Keynote speech: Marco Kühne

Marco Kühne
Video/grassroots/action

Good morning everyone. I am honored that you invited graswurzel.tv to this
conference. Thank you very much for that and I hope I can contribute to the
discussions by introducing the project graswurzel.tv, which is doing alternative
journalism for more than six years by now. In the upcoming 45 minutes I would like
to talk a bit about my personal motivation as well as the reason why we founded the
project and how we think we contribute to the media landscape.
I was thinking about how to start this presentation for quite a while. I was not sure
whether to start talking about my personal motivation or the idea behind the project
and after thinking about it, I decided to start with a video. Then again I was not sure
which of our more than 200 videos would give you an idea of what we are doing and I
decided to show you a clip of an action we accompanied last year. It is about a group
of activists many people would not even call activists because it’s a group of just
regular individuals – not the kind you see on television if mainstream media is talking
about activism, but musicians. They call themselves “Lebenslaute” which could be
translated into English as “Living Sounds”. It’s a group of individuals that either sing in
a choir or enjoy playing instruments. For many years this group meets every year and
decides to take action on a topic that threatens life. I have big sympathies for these
people and for that reason I decided to show you the following clip and I will be
referring to it on a few occasions during the upcoming 43 minutes.
http://www.graswurzel.tv/p220.html
Before I go into the depth of graswurzel.tv which is the project I co-founded in 2006 I
want to talk about my personal interest in video-production:
Video is accompanying my life for quite a few years know. Depending on who you
believe, my generation is the first one, called Digital Natives, born and raised with all
the excitement of this new colourful technology and the opportunities that arose with it. At the age of 14 I got my first own TV and just a few years later I spent my saved pocket money on the first VCR, the requirement for my first editing experiences.
Parents of a friend of mine already had a HI8 Analog Camcorder by that time and we
started something that could be called a High School student production group. We
went to school events and shot mostly boring graduation speeches or graduates
babbling in our camera totally drunk. By that time, the editing was done, using a
system called Casablanca, which was quite spectacular for us: It must have been
around the year of 1998 or 1999 when I got in contact with this system: A stand
alone editing computer that enabled us to capture analog Hi8 video, edit the footage
digitally to play out the final edit on analog video again.
When I got to University I was offered fully digital editing capabilities. I was flashed by
the huge acceleration of workflow and gain in quality. Today this seems like the
requirements that enabled us to think about starting a new student production
company but this time with a political background. Having gained some experience
with the digital workflow and having bought a mobile editing computer of our own,
two friends of mine and myself thought of a concept that was supposed to make use
of all the new possibilities of a world that seemed to have turned fully digital.
It was the year 2006. Most areas in Germany were already hooked up to the internet
in one way or another. Online video hosting and distribution was on the rise – by that
time youtube was one year old – but everyday audiovisual information still took place
in the TV program. It was just the three of us, two students and a good friend of us
that had a vision: We wanted to show what found little room in the everyday
newscasts on television:
In November 2006 a Nuclear Waste transport was undertaken from the nuclear
recycling plant in La Hague, France to the nuclear interim storage in Gorleben in
Germany. Gorleben is close to Lüneburg where we lived by that time and therefor had
a strong connection to the protests in this region. Since many years people were
demonstrating against those transports that took place quite regularly once a year.
Though a few thousand people were on the streets against those transports or
blocking the railroads where the transport was supposed to go through. With their
resistance they wanted to oppose the nuclear industry in general and especially draw
attention to the general issue that nobody knows how to get rid of the nuclear waste that’s being produced every day a nuclear power plant is running. There are all kinds
of different actions people take: Some decide to demonstrate in passive manners –
they sit down on the railroads or streets in order to force police to clear the streets for
the transports and others decide to take direct action, for example in using concrete
and attach themselves to the railroads. The protests in general had only little room in
the news coverage of established media in the year 2006. It was our idea to
accompany the demonstrators, protestors and activists with a camera to show their
ideas and motivation behind their protests. We wanted to be a platform for those
people on the streets, we wanted to show it’s not only a few crazy ones but a broad
movement and they have very good reasons to be where they are and to do what
they are doing. Technically we decided to start a race with mainstream media. We
believed that news are only interesting if they are published the same day. For that
reason we decided to edit the footage the day the action took place and wanted to
upload the clips to our website the same day. An ambitious goal as we learned:
Probably none of you have ever been to the Wendland, or even heard of it. But that is
the region where most of the protests against those transports take place, since it’s
been the plan of the German government for quite a while to set up a permanent
storage facility for nuclear waste here. We are talking about a rural area with lots of
agriculture, small villages or towns and somehow forgotten by the new online world.
