Kit for community reporting and community action


A sort of ‘wish list’ of things and actions

“Get me one of these!!!” Someone heard me once say after another public gathering with Q&As where either the microphones failed unspectacularly or the room had no audio-visual capacity at all. You can see the appeal from my perspective (and from a facilitator’s one too) – I get the full audio as an editor and it’s crystal clear who gets to speak and who doesn’t – that’s assuming participants behave themselves.

Both Richard Taylor and I have ***huge problems*** getting decent audio at council meetings – note the various responses to his post here. To see and hear an example of the problems Cambridge City Council has, see their video here. They don’t actually have anyone operating their camera at present. (I did apply for a job involving making council videos there, but didn’t even get shortlisted, so don’t blame me if the quality doesn’t improve!)

Not being able to move around council chambers means one solution is getting something like this jib crane (or the handheld version here). Essentially I can stay in one place and make a reasonable effort to move the camera around to get a better view of the person speaking. For the three local councils I film at in and around Cambridge, the layout of the chamber of Cambridge City Council & Cambridgeshire County Council chambers means three cameras operating at once and switching between them is probably the only realistic solution: One facing the chair, and two in opposite corners of the room facing the councillors in the chamber. But you’d need something like the multicamera setup here to run that all-singing-all-dancing operation. Personally I think a forward-thinking/doing council should be able to do this already. In a few years time we may wonder what all the fuss was about with filming – especially if once set up, the whole filming operation can be carried out by one person on the day.

At the moment, the only firm I’m familiar with that does the sort of streaming at a professional level for local councils is Public-i based in Brighton. An impressive list of options available – but at a price. That said, I wonder whether the price would have a self-disciplining effect on councillors to keep their contributions to a minimum! (For example officers self-loading videos of presentations to councillors to watch in their own time, so that at the meeting only the substantive issues are discussed!??)

Archiving doesn’t come cheap!

And…I’ve used up a 4TB hard drive over the past couple of years. I need a new one – and they don’t come cheap. (So at some stage I’m going to have to get out my begging bowl). This is something councils will need to take seriously – and quickly, because they are the custodians of county archives. Just as I am fascinated by all of the photos hidden in their archives, long after I’m gone there will be someone who may feel the same about what I’ve filmed. Who’s going to look after all of it? Remember that digital mediums used for storage also degrade.


Running out of storage while on the move

I’ve lost count the number of times this has happened – in part due to the nature of the things I do. Batteries or storage are normally the problems. With the former, I’ve found that even the apparently high capacity batteries for my camcorder have a very limited half life. But I have to use batteries as council staff on the whole don’t like wires being trapsed around their buildings. Plus the positioning of electricity sockets remains stubbornly stuck in the last Millennium. Note that the design of council chambers and meetings remains stuck in another age. This is despite the likes of some councils such as South Cambridgeshire District Council effectively having huge open spaces that allow tables to be placed anywhere they like. The set up of tables for Greater Cambridge City Deal meetings means that everyone is far away from each other. The system of pressing buttons for microphones is also archaic.

140125 PufflesSoundDeskCityHallUKGC14

In London, Puffles discovered the London Assembly has an official in control of the sound desk rather than speakers/councillors clumsily pressing the button asking if they can be heard…before not speaking into the microphone. But yeah…storage on the move. I need one of these for my phone as I seem to be using it much more for filming these days.

Talking of microphones…

I’ve not had splendid luck with them really. Whether it’s the shotgun mic atop my camcorder to handheld mics or even lapel mics attached to clothing, there’s something that always seems to go wrong 😦 Which makes me think I need to go to audio sound school. This is particularly the case when recording live music.

I’ve become much more sensitive to audio quality since beginning filming and also since I joined the Dowsing Sound Collective in 2014. In particular I pick up when recordings don’t sound anything near like how they felt. There’s something about ‘live’ music that has the sort of soul that a studio can never reproduce. It’s as if the production and editing takes something out of them.

I was watching some Imelda May live videos online recently, and it struck me how different the open air recordings sounded compared to what we experienced at the Cambridge Folk Festival this year inside the main tented stage. I remain convinced that it was one of the best festival sets I’ve ever experienced – the sound engineers getting it spot on, especially with the bassist Al Gare and drummer Steve Rushton were excellent.

Credit where it’s due. Instant festival feedback on social media.

Al’s double bass had a warmth I never associated with a pizzicato bass, and the variety of Steve’s drumming and choice of drums was several steps up on what I’d seen with many other bands. Only Alan White of Oasis (Who I saw at Earl’s Court in 1997) is a percussionist that also stands out from those I’ve seen.

Vlogging at the Folk Festival

There’s something surreal about having a conversation with your mobile on a selfie-stick, and then watching the footage back. What’s nice about this piece is I’m fairly relaxed and am not in ranting politics mode. But what you can’t see in all of this…

…is the depression…

It’s been an incredibly difficult time of late, with my emotional senses being crushed on so many fronts it seems. Whether it’s petty officialdom on local issues to the constant stream of disaster porn that masquerades as ‘news’ to my general health outlook not feeling any better, it’s just…yeah…fighting everything alone in my mind while feeling emotionally disconnected from everyone and everything.

Hence why I’m kinda pleased I’ve made it to the various meetings & gatherings that have taken place recently – mainly on local campaigns and issues resulting in people from different groups being connected up. It would have been much easier to have stayed in bed, really!



2 thoughts on “Kit for community reporting and community action

  1. “That said, I wonder whether the price would have a self-disciplining effect on councillors to keep their contributions to a minimum”

    Tbh, this illustrates the problem I have with filming council meetings (and indeed, the desire our society to film everything and everyone). People are different in front of a camera and anytime politics becomes associated with every discussion being filmed, you get either a much more stage-managed events where politicians are not more self-disciplined but just start media-managing their responses, or local politics starts attracting those who are good on camera first. I want my councillors to feel they can talk – shyer, nicer, thoughtful folk, of which there are lots in places like Cambridge, will be no-where to be seen.

    You’re a much nicer piece of work than Richard Taylor, but also witness his style of passive-aggression utterly inhibiting councillors and members of the public who don’t want to be filmed (read his twitter feed ad nauseam for examples of folk complaining about this).


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