Tim Pool focuses on reporting and commenting direct from the scene via smartphone. He also uses a TV drone (a flying robot with built-in cameras) to shoot footage from the air. World media including Reuters, Al Jazeera, Time and NBC bought his stories. Pool was nominated for Time’s Person of the Year title and named as one of world’s 100 most influential people according to the same magazine in 2011. He also received the Shorty Award in 2012. Pool currently works for vice.com, one of the world’s most powerful media sites.
He began to report from Kyiv on December 4. In particular, he did live broadcasts from Independence Square during the crackdown attempt on the morning of December 11 and from the Kyiv City State Administration’s building, showed how protesters live and what they do, and produced many reports of daily life in both Euromaidan and the pro-regime Anti-Maidan. His twits included not only news, but also sketches of the country’s normal life.
We met in the lobby of the Ukraina hotel at the end of Pool’s stay in Kyiv.
When and why did you decide to go to Ukraine?
“I have been monitoring the situation since it started. I go to places when it seems like there is some major political change. It is pretty much what is happening anywhere in the world, any one of these moments is going to have a major impact on how the world works. Right now, the decisions that are being made in Ukraine have significant impact on the European Union and Russia. John McCain came here, so clearly, people really care about what is happening with the Ukrainian people.”
What image of Ukraine have you had before arriving here?
“I have read a lot about the past ten or so years, and what has been going on since the fall of the Soviet Union, and what the current situation is with the people. I do not like going places with preconceptions about the people and the country. One of the big issues is to come and experience everything and learn from the people firsthand. You can read a lot of news and news outlets and what they are saying, but they miss a lot. And you learn a lot more of what is happening here by talking to the people who are here. And if you talk to a journalist, they are going to be like: ‘Here is what we know.’ But it is not just about what you know, but about what the people here think is happening, because journalists will not report what they think. And to the extent where I would report is clarifying: ‘The people here seem to think this is happening.’ And it is really important to give the perceptions that people have. Like this student protest a week or so ago. The students believe that the schools were threatening the students if they protest, they will be expelled. So, I talked to a lot of people and they said, we do not know for sure, but a lot of us have been threatened, and things like that. News organizations are careful, many will not report something like that, until they see someone in the government saying: ‘This is true.’ But for me it is kind of like, no, the students are terrified that this is true. Can we confirm that? I do not know, but that is how they feel, and it is important.”
What surprised you the most here?
“I have seen a lot of protests and a lot of the occupations. When I went to Turkey and I saw these barricades set up, I was really surprised. And the police tore them down, and then that was it, it ended. And now here the barricades are gone. The police tore these barricades down, and in less than ten hours, they were twice as strong, twice as thick, covered with barbed wire, and the people are just moving like an assembly line. That was the most surprising thing. I was like, whoa... That was my reaction. Normally, when the police come and destroy it, the people will run to the other side. But not the people here. I am still impressed, it is like the work ethic in the passion of the people, who are at this protest, they are serious.”
In general, what was the first event that you broadcast from Kyiv?
“It was the blocking on parliament, and from then, every so often just doing a live update that could be about five minutes. Every so often, I go live for half an hour, and with the police tearing the barricades down, that was about four hours of live coverage. A lot of what is happening most of the time, you know, the stage and the rallying, it is something that does not need to go on live. You can do a Twitter photo or just a tweet saying what is happening. And every hour or so I will do a live update, and be like, well, this is not too much. The most important times for live coverage are when the government was making a decision and going to make an announcement. And then you go live to see what people are doing and how they are reacting or if the police is moving, obviously. Because we want to know what is going to happen. I think, when people on the Internet say, we want live coverage, you got it, I am here and ready to do it.”
I see that you care about these events.