In 2006 broadband internet connection was a foreign word in this region. We had
friends there but they were only hooked up with a 56K modem connection. Though
the whole digital workflow was smooth and fast, the bottleneck was our connection to
the world wide web. For our plan to publish our newscasts the same they the action
took place, a fast internet connection seemed a necessity. We tried solve the problem
by calling for help: On our website we published a call for Hotspots but sadly nobody
answered. Somehow not surprising since we never ever published a clip before and
except for our friends nobody knew us. So had to deal with the 56K connection and
uploaded our clips over night.
I’d like to show you one of our very first clips we ever did to give you an impression of
the action and the style we started with. The clip was shot during one of the railroad
blockings in the Wendland and you see police forcing demonstrators to leave the area.
http://www.graswurzel.tv/v16.html

In the clip you could see some of the elements that are very important for us:
First of all we do not comment on the situation. Of course we are editing the footage,
since our goal is to keep the clips short and interesting but we edit them without an
editorial comment. We let the people tell the story and therefor try to be with the
activists instead of doing a documentary from behind the police-forces. That is what
the name of the project is standing for: Graswurzel.tv is translated into English as
“grassroots.tv”, meaning we are a part of the grassroots journalism, a term probably
most of you are familiar with.
In terms of video, activists of the grassroots-journalism movement started sharing
their material in form of VHS-tapes long before the internet was “invented”. Some of
the groups organized public screenings and some of them even made it into
alternative citizen-TV stations. Especially in larger cities those are even today very
common. But the internet opened up this new chance of publishing grassrootsjournalistic
content and we saw a chance in it. For the first time alternative journalism
could be as fast as the teams with the big cameras from the TV-stations. Of course we
did not have a satellite uplink to do live coverage but we were willing to try by all
means possible. We reserved the domain, set-up a wordpress site and sent mails to
activists and initiatives that were known to be protesting against the nuclear waste
transports, telling them about our new project and that we would be glad to
accompany them with our cameras. During the three days of the transport we
managed to publish six clips on our website.
Having been with the activists during this protest helped us to spread our name in the
activist-scene which became the foundation for our network. By the end of 2006
people in the Wendland knew graswurzel.tv and they invited us to come along to
further actions: In 2007 we accompanied them during the protests against the G8
meeting in Heiligendamm, Germany. In Germany this was a huge media-event.
Mainstream media journalists from all over the country went to the coast of the Baltic
Sea and did news-broadcasts even before there were any news. The German
government did everything to keep the event interesting for the public. For example
they set up a huge fence surrounding the venue already months before the actual
summit. That fence was the target for most of the protestors and media as well. Protestors wanted to reach the fence and the media wanted pictures of protestors
climbing over or even destroying the fence. During those protests, one of my alltime
favorite graswurzel.tv clips was produced. More than 100 members of the
international rebel clowning army held a huge meeting at a camp close to
Heiligendamm and started a march to the fence.
http://www.graswurzel.tv/v5.html
The video you just saw was used by the rebel clowns in Germany as a training video
for quite a long time. Actually we do not know if it’s still being used. Though this video
does not give a lot of information on the subject, I chose it because I like the idea of
the clowns of protestors that have serious issues but pretend it was all just a game. In
my opinion those clowns were a wonderful add-on to the regular protests. Besides the
clowns there were also thousands of activists in the Heiligendamm region to protest
against the G8-summit in 2007. We stayed at a protestors camp during the days of
the summit, the activists shared their internet connection with us and we were seen
as part of their movement. But of course there were also a few rules, we needed to
follow. For example when we wanted to do a clip about the camp we has to
experience that not everybody is in favor of cameras – an issue we dealt with quite a
lot of times in the past years. From our point of view, we want to show what’s going
on and we believed that everybody in the movement would like to have their action in
the news or at least in our website. But there is this huge mistrust when it comes to
cameras and journalistic work in general, because German police is supposed to have
used video footage from the net to charge activists with crimes. We are still in the
process of discussing how to deal with that issue. At the moment we are not bluring
faces because we believe protests need faces but as I said, we are still discussing.
