours that gave the press the opportunity to interact with the artists.
Media Mecca’s new location at 6:30 in Center Camp afforded us access to BMIR and to Playa Info, whose volunteers assist with executing Burning Man’s Personal Use Agreements for participants’ personal video cameras. Though we weren’t "next door neighbors" with Playa Info as we have been in previous years, our visual proximity to them enabled us to easily redirect participants to their site, and vice versa. Our other usual collaborative neighbor, the Artery, was also a bit farther away - but was not within line-of sight, which made it slightly more challenging to send reporters to find details for their stories; for 2009, we’ll use visual aids to direct them to this important resource for art information.
The new location also provided much closer access to members of the Burning Man staff who were camped in the area behind it, reducing travel time and fuel use, and making for a smoother interview process when press came asking for quotes. The Mecca rooftop deck, assembled by our dedicated set-up team, provided beautiful views of Black Rock City and a location for meetings or interviews. Also, the new staff camping configuration made it possible for more Media Team managers and captains to camp on-site, minimizing their commute to work and helping us to share the load of managing Mecca.
Media Mecca’s traditional press happy hours continued to be a huge hit in 2008. Reporters, filmmakers, artists, volunteers, and passersby enjoyed music and cocktails daily in the sunset. With the help of our signature Rocket Sauce, Mecca happy hours are often a time when media folks connect with one another and the interviews or resources they seek, and our team of volunteers gets to celebrate as a group. On Thursday of the event Mecca held a special volunteer appreciation happy hour to thank our team for their hard work; it featured DJ music, a marching band, a juggling troupe, and a barbeque feast.
Saturday’s Man burn-delaying dust storm kept the Media Team on its toes. Each year, we work closely on burn night with the Heavy Equipment and Performance Safety teams coordinating birds-eye access for a selected group of press outlets and fine art photographers to capture these angles and contribute to the archive as well as their own projects. Burn Night 2008 was what climbers would call an "epic": the Media Team had to track down these shooters (some of whom were BRC virgins) in burn night crowds, in the dark, in a dust storm, and then safely maneuver them into the machines alongside the Heavy Equipment crews in conditions that threatened to go south again any minute - and this only after hours on standby in the dust waiting for the Performance Safety Team to decide whether conditions were clear enough for the burn to commence safely.
In the chaos of the dust storm, almost a dozen stalwart members of the Media Team, clustered at a fire performer’s entrance to the Great Circle, found themselves pressed into service working with nearby Rangers helping to hold the safety perimeter at that entrance when the dust suddenly cleared. By all reports, it was one of the most fun Burn nights the team had ever had - until later that night when a beloved team Manager fell ill and was medi-vaced to Reno for hospitalization. In a display typical of its camaraderie, the Media team bound together not only to perform its teardown without their fearless leader, but to help his campmates pack his belongings and coordinate visits and travel home - all challenges that this volunteer team faced with aplomb. (Our manager is feeling much better, by the way.)
The Communications Department and a small sub-team of Intellectual Property (IP) volunteers also engage in a year round process of review, press response, trademark enforcement, and monitoring intellectual property on behalf of Burning Man. This is an area of the organization’s efforts that may not be widely understood, and a long-planned document for the website explaining this team’s activity and the general terms of Burning Man’s ownership of "Burning Man", "Black Rock City", and "Decompression" remained stuck on the launch pad for much of 2008 as we struggled just to keep up with demand.
The truth is that many violations of Burning Man’s marks are not truly venal attempts at commodification by outside entities. Though some are "outside world" violations from the uninitiated, a great many IP violations come from within our own community, and are almost always the result of a misunderstanding of what trademarks really mean, what our copyright policies are, and what Burning Man does and doesn’t "own" in that realm. We’ve recruited a new member to the IP team this year, and in 2009 we’ll be refocusing our efforts on communicating about this area of concern for our community. Stay tuned to the Jack Rabbit Speaks, or feel free to contact us at press with any questions you have about media at the event, or with any representations of Burning Man (images, words, etc.) about which you’re curious
For links to media coverage of Burning Man 2008, visit this page.
Andie Grace and Meghan Rutigliano