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NEW SHOW! - People2People

I am currently experimenting with using skype video calls for a new show called People2People, "the show where citizen journalists talk to other citizen journalists around the world". It gives a really exciting opportunity for eye-witness reportage by a method which is technically fairly straightforward.


We are aiming to upload these shows directly, without editing, because skype is low quality to begin with, and another compression should therefore be avoided.

We're using Supertintin Recorder, which allows you to record skype in avi format. So far I have recorded 640 x 480 pixels, which produces a reasonable quality image (23mb for 5 mins - would be better if it was twice that - but it says it's recording a video bitrate of 2300 kbps, which is lots - next I will try the higher pixels setting to see what effect that has on picture quality).

I like the fact that Supertintin has a 5 minute limit in the free version, because that's plenty long enough for a watchable skype show. Really it is! Almost all talk shows on the internet are far too long....

The software also allows you to set both the position and the size of the interviewer's picture-in-picture.

For cutting from interview to video or stills, we are using skype's sharing option. The main problem with this is the slowness of the changeover of picture, with some freezing of the talking heads occurring and so forth. We may be able to get quciker at this, or do it more smoothly, with more practice. The important thing is to keep talking, and have no gaps while you wait for pictures!

Welcome to our world of mash-up!

Richard Hering introduces our new multi-media "book" of the largest UK protest since 2003

"If I was going to start a news business tomorrow, I would start a business that was not designed to produce one new bit of news, but instead to aggregate news for individuals in ways that mattered to them." (Professor Clay Shirky - NYU)

Ten years ago, if faced, as on 26 March 2011, with the largest public protest since the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq, I would have been out on the streets with my video camera, trying to capture a slivver of the excitement of that day. If I'd been well-prepared, I would have gained the trust of a direct action "affinity group" ready to do something really visual, and keen to get it seen. I would then have tried to sell this footage to the mainstream news in time for the evening bulletins, to get it watched by normal people, and to cover costs and possible legal expenses incurred by the protesters. And finally I would have lovingly crafted a short punchy film that told the story from our point of view. Capacity for social change: small.

Or else I would not have attended the protest at all, and would instead have been honing meticulous 2-page proposals for investigative documentary on Channel 4, which, if successful would send me on a long and arduous journey in return for a slot on primetime TV. Viewers: many. Personal prestige (awards etc): great. Capacity for social change: tiny.

But on March 26, I did not walk the streets of central London at all. Instead, Marc Barto and I sat scrutinizing the stream of data coming into our laptops in an improvised studio lent to us by the University of London Union. We were using the phenomenal new software Storify to compile a timeline of the day, as it happened before our glassy eyes. The latest tweets, newsy or funny or attitudinal, were carefully selected alongside the best photos, and the first videos to come in that really told a story. (These last mainly used visionOntv's video citizen journalist templates, made by members of the London Video Activist Network, guided during the day from the same studio space). Later we added an edited selection of eye-witness accounts, some by experienced journalists such as Laurie Penny of the New Statesman, and others by first-time writers being hosted by other blogs. We also added the higher-quality videos which take between a day and a fortnight to edit, such as Michael Chanan's "A Tale of Two Demonstrations" and our own Kayte Fairfax' and Shaun Firkser's brilliant "Anarchists Unmasked!" (I will review the video content from March 26 in a following article.)

The result is only one of many possible stories of this massive protest against the cuts. We have tried to reflect all points of view among the protesters, from those who marched and attended the rally in Hyde Park in the hope of challenging power through numbers, through to those who think that the only solution is deep systemic change. It puts both sides as the protesters debate the value of tactics such as damage to property. It excoriates the laughable coverage by the mainstream media. It is a genuine, multi-faceted, and multi-media, story from the grassroots, crowd-sourced from citizen writers, photographers, and film makers.

Welcome to our wonderful world of mash-up media.

 

Check out the March26 timeline here!

Facebook Follies

With over 50 UK-based activist groups deleted by facebook prior to the Royal Wedding last Friday, we have a great opportunity to reassess our relationship to this social media monolith.

Let's be clear. As activists, we would be pretty dumb and self-defeating not to use facebook, which holds accounts for 1 in 12 of the world's population.

It makes absolutely no sense to be using an unconnected parallel network with a small fraction of the members.

But facebook has a basic structure very unsuitable for campaigns and activism. Let's define it politically and ideologically. It is designed to be a network of individuals who connect to their "friends". The full set of features, for instance the crucial facility to direct-message people, is only given to individuals. The suggestion that activist groups should set up "pages" rather than "profiles" is impractical for this reason. At base, facebook is designed to allow people to group themselves, but only within the walls of fb itself. Pre-existing groups, or groups with a life of their own, violate the terms and conditions and can be closed at any time. This fundamental facebook structure feeds the server / client relationship beloved of corporations (they serve us content, which we consume), rather than the horizontal peer-to-peer network on which the internet is based (we can all be content producers sharing with each other - this latter is the corporate nightmare). To adapt Monty Python's "Life of Brian", facebook's insistence that "you're all individuals" should cause us all to shout "we're not!"

