Day in the Life: What BuzzFeed’s VR expert does
Augmented video is hot among publishers these days, but they’re still figuring out how to execute them. Among them is BuzzFeed’s Ben Kreimer, a fellow at the publisher’s Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts, formed to come up with new tools to benefit BuzzFeed’s reporting and release them as open-source.
During his year-long post, Kreimer, 27, has focused on ways to bring 360 video into the newsroom. So far, he’s rigged up cameras that have been attached to a drone to capture footage of a fire-ravaged city in California, a rowdy Trump protest and, more down to earth, a Soylent taste-test. Kreimer first got interested in drones while studying journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln under his professor, Matt Waite, who started the Drone Journalism Lab. For Kreimer, they married two of his passions: storytelling and building/hardware.
Kreimer said he’s wondered, as have others, if augmented video is a fad, but he said that the more he uses them, the more convinced he is of its value. “Not everything is going to benefit,” he said. “But we are going to realize more stories are possible with these tools. They aren’t going away because they’re so capable of producing content in such novel ways. It can immerse you in a completely new environment and give you a real idea of what a place is like.”
Here’s what Kreimer does on a typical day, lightly edited for clarity:
7:45 a.m.: I always wake up and immediately grab my phone to send a good morning message to my girlfriend who lives in India. We stay connected via WhatsApp. While I get dressed, I listen to classic Bollywood radio on my iPhone. The tinny sound of phone reminds me of my radio in India, where I’ve spent many months and done some drone work. I then head out the door for my morning run.
8:00 a.m.: I live in the East Bay, in Richmond. I’m only about 10 minutes from the San Francisco Bay Trail and Richmond Marina, so I always run by the water. Today it’s about 4 miles. I take my iPod shuffle, always loaded with DJ mixes, usually progressive house or trance, sometimes a BBC Radio 1 episode. Today it’s an old episode of Armin van Buuren’s a State of Trance. Dance music was my first love.
8:45 a.m.: I’m back home, cleaning up and getting ready for work while listening to Bollywood classics again.
9:30-11:00 a.m.: I’m working from home this morning. After scanning my emails, I prepare for our BuzzFeed Open Lab Demo Day, taking place August 24. We’re planning to present the projects that we’ve been working on for the past year.
11:00 a.m.: I leave the house in a Lyft, headed to UC Berkeley’s School of Journalism, where I’m giving a guest lecture to 80 undergraduate students at an Intro to Multimedia class.
12:00 p.m.: I start my presentation, and talk about the future of multimedia journalism, using the drone, 360 video and virtual reality projects I’ve been doing as examples. We had a great time and laughed throughout, following with a spirited Q&A session afterwards.
1:00-1:45 p.m.: After my presentation, I take a call with a video producer friend to discuss a 360 video project in Cuba that I’m working on. My passion is to use technology to take people to interesting places, and show them things they may never have a chance to experience otherwise.
1:45-2:15 p.m.: I walk to BART and head into San Francisco, to the BuzzFeed office.
2:15-3:00 p.m.: After a quick lunch of leftovers in the office I work with fellow Open Lab fellow Wes, who focuses on automated journalism and bots, to troubleshoot a 360 video rig I built (You can build your own! Instructions are at buzzfeed.com/openlab). The fix was simple, once I realized the batteries were not sitting tightly in their compartments.
3:00-4:00 p.m.: We have our weekly Open Lab critiques in the lab where we talk about what we’ve been working on the past few days.
4:00-5:00 p.m.: I sit down with the new BuzzFeed transportation reporter, Priya Anand, and head of news video, Henry Goldman, to talk about a video project we’re doing tomorrow. I’ll be shooting 360 video with my custom rig.
5:00-6:00 p.m.: I spend some time preparing our camera gear for tomorrow’s project. The set-up includes the 360 video rig I’ll be using and an iPhone video/audio grip kit rig for Priya. The iPhone grip kit had a screw that had broken off in transit, so I fixed that and tinkered with the equipment.
6:00-6:15 p.m.: I take a Soylent break (we are in San Francisco, after all), which included three BuzzFeeders tasting it for the first time. I enjoy the rich taste, but the three first-time tasters said it tasted like chalk or spoiled milk.
7:30 p.m.: I Skype with a guy in Thailand seeking advice about drone journalism. There are so many people all over the world who are interested in the future of drones, and I’m happy to help where I can.
8:00 p.m.: After a quick takeout dinner in S.F. I head to BART and begin my hour-long journey back to Richmond. I’m reading “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” by T.E. Lawrence (“Lawrence of Arabia”). It’s his account of his experience as a British soldier working with the Arabs during the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during WWI. I love reading decolonization and postcolonial history, especially given its connection to the headline conflicts of ISIS, Al Qaeda and the geopolitics of the world today.
9:45 p.m.: To wind down and relax I enjoy mixing some progressive house music on my turntables before bed. I used to DJ at nightclubs and festivals, even playing in a few countries overseas, but these days I go to bed by 11. Especially today, as I’m waking up at 6 a.m. tomorrow for the video project.
11:00 p.m.: I’m reading a New Yorker magazine. I fall asleep faster reading from paper than a screen, and magazines don’t hurt like a book when I slip from consciousness and drop it on my face.
Images courtesy of BuzzFeed.
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