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.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Boyle McCauley News: February 2011

The first issue of Boyle McCauley News in 2011 is now online. Here is a look at just some of what's inside:

* Mary Burlie Park May Go
* Open East Edmonton Health Centre
* Seeking McCauley Balance
* McCauley Connect Coffeehouse Premiers
* Our Volunteers - Alistair Henning
* McCauley Cup and Family Day Celebrations
* Grand Manor Open House
* Cop’s Corner: Vacation Preparation
* Getting Animated About McCauley
* The Aging Brain
* Escape to Morocco
* Letters To The Editor
* Community League Updates

You can download the entire February 2011 issue as a PDF here.

Winter Wonderland and Wet Socks

Last Saturday, I realized that my snow boots are not waterproof as I slogged through the slushy mess that was Chinatown and Giovanni Caboto Park. I endured hours of wet socks tormenting my cold, cramping feet (no doubt a leading factor in the flu that hit me this week).

But it was worth it (although I could definitely have lived without the flu part). The Lunar New Year celebrations in Chinatown were spectacular as always - loud and colourful. I especially enjoy the dragon and lion dances, and once again, my eardrums popped when the firecrackers were set off (I keep forgetting to bring earplugs). There were other Lunar New Year celebrations at indoor locations in Edmonton, but there is nothing like being outside in the winter right in Chinatown watching the community celebrate. Here are photos that I took as well as videos of the dragon dance, lion dance, and a business being blessed (listen to those loud firecrackers!).

Then, after a bowl of pho to warm up, it was over a few blocks to Giovanni Caboto Park to take in Common Ground. Common Ground was part of the Winter Light Festival, and featured a transformation of the park. Most of the snow was cleared away into huge windrows (which were being used as sled hills by children), with a Heritage Village with teepees, snowshoeing, African drumming, and more. In the evening, the park was alight with coloured lights and lanterns, and finished off with a community feast. Common Ground celebrated the different cultures represented in the McCauley area - Chinese, Italian, Aboriginal, and African - and demonstrated how much we have to learn from each other. Here are some photos.

So, last Saturday I indeed felt as though I walked through a winter wonderland. However, next time I think I will bring galoshes and a change of socks.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The English Teacher

When I was in grade twelve I was still pretty clueless about what I wanted to do with my life. University registration deadlines were looming and while by this time I knew that I wanted to pursue higher education, I did not know in what.

Someone helped me make that decision, not by coercion or other means of manipulation, but by simply taking an interest in me and giving me a few nudges in areas of intellectual development.

I didn't know that Brian Jones was going to be such an influence in my life when I walked into English 30 on the first day of classes. One of the first units we studied dealt with existentialism. We analyzed a couple of stories out of an anthology. If I recall correctly, I tried to return the book, he asked me if I had read all the stories. When I answered no, he insisted that I hang onto the anthology for the rest of the term.

Mr. Jones was always very encouraging about my writing and interpretive abilities, even when being critical of my writing style, which was sometimes as clumsy and awkward as my teenage self. Still, I found myself more and more drawn to all thing literary, and finally made the decision to apply to the Faculty of Education, with a Major in English.

It turned out that my final year of high school was also Mr. Jones's final year of teaching. He retired at the end of the term and I never saw him again, but remember fondly his class, his encouragement, and him telling anecdotes about his past with his unmistakeable Welsh accent. One of my favourite photos if the one I have of my graduation day, me in my robe crossing the stage and Mr. Jones handing me my fake scroll (the real ones were mailed to us later).

I don't know if you're still out there Mr. Jones, but I want to thank you for everything. You are a large part of who I am today.

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