The launch of the website birminghambudgetcuts.blogspot.com was timed to coincide with an anti-cuts rally in London that was to be attended by trade unionists from across Britain, including a busload of protestors from Birmingham. It was our hope that by generating original local content on launch day it would catch the attention of Birmingham public servants, who we hope will be regular visitors to the site.
After spending many years as a series producer, it felt great to get back in the field again but from the moment the bus left Broad Street it really sunk in how much the mechanics of reporting have changed. I talked to protestors, took notes, looked for story leads and tweeted from the bus to @brumbudgetcuts. Not even television writing, which is tight by necessity, prepares you for explaining something in 140 characters.
I was using a new Nokia E63 with hot keys programmed to twitter and facebook. I also downloaded Qik to my mobile, which would enable live streaming of video back to birminghambudgetcuts.blogspot.com using the program “Cover It Live”. My partner Andy Watt and I had spent time on the weekend practising our streaming method, so we were relatively confident that it would work. While I was in the field, Andy was monitoring the site, turning my tweets around to the Cover It Live blog and prepping for the live video.
The bus was late for the rally and there wasn’t much time to think when I walked into Methodist Central Hall where union leaders were already delivering speeches. I wasn’t prepared because I had mistakenly assumed the rally would be outside, as almost all rallies are in Canada.
I took a quick look at the riser at the back of the hall where several professional cameramen were already rolling and pulling in audio feeds and I realized that wasn’t going to cut it with my Kodak flip cam. They’re great for journalism on the fly and downloading to your laptop, but audio is problematic unless you’re standing right next to someone. I tweeted a two-minute warning and then positioned myself as close as I dared to the stage, raised my arm in the air, hit record, and let it rip until I was out of memory.
I kept shooting after that, moving closer and closer in my quest for decent audio, until I was in the aisle, arm extended, blocking the view of far too many people. It’s no surprise that an organizer tapped me on the shoulder to ask if I was with the media, because I clearly wasn’t using the same tools as the rest of the reporters. I hesitated for just a moment, because I was newsgathering for a website of my own creation, as opposed to a “big media” organization, and then I just smiled, said yes, and kept rolling.
By the time the event was over and the bus returned to Birmingham, I had already put in a 12-hour day, but it wasn’t over yet because I planned to use my flip cam footage to post a multimedia piece to the website. When I was on the air, I used to say that if I couldn’t be a TV reporter, I would love to be an editor. I’ve always enjoyed the creative process of combining pictures and script because it’s like a complicated puzzle and, when it works, it can be magical. The problem is that my editing ability, although considerable, is almost entirely conceptual because I’ve always had the good fortune to rely on professional editors. Not only do they manipulate pictures, sound and narration, but the best editors improve the product immeasurably because they’re visually and technically gifted.
No surprise then that it took me five hours to cut together a short multimedia piece and post it on the website. I am determined to become more proficient with practice.