Reporting Saturday’s TUC March for the Alternative and UKUncut’s protests against tax dodgers proved the limits of technology. There may be power in a union but if there’re no power points to plug in laptops and mobiles, nobody will know about it.
Broadband access too is key. We posted our first report and video from Starbucks in Villiers Street, near the Embankment. Trying to upload video in Hyde Park via a Vodafone dongle proved fruitless so, with Starbucks on Piccaddilly smashed up, we had to march for the alternative. Café Nero had broadband but no power sockets. I filed with 4% Macbook battery life left.
When Saturday comes
Martin Cloake and I decided to report the protests for AOL’s Daily Finance. We took along with us Lizzie Houghton, a student journalist and editor of Lancaster Students’ paper Scan.
We did some interviews with protesters gathering early on the Embankment and as the first marchers headed off. Then we dived into Starbucks for coffee, power sockets and internet access.
It took about 40 minutes to edit and upload the video and write the first story and about another ten minutes to process it all in AOL’s Blogsmith content management system (CMS). Queuing for the loo brought that up to an hour. Here’s that first video:
We then tried to get ahead of the march, criss-crossing it to get snippets of video but trying to get ahead to Hyde Park. There I set up a tripod to film the stage. I need a taller tripod.
I tried to record Ed Miliband’s speech on my Android phone and post direct to Audioboo. That seemed to freeze the phone – for hours and even after changing the battery when one ran down. I was amazed to discover later that the Audioboo did actually go live.
I cut TUC general secretary Brendan Barber’s speech and Miliband’s speech into separate videos and tried to upload to Youtube.
Perhaps it was over-capacity with so many mobile phone users in one place but there was just no way the Vodafone dongle was going to cope, so Lizzie and I left in search of a café with wifi. A nurse I had interviewed at 10.30 was only just arriving at Hyde Park then.
Martin had already gone to report the UKUncut protests in Oxford Street, which was stark contrast to the peaceful and family-oriented Hyde Park. He was taking video on his iPhone.
Imbalance of power
We all met up again in a Café Nero and we collectively put together another report using the wifi there, with Lizzie and Martin checking Twitter and official press statements. But Café Nero had no power sockets – we not only looked for them, we asked if we could plug into one. They said no.
We decided to check out the Fortnum and Mason occupation but as we approached riot police started moving into Piccaddilly to clear the road in front of the shop of they could then get the occupiers to leave.
Filming, I found protesters only too keen to point me in the direction of the police if they felt the police were meting out violence. It was handbags rather than fisticuffs, mainly, but the appearance riot police did up the ante. Police in standard uniform continued to mingle in the crowd.
The British Army in Iraq has learned the lesson that patrolling in standard uniform and berets results in less hostility than in body armour and hard hats. We didn’t want to be kettled and had no power left to post anyway, so we beat a retreat.
We stopped briefly at Trafalgar Square to film the dancing and drum beating going on there and then jumped on a train at Charing Cross.
Once in a pub we collectively worked again on a final story, with a short video of the police in riot gear and protesters running up and down Piccadilly. Blogsmith froze and lost the lot, meaning I had to post it all again.
We finished 10 hours and 45 minutes after we had set off from my house that morning. We had done just three posts.
Battery life is a killer. Martin’s phone needed charging. My Macbook needed charging. I carry spare batteries for my Blackberry and Android, but that is not an option for the iPhone – the main reason I won’t have one, despite being a Mac user.
And broadband access was an issue too. Even when we did find it, it was often painfully slow because of congestion on the wifi network.
Next time I’d try and work out in advance places we could get to with power and broadband – friend’s homes, offices we could get access to, anything other than relying on cafes and open wifi hotspots. But I’d also have those cafes on a map so we could get to them quickly if need be.
I’d set up a live blog next time so we could post updates from our mobiles, rather than have to use the CMS. We could still have done the three major posts but would have added much more via the live blog.