After the G8 meeting in Heiligendamm we experimented with all kinds of topics locally
and internationally. We went to Slovakia to do interviews with local activists protesting
against Uranium exploration, we accompanied climate activists that protested against
the construction of a new power plant and went to a peace camp of activists fighting
against a NATO military training ground. It is the variety of topics that led to the fact
that many activists from all kinds of interests knew graswurzel.tv in Germany by the
end of 2008.

Filming at those many occasions helped us to get in contact with a lot of active
people, because we found out that there is a huge overlaps of activists engaged in
different actions and movements. For example we met the clowns again in the peacemovement
or the same spokespersons at the climate actions that we got to know
during our projects at the anti-nuclear protests. That is something that still fascinates
us today. We come to an action, sometimes invited, sometimes spontaneously and we
are surprised how many people we already knew from earlier actions. This also proved
the importance of building tight networks of trust. In our experience those networks
live from a constant contact as well as the belief of the activists that we are part of
the movement and understand what they are fighting for.
The fight against the nuclear industry is the best example for it. Besides being our
starting point in 2006, we did more than 100 clips about the anti-nuclear movement
up until know. Some people even see us as their unofficial channel and are even
disappointed if we cannot make it to an action. In many situations we met people that
are skeptical about cameras and refused to givrte interviews but when they heard it
was us, they willingly spoke into our camera.
With the growing number of films, our team grew as well. In 2006 we started as a
group of three people and to be honest not all of our friends understood our
engagement for the project in the beginning. Graswurzel.tv has always been existing
for the purpose itself. We never earned money with it, instead we paid for travel
expenses privately and spent many days on a volunteer basis working for the project.
The growing number of people involved in the project helped to realize more and
more clips. It’s always been important for us to cover all kinds of different topics. But
there has never been something like a chief-editor that decided about what is going to
be published. Graswurzel.tv is organized as a collective and everybody involved had
the same opportunities to do films about their personal interest. What all of them
have in common is the activist perspective, though we call ourselves journalists. The
fact, that we are totally independent from advertising or number of views helped us to
realize the projects in a manner we wanted to:
For example when we went to Italy in 2009 to do a coverage about the protests
against the G8 again. Our way of getting there was unconventional in regards to the common way for journalists to travel. Instead of getting onto a plane and fly to Rome,
we used an old Volvo, being vehicle, office and hotel room in one. In Rome we went to
a public camping ground, set up our office and every night we were sitting in front of
our car editing the footage and published the clips the same night. Every day we met
the same journalists at the actions and after two days most of them knew
graswurzel.tv. Wearing vests with our logo, made them curious and at night in their
hotelroom they were surfing the web for news on the protests. Actually there weren’t
many news that interested established, because no stones were thrown and no
firecrackers lightened. There were just peaceful demonstrations and talking to the
journalists we found out that their pictures never got published because there was no
interest of the mass media in peaceful demonstrations of that kind. But they could
find our coverage in the web. We earned their respect and maybe a bit of jealousy
because we were able to do what we came for: Produce news and publish them. We
went to every demonstration and every action there was in order to show the
motivation behind the protests. As usual we gave the protestors faces and names and
graswurzel.tv was as their platform to express their disbelieve in the politics of the
G8.
