It did for multimedia artist, Kasia Cieplak-von Baldegg, publisher of Harvard’s H-Bomb magazine. Read on for the back story and why she supports user generated content.
Hometown: Cambridge, MA
Current Residence: San Francisco, CA
Areas of Focus: Film, video, media experiments
As an undergraduate at Harvard, you worked on a student led publication called H Bomb, how has that experience shaped you?
Before H Bomb, most people had never seen the words “Harvard” and “sex” in the same sentence! But here’s the back story: I founded H Bomb with a group of friends to create a platform for discussion that didn’t exist on campus: a magazine about sex in college that was smart and sexy. To see that idea resonate with students, and attract global media attention, was very exciting. Meanwhile, it sparked a huge controversy on campus and in the news media, so we were under a lot of pressure to deliver an intelligent and well-designed magazine. We raised the money to print eight thousand copies of the first issue, 48 pages in full color, with printed articles, fiction, poetry and art by students, professors, and alumni.
The response from students was amazing. The entire print run sold out, via our online store and bookstores in the Boston area. Looking back, it seems quaint that we insisted on doing a print issue, rather than an online magazine, but we wanted to create something tangible and lasting. A blog just couldn’t compete with the satisfaction of dropping off 4,000 hard copies of a glossy magazine at every dorm room on campus (for free). I’ll never forget the email I got from the Harvard Library, requesting two copies of H Bomb for their University Archives.
The whole experience was incredibly empowering—to create a magazine from scratch, collaborating with a diverse and talented team of students. We hit a cultural nerve with a wide range of audiences—I did interviews with the Washington Post, the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and the Tyra Show, among (many) others. It was essentially a crash course in the American media cycle, as well as in the ups and downs of launching a startup. I also like to think H Bomb was my first experience working with “user-generated content,” in the pure sense of launching a magazine “by the people, for the people.”
There was a NY Times article on Monday, “At Media Companies, a Nation of Serfs” (“Media Companies Cash In, at Cost of Unpaid Contributors”). Along those lines, do you think there is a down side to the free/user-contributed content revolution, in that it may make it harder for creators to make money or a living from their work?
That’s the billion dollar question, isn’t it? It’s so ironic that the digital platforms that have empowered millions of people to create and share content are putting the pros out of business. It’s easier than ever to break into media, to self-publish and find an audience; but maybe harder than ever to stay in business once you’re there. That goes for young media companies as well as for individuals. I can’t really say anything on the subject that hasn’t been said before, but I’m still optimistic = or at least morbidly curious = about the future of our media ecosystem.
A professor I had in college, video artist Elizabeth Subrin, used to say, “Remember kids, this is the Stone Age.” She was referring to the video technology we were using in 2005, which already looks like ancient history to us now. But I do think it applies to our entire relationship with digital technology. The internet has completely upended how we assign value to creative work and intellectual property, but we’ve already begun rethinking that value system and creating new funding models - from Google’s support of YouTube stars to Kickstarter’s explosive success.
Is there a profile that covers the people who typically come up with the most creative online campaigns as well as the particulars of that creativity? Are we talking about a particular age range, educational background, an emphasis on solo- or team work, newbies or experienced, etc.? Or is it a case of (being) “all over the map?”
Online creativity can come from anywhere, and that’s the beauty of working in the social media space. Recently I’ve worked as a producer and strategist with Urgent Content, a startup agency specializing in consumer-created ad campaigns. We created the national TV campaign for Flip Video, a small, easy to use consumer camera that shoots HD video. The campaign consisted of dozens of TV spots shot by real Flip users and celebrities on Flip cameras.
We wanted to find the most authentic, amazing, funny, and surprising “Flip moments,” so we watched thousands of submissions from Flip users, raided YouTube for authentic videos shot on Flip, and sent Flip cameras to awesome creative people in our network. The results were amazing, and totally impossible to predict. Some of my favorite Flip spots were created by a mom in Indiana, a group of bros in LA, and a Russian hockey player.
From your experience, when digital media companies and agencies commission original work, how are the creators compensated?
Compensation has to take into account the scope of the project and the level of the production team, so there’s no formula.
In the future, will big-time Hollywood directors & producers emerge from this user-generated media landscape, or will other channels such as film schools be more important?
They already have! I could list off some directors working in Hollywood that started out in DIY digital video, but you’d be better off scoping Tumblr, Vimeo, and YouTube for breakthrough work by the next generation.