After two days wandering around the hordes of diesel RVs and tents and mobile art installations, tanned and naked and nearly naked Californians or the workshops celebrating S&M and/or intergalactic ayauhuasca-fuelled time travel, my daughter Ria turned to me and asked me if I was feeling cynical about Burning Man. Yet.
No more than I was when I arrived, I responded.
That was in August, 2016. One of best experiences of my life. And of course I was cynical.
Burning Man: Where Paris Hilton and Elon Musk pretend to be hippies for a week. Where no money is exchanged and the outside commercial world is eschewed for idealism and love in the Black Rock Desert. Visitors assume fake names and pretend the rest of us going to work and school (the default world, they call it) don’t exist.
Then, before they Tesla back to Silicon Valley, “burners” clean up after themselves, leaving the desert unscathed. What you bring in you take out, including wastewater, so after the party, the desert’s all natural and pristine again. https://burningman.org/
As if there hadn’t been a private airfield, thousands of gas- and- diesel-gulping RVs, air conditioners and generators. As if, on the final night, they didn’t have the biggest smokiest carbonest bonfire you’ve ever seen. Me cynical?
Last Sunday, to fuel my skepticism, I Googled “What’s Burning Man’s Carbon Footprint?”
I love reading stuff that proves I’m right.
Turns out the B.M. brass are putting great effort into making the fantastic — and I used the adjective advisedly because fantasies can be realized in Black Rock City — event as carbon neutral as possible. Without of course sapping the festival of its magic. I was kinda sorta hoping to find out they didn’t care, but of course they do.
What’s more, they’re going one better. Here’s a quote from dezeen: “Burning Man has acknowledged the carbon emissions it causes and called on attendees to consider alternatives to burning as part of a plan to become carbon negative by 2030.”
Dayam! Out went my skepticism. Hate when that happens.
And why am I, a COPA judge and general observer of human comings and goings telling you all this?
Reasons 1 to 7:
1) I hadn’t bragged about going to Burning Man in weeks.
2) You want to see a great online publication, check out dezeen. But prepare to get distracted. After learning about Burning Man’s carbon-negative plans, I found myself deep into a feature about a new Dubai resort that’s going to replicate life on the moon and, in another article edible architecture.
3) Now there’s something that hasn’t changed since forever. Getting distracted during research. I’m freaking weary of curmudgeonly old farts like me complaining about how nobody has any attention span any more. I’ve never had an attention span. Back in high school, 100 years ago, I’d go to the library to research the American Civil War but end up reading about Greek pottery or the bumblebee’s mating dance called waggle; i.e., ANYTHING but American history. In the old days, the only reason we went with long-form journalism is that’s all there was. My grandfather Patrick Carter working on his farm in the Ottawa Valley wasn’t distracted by his phone ONLY because they weren’t invented yet.
4) And the Internet didn’t invent algorithms neither. Remember when I said I wanted to learn about how bad Burning Man’s carbon footprint was because I liked journalism that supported my own views? People have always read material they agree with. The Internet hasn’t changed that. Remember Grandad Carter? He was a devout churchgoer, might have read the Catholic Register newspaper. I’m dead certain he stayed away from the United Church Observer, now recast as Broadview. Prove me wrong.
5) This is fun. Also. While he was tromping around the back 40, farmer Pat sported thick boots so he didn’t have to worry about stepping into something like this: “Back in the day, people used to pay for news.” Nobody EVER willingly paid for news. Sure they subscribed to newspapers, but a: they cost pennies; and b: they delivered entertainment: Local hockey scores; TV listings, classified ads, death notices horoscopes and comics. Private broadcasters would never have created news departments unless the government agencies that oversaw them forced them to do so. News itself—what city council is doing with your taxes, never made money. What people PAID for were magazines that entertained and helped them and — pay attention here — supported their already-established world views. Sound familiar?
6) In fact web journalism has exposed us to countless more voices and viewpoints than ever before. Plus small and large share centre stage. I bet you hadn’t heard of California Sunday Magazine until Canada’s own Nadja Drost scooped a Pulitzer in 2021 for her “brave and gripping account of global migration that documents a group’s journey on foot through the Darién Gap, one of the most dangerous migrant routes in the world.”
7) Back to dezeen. It reminds me of a few years ago when as a judge in the COPAs, I came across HAKAI which I’d never heard of until the awards night and which of course went on to sweep every stinking category it entered. There’s more terrific journalism going on than any time in the past. From Vice to Belling Cat. And getting exposed to this is one of the reasons I sign up to be a judge every year.
It’s not easy, being judgy. Especially when there’s so much terrific work out being created in this country. It’s subjective as hell. And I get distracted easily.
I’m a Libra. Like that’s helpful.
So I turned to my older sister Mary for advice. She’s smarter’n me and I asked her what she thinks makes for good journalism and Mary, who is no journalist but who is bilingual, was like, “Good journalism is the kaleidoscope of opportunities to create, define, illustrate, and make positive differences in this world never mind the medium. Cette information est disponible en francais."
Mary said it better’n me.
I hate when that happens.
Best of luck at the COPAs and keep up the great work.
About the Author: Peter Carter
Toronto writer/ editor/ one-time magazine owner and publisher---35 years experience in Canadian magazines; currently Analysis Editor at The Lawyers's Daily; an online daily news source for Canadian lawyers; Winner of Best Business Blog at COPAs 2014 for Pete's Blog&Grille; National Magazine Awards finalist; accordion player and motorbike enthusiast.