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!