But there have been different experiences as well. Maybe the disinterest of mass
media in the G8 protests of 2009 had its origin in the pictures they could spread from
the protests against the NATO summit in April 2009. There had been a massmobilization
of activists and many came. Big demonstrations and manifestations were
planned but all of a sudden the situation in Strasbourg got out of control. Firecrackers
were thrown, an old border checkpoint between Germany and France as well as a
hotel were burning. French police, which is known for their drastic measures used CSGas
and batons to stop the violent protests. At least that is what you could see in the
media news coverage. They never showed pictures of peaceful demonstrators but I
can assure you they’ve been there. But let’s have a look:
http://www.graswurzel.tv/v67.html
In our opinion the video shows what has been going on, without an interpretation in
form of an editorial comment. Again we let the activists tell the story – at least those
who wanted to speak in front of the camera. I can only speak for myself but I am not
a huge friend of violent protests, maybe because I do not like wearing helmets at demonstrations. Though I must admit there have been quite a few situations I hoped I
had one with me. Strasbourg was one of those examples. Maybe that’s the reason
why we feel a big sympathy for the peaceful demonstrators that you saw in our clip.
By 2009 the network we built did not only involve activists but also the collective
itself. In 2006 we started as a group of three people and to be honest not all of our
friends understood our engagement for the project in the beginning but a lot of them
became part of it at some point. Graswurzel.tv has always been existing for the
purpose itself. We never earned money with it, instead for a long time we paid for
travel expenses privately and spent many days on a volunteer basis researching,
filming or editing for the project. In November 2010 when we did another one of the
anti-nuclear-protest documentations there were more than 10 people involved in the
project. And also the logistics improved a lot in comparison to 2006: An old circus
wagon served as office and editing room and a friend of us brought his RV along that
was our bedroom. Internet wasn’t a problem anymore, because by now we knew
people that enabled us to have braodband internet in our wagon. Since the protests
went on for four days we needed to work in shifts. We had three teams in the field
and at least two people in the office permanently. We spread our number and used
Social Media on the one hand to get information about what was going on and to
spread news about new films on the other. And it worked: When we published a clip
that showed police forces using pepperspray and batons against protestors our server
broke down within 10 minutes because the news spread unbelievable fast. The server
could just not bear up to 1.800 views per minute.
I still find it unbelievable how the project has developed. From a small internet
channel to a serious player in the media landscape. Established media came to us and
asked for the footage because they had seen on facebook and twitter that we had
pictures of police fighting demonstrators with force.
Since a production like this always goes along with high expenses for traveling or car
rental we started quite early to ask for financial support and we were surprised how
many people are willing to support our work. We opened up a webshop on our website
where people can order DVDs and all the money they spend, is used for the work
itself and we are still fascinated by the amount of DVDs we send out, though any of
our films is still online on our website – more than 200 in total by now. For many years we have an internal discussion about how to legalize the whole donation issue.
Since a collective itself does not form a legal foundation, we founded an association in
the fall of 2012. The association by the name of “MOVING MEDIA” is now allowed to
collect donations fully legal and can even spend it on the realizing of short clips with
the intention to do political education.
The past six years on the streets and in the field with activists and protestors in many
regions all over Europe gave us a lot of experience in how media sees political protest
and activism. This picture and the conclusions from it, are probably not objective in
the journalistic definition but show the necessity of people like us.
Oftentimes alternative media is confronted with the criticism of not being objective.
We had lots of discussions about that in the past years. We were discussing internally
and we were having discussions with the so called journalists. It is them who claim
their work as being truly objective when both sides of a conflict get their chances to
articulate their beliefs and points of view. In the case of the video we just saw I totally
agree. There is always a second opinion. We understand the work of alternative
journalists as important to be the second opinion. I do not believe that one journalist
needs to focus on all aspects, actually I think it is even impossible, but I truly believe
that a media landscape consisting of a variety of papers or channels with different
focus points lets the audience get the full picture and therefor I see a necessity in the
work we are doing and I would encourage everyone who feels there is a lack of
information that needs to be covered to take a camera or open up a webblog to close
that gap.
Thanks for your attention and I am looking forward to many interesting discussions
during the day. Of course I did not mention everything that I find important when it
comes to viso-journalism or video-activism and for that reason I am open to any kind
of comments or questions concerning the matter.