“It is exciting for me to learn and understand what is happening here. I am excited to witness this history, this is a major important moment for the entire region. With Ukraine bordering Russia and the European Union, it is going to fall one way or the other, and it looks like it is going towards the EU. For me, in a hundred years, you are going to have a history book talking about the year that Ukraine joined the European Union and the protest that ensued. When I read history books, I imagine what was happening during, like, when Hawaii became a state. That is why I like to come to places where, well, for one, democracies are happening, and people are saying ‘we are going to stand up and make a decision, we are going to make sure our voices are heard.’ But then in the future, people will look back and wonder what that was like. But not me, I am going to tell them what it was like, and it was awesome.”
What are the main differences setting Euromaidan apart from other protests that you covered, such as the one in Turkey, for example?
“The differences are insurmountable. In Turkey it was basically the police brutality. A very small group of protesters were trying to defend a park. And then it became about police brutality and corruption. So, the catalysts for the protests are all different. With Ukraine, it is obviously the European integration and that deal.”
Besides, we have enough of the current president’s tyrannical rule...
“That is what it turned into. Originally, it was about the European Union, and when the police came in and there was the action, people sort of started... And this is where the protests are the same. With Occupy Wall Street, with Turkey, it starts off with one thing, and once everyone gets involved, it really just comes down to corruption and accountability. Saying, like, we are fed up with this government, we are fed up with lies, so that is where they start to become the same.”
Did you have any journalistic experience before starting to do online broadcasts?
“If I were to use traditional journalism as a reference, the answer is no. But being that social media journalism is becoming so big, and in the future, news are going to be reported through social media than the answer would be, technically, yes. I think in about 10 years people will want to go to school to learn how to be a social media journalist. And then if you look back at what I was doing, my whole life I was on social media, sharing information and photos, and it was not considered journalism, but now it is.”
Apparently, the outlook for the print media is inauspicious...
“At least in the US, the actual physical papers are just going down, but print in the idea of written news, it is just onlined on tablets. You need a lot of resources to print a newspaper. You don’t need a lot of resources to make a website. Whereas we had a few really big newspapers in the United States, now we have thousands of news websites. So, when these big news organizations are losing money and downsizing, it is becoming easier to enter written journalism, so competitors pop out all over the place.”
What equipment do you use?
“Primarily, it is just a phone. I have a phone and a mobile hotspot, mobile Internet, and I have batteries, so my phone will run for about 40 hours during live video. With a hotspot, it gets cut in half, because they both have to be charged, so I can do like 15 hours straight before I have to change batteries. I have special lenses for the phone, but for the most part, that’s it.”
Only a phone? So simple.
“Yes, very simple. My colleague is a shooter producer, so he has the Canon C100 camera, he has the lenses, and he is shooting for the VOD [video on demand]. But in terms of reporting live on the ground, mobile phone has everything you need: you have got all your social media, voice to text translation, so I do not need to write anything out for notes, I can just say what happened, press the button, and it just writes it. So, I have all my social media, e-mails, camera, it is everything in one. The interesting thing about breaking news is that the most important thing is the information, not the quality, but even still, the camera is shooting at 10 megapixels, so these are decent photographs. But the people who are watching, who want to get the news now, if the video comes out poorly, if the quality of a live video is weak, it does not matter, because people want to know what is happening. In the future, it is going to get way better, it is going to be awesome. But for now, it is more than enough.”
I heard that you use TV drones as well.
“I have a drone that I have hacked, so that it can broadcast live video over the Internet. It is difficult to use though, because with a moment like this, there is a lot of people, there is always a small risk that a drone falls and hurts somebody, so I am careful as to use it. In a moment like this, we are at the top of the hotel overlooking the square, so it is less important, we have got the cameras pointed down. But in certain moments, say, there is a protest that moves far away or by City Hall, that is where a drone becomes more important. But again, safety is a really big issue, so it is difficult to use.”
When you shoot a tense situation and emotions overwhelm you, how do you deal with it? Is this a problem for you?
