Team JMSC and George Soros – Behind the Scenes

“The JMSC gets some pretty awesome speakers coming in quite regularly, but when we secured George Soros to come to speak at an audience at HKU, we didn’t know what to expect.”

Kylie at work

Kylie Chan and Kevin Lau check out the stage

Kylie Chan, JMSC Communications Manager, was tasked with organising A Conversation with George Soros at HKU. Thanks to Kylie’s brilliant organising, the over-subscribed event ran smoothly. She may not have known what to expect, but she was as excited as the rest of the staff at HKU about Soros’ impending visit.

“George Soros is a big deal in Hong Kong. He is seen as both a genius investor touched by the hand of god, and also as a predatory speculator. Whichever way, we knew one thing for certain, when he speaks, people listen.”

HKU’s Development of Alumni Affairs Office team took care of some of the many people who wanted to listen: VIPs, HKU Foundation members and alumni.

As Kylie put the organisational wheels into motion, booked the historic Loke Yew Hall, opened the event for registration and started to organise press coverage, the rest of the JMSC’s team sprung into action.

HKU BUREAU

Diane Stormont, a former Reuters bureau chief and now senior teaching consultant for online journalism at the JMSC, pulled together a team of students to cover the event from her Advanced Online Journalism course. Filing for the brand new JMSC news service start-up, student reporters were assigned to send out wire service-style “news flashes” during the event. They were assigned to use Twitter from laptops and /or smart phones and file to the editorial team back at the JMSC — who would then re-tweet to the new service: Vox Asia.

Kevin in action

The Hong Kong press corps get set up

Meanwhile, Kevin Lau, the JMSC’s Online Media Producer, shouldered the role of online production manager for the event. He liaised with a camera crew from GL Events to film the event for the audience and extension rooms outside the hall.

JMSC broadcast gurus Ka Ho Ng and Roy Ching coordinated the pre-production with GL Events and Kevin, and ensured recording and broadcasting on the day would flow without hitches.

The event was booked to full capacity within less than 24 hours of opening registration.

“A few days later, our wait-list quote was also maxed out,” says Kylie Chan. “There was no turning back, we had to put on a good show.”

Banner

Matthew Leung’s banner goes on display

JMSC Creative Director, Matthew Leung, designed the artwork for the banner and an event handout, and assisted HKU Press with the printing of the Chinese version of the book on Soros’s Central European University lectures – including the segment streamed live in 2009  from HKU.

As a good show was required, Kevin Lau asked the HKU Computer Centre to open a channel so the event could be streamed live on the web via ustream.com and livestream.com.

He directed the streaming and liaised with viewers who joined from all over the world — from New York to Davos in Switzerland. This was important — at one time the stream began to lag the event by a few seconds but Kevin kept viewers informed of all the little technical glitches that inevitably beset events of this nature. Luckily, Kevin keeps a cool head under pressure!

“We also wanted to provide online viewers with nearly the same experience and we broadcast the feed out to the web through ustream.tv. At one point we had over 180 live web viewers. Also for speed, we immediately created a web-friendly copy that we posted and was available for view that night right after the event,” Kevin said.

Kylie Chan breathed a sigh of relief when George Soros finally took to the stage. For her, the event had been a month-long headache of turning people away from the door.

Soros lecture hall

“The most memorable part of organizing this event was to experience the registrants’ response to a Soros event. Not just in numbers, but in the fervour of those who did not make registration. I got close to 10 to 15 requests by phone and e-mail every day running up to the event.  I had a few e-mails explain to me in detail, why they and the event would benefit by them being there! Even though we were to live webcast the event on the JMSC homepage, many of them felt the burning need to be in the same room as the legendary investor. On some days, I left the office at midnight because during the day I felt I did nothing except answer and appease people in the many phone calls and e-mails. In the end, it was all worth it.”

As Soros spoke, and the audience listened, the JMSC team went into full force of production.  Diane Stormont’s team had to battle with the university’s creaky internet connections.

QUICK ON OUR FEET

“HKU’s often slow and somewhat patchy wi-fi slowed to snail’s pace in Loke Yew Hall  during the event – and collapsed all together from time to time – which upset our plans to live-cover the event from the hall,” Diane said. “At the last minute we had to decide  — fast — how to get around the problem in order to file.”

“The solution: we pulled more than half the “breaking news” team out from Loke Yew Hall and brought them back to the JMSC to report from the streaming video that Kevin had set up. Those left inside filed by SMS from their mobile phones.”

“Despite this set-back, the team put out a file to be make the JMSC and HKU proud.”

Relocating to the JMSC’s Digital Media Lab, MJs Monami Yui, Rebecca Valli, Lily Li, Cleo Chan and Lise Dalmeijer took on the task of tweeting, retweeting and covering their tweets in news agency style. Cleo was a leader in compiling quotes — a vital if anonymous task that yields dividends in a journalistic age that requires both speed and accuracy. Ronnie Koo and Ma Jinxin remained in the hall — they sent reports by SMS — and served as backup should the live feed fail.

“The tweets provided breaking news; editor-reporters then wrapped these tweets into small stand-alone topics of the main points expressed by Soros, and then the whole story was pulled into a multiple-media package encompassing a written truck story, photos, video and audio,” Diane said.

POST PRODUCTION

As the event ended, JMSC teaching assistant, Doug Meigs wrote up an article for the JMSC website, while JMSC lecturer in radio production, Angharad Law edited together a podcast of the full event and then the highlights. MJ Marco Lui wrapped the text for the Vox Asia truck story, while colleagues, Nini Suet and Alex Hoffer, edited, tagged and uploaded photos they, and their colleagues, had made of the event.

Diane Stormont is keen that everyone involved should take the credit for the smooth running of the event.

“Inevitably in a event of this size, not everyone got a by-line. But they can rest assured that their efforts were essential, well appreciated and excellent training for those who go on to a career in hard news.”

The file can be seen at Vox Asia (Asian Voices).