Reflections on social reporting an event

After a couple of days social reporting at a conference in Lisbon, my co-reporters Bev Trayner, Josien Kapma and I decided we should turn the camera on ourselves and reflect on what worked well – or didn’t.

As I showed here earlier, we have been reporting on the Powering a New Future conference, which is celebrating and showcasing eight years of European Social Funding for innovation projects through the EQUAL programme. Our role has been to develop the conference blog with the usual mix of words, video and photos.

What was unusual, in my experience, was that we had the benefit of a three person team, a good base at the venue, and another team led by Richard Jolly doing the really hard work of capturing more formal interviews with the main speakers. That left us to concentrate on the informal.

So at the end of the second day, yesterday, we talked through our experience, noted the key points on a flip chart, and then recorded an interview with ourselves on a Flip camera.

Here’s some of the points you’ll hear in the video:

It’s important that someone on the team knows about the content of the conference, or that you have continuing guidance from an organiser on who’s who and what’s happening. Obvious – but easily forgotten, in which case you can take a lot of time trying to make the right connections outside sessions. In this instance we were well integrated because Bev had worked on Communities of Practice for the EQUAL programme. (Bev also planned our involvement, set up the blog, and overall kept us on track).

The conference format and purpose strongly influences what’s possible. The aim of this event was showcasing projects, rather than creating new networks or informal connections – and that meant much of the programme was fairly formal. We had to find ways of connecting to the conversations in between.

We were fortunate in having a work space with power and good wifi, in the middle of the venue. People could find us.

We each tried to do the whole job when producing an item: shoot the video, write the copy, compress, upload and tag on the blog. It was possible to do that because we were each able to do any of the tasks, and it meant that we didn’t end up with one person having to do all the video edits, or have a load of stuff to edit at the end.

Because there were three of us, one or more could be out collecting stories while the other one(s) were finishing an item.

We ended up using four sorts of cameras:

A Sanyo xacti HD1010 with an external mic and monopod for front-row recordings in the auditorium, like this one of Tom Wolff talking about collaborations. (There was an extremely impressive projection system, throwing main speakers and signer on to a backdrop screen, but we were not sure we would be able to get access to any recording. Another general lesson – try and link up with in-house audio-visual teams. Not always easy if they are another contractor).

The Flip for simple interviews around the hall, like these at the end of the event, and others during workshops, or with speakers, and also a couple of normal digital cameras that shoot video as well as photos. (They do this just as well as the Flip – it’s just the Flip is simpler if you want to hand a camera to someone else. It’s just – easy).

The Videoboo set-up running on Macbooks – which I’ve written about here. This turns the laptop into a portable videobooth, putting the interviewee in control and making them feel comfortable. You can see the results here. It is great for the reporter, because you can either interview someone, or let them do a solo session, knowing that once they press the “use this one” button it goes straight to YouTube on a private setting. You can then hold it or release as public, and embed the code into your blog post.

(As an aside, if you aren’t familiar with videoblogging, the (long) way it is  done is to shoot video on a camera, transfer to computer, edit if necessary, compress if lengthy, then upload to YouTube or similar service before taking code from there to embed in the blog post. Flip makes the transfer easy because it plugs straight in to the USB port, and has some simple software for editing and uploading. Videoboo is even easier, because you are recording straight to computer, and it uploads automatically).

Videoboo is not generally released yet, but you can contact Matt Waring and Mark Rock at Best Before Media if you are interested. I shot an interview with them here. Sorry PC users, but it is Mac-only.

I would have liked to use Qik to stream video straight from my Nokia N82 phone to the web, again cutting out the editing, but I couldn’t get a connection to the wifi network, and using 3g would have been very costly on my UK account.

You’ll hear at the end of our reflections a reminder from Josien that we should not just rely on video, but also do good blog posts. Words are quicker to read than videos are to view, and not everyone likes watching or has a good enough connection.

We tried to make it reasonably easy to find content on the blog by tags and categories, and summary pages for each day. The aim of our reporting was to give some informal sense of the event, rather than capture lots of content: that will be coming from Richard’s team. It was a great opportunity to try different approaches and spend more time than is usually available on learning from the experience.

One really useful bit of software that we used – recommend by my son Dan – was MPEG Streamslip. It enables you to trim and compress clips really easily to make uploads faster, and has the great advantage of reading avi files from Flip and exporting them as mpegs. Mac or Windows.

As you’ll gather, there are still quite a few technical challenges in doing light-weight video social reporting, and even with three people it can be challenging to get stuff up on the day.

One of the greatest rewards I found was being able to spend a few days with Bev and Josien, talking and evolving ideas and practice in social reporting. I’m sure they’ll both blog about the experience too at some point.

One of the additional pleasures was spending some time with the charming and knowledgable Etienne Wenger, specialist in Communities of Practice. He gave a terrific presentation, and introduced the idea of the social artist. Bev reported:

An act of learning citizenship is to be able to use who you are to open this space for learning. I’ve come to call these people social artists, people who can create a space where people can find their own sense of learning citizenship.

I love social artists. In fact I worship them. First because social artists know how to do what I only know how to talk about; and second because I care about the learning of this planet. I think we are in a race between learning and survival. We live in a knowledge economy where any expertise is too complex for any one person. One person can’t be an expert so anyone who can give voice to that need to to work together is a social artist.

Can social reporters become social artists, helping create and hold spaces and networks for learning, not just at events but in all other situations where people need to collaborate? That certainly feels like something worth aspiring to.


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  • December 13, 2008 - 11:03 pm | Permalink

    It was a pleasure working with you David.

    on my “want-to-try-out-soon” list:

    Do you have experience using it?

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