“We are all humans, emotions are an important part of the experience. In terms of professionalism or objective journalism, you see journalists on TV, and they talk like robots. I can’t stand it. When I am there, when I am on the ground, what you are seeing, what you are hearing is an experience of a person who is here, witnessing everything that is happening. I am going to tell you the truth, I am not going to withhold information, the things you hear in my voice, are going to be of a normal human being. I am not an authority, I am not the expert telling you how it is going to be or what it is supposed to be like. I am just someone here. And I am going to tell you about what I see. Sometimes you will hear me get excited, not in the positive sense, but when the police are clashing, the adrenaline is flowing, you will notice in the way I am talking. And it is not a purpose, the events are intense. I am trying to convey the experience of what it is like to be here by just acting like someone who is here. I am not going to change who I am or how I sound.”
You have become one of the best online journalists in the world. How do you feel about it?
“A lot of journalists on the ground with the big cameras treat me poorly. But when you have professors and famous journalists saying, this is the guy, then I say thank you. The question humans always ask themselves is: what’s next? No one ever feels satisfied, they want to do more, they want to do better. Even after everything, I am just doing my thing, hoping that I do good work. Everyone can say whatever they want about me, but in the end, I want to be there for history. If no one ever said anything good about me, I would still be here.”
Still, what is your response to contempt which you have mentioned?
“I am working really hard and I am trying to do something good. Journalism has this air of elitism, like, I am the journalist, I am objective, only I can tell you the truth. I think that is ridiculous. I think, if we really want the truth, what we need is as many different perspectives as possible. You can’t just trust someone because they work for a news organization. So what you need to do, is listen to all the voices, you weigh them, you say, this person works for the government, clearly, they are going to talk about this, this person is just an average person, so I trust them to an extent. When you take all of these views and put them together, you have a better chance of finding out the truth, there is a higher probability that all of the perspectives together will give you an accurate portray of the truth, than one person who might have an agenda.”
Unfortunately, many journalists in Ukraine, especially those working for government-controlled media, disagree with these views, and it is a real problem.
“Yeah, it is the same in the US. The difficulty becomes, I would not even say most of it is on purpose, it is just that somebody is on the ground reporting, they send all their footage back, the producer and editor look at it and say, here is the information we won’t take from this because we don’t have enough time, and they cut everything down to a two-minute piece, and it is based on their decision, so they might omit information that other people may think is important. For me, it is raw life footage that people can watch. And there is no editor saying ‘cut this, cut that.’ If I am live, it is live.”
Finally, as our guest, what are your wishes for Ukrainians?
“My message for everyone in the world is to share the information, to tell stories in any way you can, either it is calling your friends and telling, here is what happened. If you have Twitter or Facebook, post information about what you see and what is happening.
“In terms of politics in Ukraine, I would not speak, Ukrainian people know better than I do. They are going to do what they think is best, and I am just here to observe and understand. And when Ukrainians make a decision, I am just going to ask them, why, and then say okay, thank you. And then I am going to tell everyone, here is what happened and here is why it happened. I would not want to come to a country and say ‘here is what you should do.’ I can speak about America, and I can tell Americans what I think they should do, because I am from there. I want the Ukrainian people to tell me what they should do and help me understand why they want to do it. People decided to protest and come to Maidan, I said, why? And they tell me. There are a lot of things, I have talked to people about how Spain’s economy is not good and unemployment is really high, and Greece and Italy, and I asked people about it. And they said ‘we understand it, but…’ – and then they give a lot of reasons why, even what we can see with this countries’ economic crisis, they understand it. There are a lot of people in the United States, saying, why would Ukraine want to join the EU with knowing what happened to Greece, Spain, Italy. That is a good question, and I get to ask, and they get to tell me, and I tell everybody. I talk to a bunch of people, it is not representative of all the Ukrainian people, obviously, but it seems like the people are aware of the eurozone crisis and the debt, but most people feel that the benefits outweigh the negatives.”
I would say it is about more than the economy, it is also a choice of civilizational path, as we are still influenced by our Soviet past.
“Yeah, when I asked, ‘How do you feel about the Customs Union with Russia or the European Union?’ one guy said to me: ‘Russia? We have been there, we know what it is like. We are Europe.’ I liked that answer.”