Monday, February 14, 2011

An Activist Media Memoir

Like many aspects of my life, I fell into activist media sort of by accident. As a freelance writer and photographer with progressive leanings, Edmonton’s activist scene intrigued me, yet was somewhat of a mystery. As far as I could tell, there was little documentation of what was going on. Since mainstream media can’t really be expected to report on events such as peace marches or conferences to any great extent, I knew an activist scene existed but elusively was out of sight. And for many, out of sight means out of mind.

When I finally made a concentrated effort to locate and become involved with local activist organizations, I found a plethora of information on the Internet, and shortly thereafter became a fixture on the scene. I remember at the first peace march I attended, asking for permission to take photos (which was granted). Still, I could not help but be concerned that some thought I was a CSIS agent in disguise.

Fortunately, with cultivating personal relationships comes trust, and I not only became welcome at events, but also started to be invited as well as to get involved with several organizations. This provides a unique perspective as being at once a media person and an organizer/participant. I don’t see a conflict, as much of my reportage consists of photo and video reportage with minimal editing, rather than written editorials. Usually what I write is descriptive, and simply discusses the details and purpose of the event.

From a technical perspective, juggling my equipment is one of the biggest challenges of my work. At most events I am usually carrying no less than one SLR digital camera (and occasionally a point-and-shoot as a backup), a mini-DV camcorder, a small tripod, and several rounds of extra batteries, tapes, and memory cards. I stopped using a separate camera bag a while ago, and opted to stuff everything into my backpack. Both cameras (still and video) are strapped around my neck, while the tripod is able to just fit into my pack. Otherwise, it is carried separately before and after the event, after I put my cameras away.

Running, weaving in and out, walking, jumping, and occasionally climbing, are the physical aspects of media coverage. I sometimes joke with my friends that while bungee jumping and skydiving are the extreme sports of choice for some, marches are mine. As well, since Edmonton is known for its long and brutal winters, dressing for the weather is a fact of life before outdoor events.

I try to get my work online as fast as possible after an event, especially during a busy time when there are multiple things going on at once. Photos are edited and uploaded to my website, which also acts as a portal to the places where I also upload media. I use social media to its fullest extent, and get photos on Flickr and Facebook, while the videos go to YouTube. I then blog about the event with links to my uploaded media, which feeds through to my Facebook). I post direct links to the media on Twitter. Finally, I post to various activist listservs, usually those relevant to the event as well as broader ones intended for community use.

The importance of social media in activist journalism cannot be stressed enough. A media producer has the potential to reach an audience far wider than through traditional medias alone, if at all. Those seeking such kinds of reporting are also likely to be online and looking for reports from activist media, rather than channel surfing or reading corporately sponsored publications – inexpensive, easy to locate, but not representing all voices.

My goal is to provide complete, clear coverage of events so that those looking at photos or watching videos can get an accurate sense of what happened, the purpose of the event, and hopefully in that process, think about their own values and beliefs with regards to the theme or issue at hand.

Paula E. Kirman is an Edmonton-based writer, editor, photographer, musician, and activist. This article was originally written for the University of Alberta chapter of Journalists for Human Rights.

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