Each year, hundreds of newspaper, radio, and television reporters as well as documentary video crews, writers, photographers and academics attend Burning Man. Almost all of them have been in contact with the Burning Man Media Team prior to arriving.

Burning Man does little proactive public relations—the Media Team does not solicit reporters to attend the event. The primary goal of the Media Team for visiting media members is to enable them to plug in to the community and have a uniquely personal experience, which typically leads to more interesting, personal, and creative coverage.

Highlights from 2003 include:

  • More than 300 media outlets registered to attend the event, and of those, approximately 250 media outlets made it to the playa
  • International media coverage made up roughly 25% of the registrations, with outlets from the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Canada, and Japan
  • In an effort to get more visibility for artists and their art, the Media Team coordinated the first media art tour, using the Nautilus X to transport approximately 40 reporters, photographers, and video crews to installations on the playa
  • In addition to working with reporters, the Media Team also monitored use of the Burning Man trademark and handled more than 200 instances throughout the year of individuals making inappropriate use of the Burning Man name or logo to sell products, primarily on eBay

The Team operates year-round, providing members of the press with information on the event, helping them connect with local burners, and operating Media Mecca in Center Camp during the event.

In the months leading up to the event, the Team begins registering media outlets that want to attend Burning Man. All video crews are required to submit proposals for their documentaries, which are reviewed by the team and members of the Burning Man senior staff. The goal isn’t to censor coverage of the event but, instead, to weed out individuals who want to use Burning Man as a backdrop for pornographic films, music videos, television commercials, and reality shows as well as individuals who want to use the event as a backdrop of so-called crazy people for a modern-day pirate film. (We received proposals for all of these in advance of the 2003 event.)

About this photo...On the playa, the team operates Media Mecca, which serves as a pressroom where reporters can check in, find information, charge batteries, and hook up with participants and artists. Media Mecca is also home to the Black Rock Gazette, the live webcast, the Bureau of Land Management information trailer, video documentation, the satellite uplink, and IT/Network operations.

After the event, the Team answers follow-up questions and collects coverage as it appears.

The Team comprises 55 volunteers, half of whom are located in the San Francisco Bay Area with the rest spread across the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Team members include PR professionals, writers, academics, videographers, photographers, IT managers, business development managers, TV producers, a fashion designer, and Web developers.

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.

In addition to the 300 media outlets approved to attend in 2003, the team also dealt with an additional 100 inquiries from reporters looking to do advance stories on the event, along with video and film proposals that were eventually rejected.

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 before the event. Once on-site, they signed a video contract, which outlined what they could and could not do with their footage. The Media Team then tagged the crews’ cameras with large, yellow media tags. Participants shooting video strictly for personal use registered with Playa Info or at the Greeters’ Station rather than with Media Mecca and were given smaller, white tags. Professional videographers were also instructed to ask permission to videotape individuals and to explain to participants what they planned to do with the footage. As a result, we had only a handful of complaints about videographers this year.

Continuing a trend from previous years, reporters and video crews spent more time at the event, with many arriving the weekend before the official start so that they could capture Black Rock City as it was being built. Those who requested interviews with Larry Harvey were required to be on-site no later than Tuesday, and we found that the majority of media arrived by Wednesday.

Organizers have seen an increase in the number of attempts to link the Burning Man name to products and services. Burning Man is not entirely opposed to commerce within context. After all, tickets are sold for entrance to the event and coffee and ice are sold on the playa. In addition, sales of approved videos and other materials related 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 vast majority of cases, individuals contacted regarding a trademark conflict resolved the issue immediately. In only rare cases has any additional legal action been required.

In 2003, Burning Man worked closely with an Austin, Texas, film crew that, in 2002, proposed a year-long documentary following the Project from the end of the event in 2002 through the 2003 burn. This marked the first time that the Project had given such a high level of access to any documentary crew throughout the year and on the playa. Support for their efforts included facilitating several visits to the San Francisco offices throughout 2002 and 2003; and coordinating access to meetings, interviews, and information; as well as on-playa support and access to staff members, artists, theme camp organizers, volunteer teams, and organizational resources. The team—which included 4 camera crews, a still photographer, and an audio team—shot hundreds of hours of footage. The first cut of the film is expected to be complete around the beginning of 2004, and we are anxious to see the fruits of our shared labor with this very professional crew.

After the event, many filmmakers who wish to distribute their films require contracts and support to facilitate the process. Some films are selected for distribution on the Burning Man Web site after a review process is completed and a distribution agreement is signed. Other filmmakers seek agreements for their own efforts to distribute their films.

Among others, 2003 saw the completion and release of “Confessions of a Burning Man”, a feature film that followed 4 participants during the 2001 event. This film will open across the country in early 2004, and will work in conjunction with regional groups to include local communities in the film’s screenings.

In addition to films, Burning Man also provides year-round support for various journalists, writers, and authors who cover the event. They also direct the questions of academics that are seeking information for their studies involving the Burning Man event, community, and/or cultural movement..

Day and evening media art tours
Because the city changes so much from day to evening, we are looking into expanding the media art tour to include a nighttime tour that focuses on art that is designed to be seen at night.

Increasing awareness of online photo sharing Web sites
Many burners are taking advantage of online photo sharing Web sites such as Snapfish, Club Photo, oPhoto, and the like. While these services make it easy for participants to share their imagery with their friends, they also, in some cases, allow less-than-scrupulous individuals to purchase, download, or otherwise redisplay images of participants who have not given their permission. Specifically, we’ve encountered some instances where pictures of nude or topless participants have appeared on pornographic Web sites. The Web site owners have, in large part, been understanding and have removed the images at our request. Our goal, in advance of the 2004 event, is to sensitize participants to the possible negative outcome of making online imagery available via these services.

Cataloging and improving the Burning Man video archive
One effort that began in 2003 and that will continue in 2004 is to make the entire Burning Man video archive searchable (e.g., by topic, interview, year, area of focus). Many of the items in the archive are currently on VHS, which is an unstable format in terms of shelf life and “viewability.” We will be transferring some of the older footage to a digital format to prevent degradation and the loss of these important artifacts of our history.

Submitted by,
Jim Graham, aka ronjon
Andie Grace, aka Actiongrl