How I spent my summer vacation: A letter from Kent State’s ‘Camp Tweety’

Yeah. I’m still alive, filling my vacation time with crazy projects and unreasonable deadlines. I never learn. I just never learn. Here’s how I started the summer…

Dear Mom and Dad,

I spent the first week of my summer vacation at Camp Tweety. (I think they named it for that goofy bird in the cartoon.) I learned a lot about digital storytelling at Camp Tweety, but nearly killed 4 of the camp counselors. They pushed the campers so far out of our comfort zones that I almost hurled — twice. And imagine this: The counselors were my colleagues at Kent State — digital dogs, all of them.

That's me in the headphones -- clueless and behind the camera. A dangerous combination!

That's me in the headphones -- clueless and behind the camera. A dangerous combination!

Video? Audio? Sound slides? What was I doing in this place?

I’m a rank amateur with the video camera. Ditto for the audio recorder.

Editing? Forget about it. I hire experts to do this stuff — people with REAL skills. But at “Camp Tweety,” the rookies assumed the role of experts — and we had just 4 “short” days to make it all work — a total of about 24 hours.

The challenge: Produce 3 related stories under the theme, “People You Should Know.” The lead story would be a 2.5-minute video, the secondary story a 1.5-2-minute sound slide show, and the third story a series of still photographs. See the results of all four teams here. (I was on Team 3, “A Taste of Lebanon.”)

On Day 1, we learned the fundamentals of shooting video and stills and the secrets of capturing great audio. It was so cool. Then the counselors issued our high-priced camp toys and sent us afield to capture stories. My team opted to feature local Lebanese restaurant. Hey, we were hungry, and this dude makes a mean falafel.

A screen capture of our camp website. The counselors created this element for us, as most of the campers couldn't be trusted with html code.

A screen capture of our camp website. The counselors created this element for us, as most of the campers couldn't be trusted with html code.

Old dogs teach old dogs new tricks. The campers at Tweety are pretty long in the tooth. Just two of 11 are under 40, and most are well into their 50s. (Yeah, Mom, I really am that old. Honest.) When it comes to video and audio for the Web, we can talk the talk, but we haven’t walked the walk.

Our counselors? They’re old dogs, too — but savvy digital dogs who believe anyone can learn new tricks — even aging Baby Boomers.

Our stories. I shot a good bit of the video for my team’s lead story and served as primary video editor. (Arrgh!) We used a program called Final Cut Pro — and lemme tell ya, there’s nothing intuitive about that program. Nothing. I learned that editing is hard work to be done by very patient people.

Anyway, when you watch the stories from my team, keep in mind we’re new at this, so we still kinda suck at it. We did OK, but I’m sure none of us earned an “A.”

Camp Tweety wasn’t really about the the stories we produced. Camp Tweety was about lessons we carry forward. I’m guessing those lessons vary from camper to camper. Here are mine, from a PR perspective.

PR professionals should immerse themselves in digital storytelling. Don’t worry, you don’t have to master the art form. But you need to understand it — and how better than to actually do it? Camp Tweety convinced me I’ll never be a video editor. But since audio and video are so critical to Web communication, PR professionals should all spend time at Camp Tweety — or something like it.

PR professionals should hire professionals. Those $100 Flip cameras may be fine for the casual YouTube clip, so stick one in your bag. Ditto for the point-and-shoot still camera. But if you want to produce video, audio and stills with professional results, hire someone who does it for a living. Focus on the job of planning and implementing PR strategies. And except for that cheesy YouTube stuff, assign the visual tactics to experts.

It’s been said that Web 2.0 challenges all of us to expand our skill sets — to become generalists. But it’s also been said that Web 2.0 devalues expertise. Camp Tweety helped me see both sides of that argument.

I’ll close with a hat tip to our camp counselors: Fred Endres, Joe Murray, Gary Hanson, Dave Smeltzer and Ben Whaley. In the normal school year, I call them colleagues. As camp counselors, I call them tyrants — even though they smile a lot. These guys really know their stuff, and our students are lucky to have them.

And get this, four of the five counselors are older than I am! And you thought this digital stuff was just for the millenials.

Send those kids around. We show ’em how it’s done.

One Response to How I spent my summer vacation: A letter from Kent State’s ‘Camp Tweety’

  1. […] started with a week of intense training in digital storytelling, followed a 3-week crash course in Ethics & Issues. I was student in […]

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