So what we need to be doing when we post to facebook is constantly linking to networks and resources outside of it, to net the fb user fish and take them out to safer, clearer, more sustaining waters.

And more broadly, to quote Aaron Peters, "this requires us to start using and building viable alternatives that are in every sense of the word ‘ours’, meaning that they are commons-based in production, distribution and ownership."

visionOntv is currently working on tools that will enable our site to live within facebook as itself, a plan which knocks holes in the infamous fb walled garden. Watch this space!

There is an open meeting on Thursday May 5 for people to stand up to the latest attacks on our civil liberties, organized on, er, facebook.

Let's walk the walk for independent media

How can we really build a vibrant and quality independent media, rather than just hope for one?

Part 1: By creative commons licensing

All the films we have shot ourselves at #visionontv are distributed creative commons, as is the whole of this website. We use this license:

Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

The license lets others remix, tweak, and build upon your work non-commercially, as long as they credit you and license their new creations under the identical terms. This is vital for the building of free and independent media, but lots of film makers find this idea quite threatening.

So here's an FAQ to allay your fears!

I don't want to lose my ownership of the footage by making it copyleft.

Creative commons isn't copyleft - it's a copyright license. You're just allowing some people to use it under the same terms, crediting you when they do it.

The BBC told me that they didn't have to pay for my footage, because it was creative commons.

The corporate media often tries this line, but they are "commercial", and your filmwork is your copyright. One of my favourites, from a production company working for Channel 4 UK, was "we found it on youtube, so don't have to pay". Sorry, you do. If they use it without asking, send them a bill.

But I'm worried about people cutting my footage into whatever film, outside of my control.....

They have to credit their use, and in my experience I have basically agreed with all the films which have used my shots. Surely it's good to get your stuff out there as much as possible?

What about the artistic integrity of my original film?

Well, that still exists, right? There is actually a creative commons license specifying "no derivative works", but why lock up your footage in one version only? Mozart wrote the Magic Flute for a troupe that had lampooned his previous work. Good enough for him, definitely good enough for me. And because of the "sharealike" clause, every use of your material guarantees more media available for the creative community.

My contributors have only released their work to this one film.....

You should never promise this to your contributors, because it is meaningless in the digital world. Let's imagine a worst possible case for them, where their contribution was ripped to shreds as a "satire" by a member of the Tea Party and published to youtube. Under the Californian law which covers google's video-sharing behemoth this copyright violation is permitted as "fair use", a basic protection of freedom of speech. In reality this almost never happens.

But you said your entire project was creative commons. What stops someone from simply taking your whole site and rebranding it as theirs?

They would have to give credit, but yes, they could do that, which would be absolutely brilliant. It would be weird if they didn't add something (conspiracy theory films? Extreme sports?). In which case, if we liked what they added, which in the case of extreme sports is possible, we could put it in our site as well. Everyone gains, and we make the world a better place.

Creative commons is one of the key ways we can build an open and better media. Part 2 will deal with media rss.

Got a Camera? Be a Reporter, Not a Spectator

Richard Hering and Hamish Campbell are checking on what you're doing with that camera:

We've all done it. Gone on a demo and taken an hour's worth of video, and the tape of it then languishes on a shelf slowly icing over with dust. Sometimes, but certainly not always, we even label it carefully, because one day we will definitely edit it into our award-winning activist documentary. Yeah, right.

The question is: why don't we do more with all the video and photos we take of every event in our lives? At any interesting action, a hundred people turn up with cameras. Sometimes there are more cameras than activists. What happens to all these pictures and footage? Mainly, if they appear at all, they go into a kind of flickr or youtube compost, waiting for someone, somewhere to grow something out of them. Or worse, they end up in the internet silo which is facebook, as part of your individual profile. I took these pictures, me, they're all about me. Not much desire for social change in that!

So what stops you, and we mean YOU, from doing something useful with your gadgets? How do you become a journalist instead of a by-stander? It's actually a lot easier than you think, but there are some rules.

Being a journalist simply means telling the story, and you don't need a degree course in media to do it.

There are three basic ways of telling the story, in ascending order of skill:

1. Shoot video of anything interesting, keep it short, and put the journalism in the title and description of the video and blogpost when you upload. Just tell us the 5 Ws: Who, What, Where , When and Why.

2. Think about your story, plan it and tell it right there on the spot, putting the story in the video as it is shot. Template 1 - the live editing one shot report.

3. Learn the skills, put 3 months' work in as a video apprentice and plan the story beforehand, so that you can easily edit the result in a few hours. Template 3

All of these need a level of commitment which clearly separates the reporter from the mere on-looker. But they are all things that can be done in your spare time. To make this a whole lot easier, visionOntv is organising the MAKING NEWS ROADSHOW, a citizen journalist training programme beginning in Liverpool on 17-19 June.

So what do you want to be today? A journalist or a spectator?

THOUSANDS PROTEST IN TRAFALGAR SQUARE

RALLY CALLS TIME ON DICTATORS IN SYRIA, EGYPT, BAHRAIN....

Activists from countries across the region took to a huge stage to share their stories of struggle and perseverance in the face of violent suppression. Speakers were there from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Palestine and Bahrain. The huge crowd was made up of trade unionists, students, Amnesty International supporters and other ordinary people from across the UK who gathered in a day of "solidarity and defiance".

visionOntv interviewed the activists:

The Failure of Video Training

 


Let me make a confession. I have been training people to make videos for 25 years, and most of this training has been a total waste of time.

 

There. I said it.

 

Outside of the hothouse of the weekend or evening class, my students have been, with the exception of a few phenomenally talented and dedicated ones, completely unable to make another film.

At a time when the technology to make films is in everyone's hands, but the skills to make effective citizen media are still sorely lacking, this is tragic. So how on earth has it happened? The answer is simple. The technical and craft skills required for documentary making are just too complex, and an apprenticeship of years is required to learn them. So why are introductory video trainers still delivering boiled-down documentary courses over a weekend? A lot of denial of the truth is taking place. Video trainers have dealt with this failure by ignoring it in a number of ways:

 

1. Deny that it's a failure – you can strongly suspect this is happening when the same video, made by the above exceptionally talented ones, gets screened over and over to show the success of previous courses.
Showing work produced on the course is anyway simply irrelevant, as only work produced afterwards without the help of an expert would mean the course was successful.

Video trainers, ask yourselves this simple question: how many videos were made by course participants AFTER your training finished?

 

2. Take the money and run. Millions in funding have been thrown at video training around the world over the last few decades, in the misguided hope that by these methods we can produce a whole new class of video producers. So why not feed a bit at the trough?

 

3. Provide no training at all. The video bloggers' line – we're all capable of being creative in the world of remix and v-logging. Let it all hang out in its distended and undisciplined style. And once again, at conferences, show the few shining examples which have gone viral on youtube.

 

4. Take this a step further and say that training is an unacceptable restriction on the creativity of would-be film makers and how dare trainers tell them what to do. This has the advantage of making you a lot of friends – all the people who fantasize that they can go from beginner to award-winner without learning the basic skills, or the many who like to say “My video's not boring. It's artistic." It also means you avoid the hard work of actually fronting up to students, of having the courage and the social skills to correct their mistakes without them feeling disempowered. "We're all creative in our different ways" is so much easier.

 

5. Carry on teaching the wrong thing. The truth is that we video trainers need to take a heavy dose of “unlearning”, burying our professional skills for the sake of students. Rifle mikes? 3-point lighting? WHITE BALANCE? All unnecessary, and they give students the idea that this is a professional world that is closed to them.

 

6. Parachute in for a weekend, with no follow-up. In reality, the "before" and "after" of a course is more important than the training itself.

 

The project I work with, visionOntv, has taken a radically different path. We have thrown out of our training everything which would confuse beginners and distract them from basic story-telling. We have produced templates for rapid-turnaround video production, as cartoons on one side of paper. We have told students that they MUST follow the templates. Before the course, students have committed themselves to making films after it, and at the end of it they have been able to create a web community for mutual help.

The first training in visioOntv's MAKING NEWS Roadshow made no less than 55 short films. In one month - 55 films. Not all of them great, but most of them watchable, and some very good. No other video training anywhere has ever achieved this.

 

So what is our vision? A world filled with citizen video reporters. A replacement for the traditional media. Untold stories, sidelined perspectives, a media made by the "people formerly known as the audience". The new mainstream.

Beyond journalism!

visionOntv's citizen journalism tools are not only useful for telling news stories. They may even improve your love life! (Published on Valentine's Day 2012) Try out the templates!

 

Thanks to Takako Yamaguchi, Percy Bysshe Shelley and J.S.Bach

Why I Hack the Media

My name is Richard, and I am a media hacker.

But what is a media hacker?

For me, it means three different things:

1. We try to build effective tools to make contemporary media more than the sum of its parts. (Right now it's not even the sum of its parts.) No media project should be an island. We want to help buld a flow of content, with waves the producers can ride. Taking the tools that already exist, making them better, and and stitching them all together. Key-words: for the code, open industrial standards; no black boxes, no writing code from scratch; aggregation ("If I was to start a news organisation today, I would not be a producer, I would be an aggregator." Clay Shirky); smart aggregation, being a golden ladle in the data soup; ethical aggregation, never re-posting, always linking to the published source. The producer of the film gets all the views.

2. Taking a sharp and shiny scimitar to the traditional media, hacking at it while it's on its knees.

3. Producing a lot of films, but at the same time, still having a life. I used to be an investigative reporter for TV, and it could take me two years to make one half-hour film. And I didn't have a life. Using visionOntv's templates I can churn out reports, streaming the things that I do. Bish bash bosh.

Get a life, hack the media.

Citizen Media Handbook - coming soon!

Some quotes:

How to do citizen media:

"Stick to the template!"

"Write it for every next-door neighbour in the world."

"From the hyper-local to the global."

"Good enough is good enough."

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