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Home » Q&A: Rémy Buisine on livestreaming the French pension protests

Q&A: Rémy Buisine on livestreaming the French pension protests

In recent weeks, the world has watched as millions of people have marched in France in protest of President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform bill. In a country that has seen many notable protests, these have stood out for their regularity and the level of popular anger on display. On the day that Macron’s government used a constitutional provision known as Article 49.3 to force the bill through the National Assembly, a spontaneous demonstration broke out at the Place de la Concorde in Paris, across the bridge from the National Assembly. The protest started at 5pm and lasted for hours. Police tried to get the protesters to disperse only for the protesters to run into side streets, setting up barricades and setting alight trash that hadn’t been collected due to a strike among garbage workers.

During all of this, Rémy Buisine, a video journalist at Brut, a news outlet that lives solely on social media, livestreamed on his phone. Night after night, Buisine walked with and around the protesters, interviewing them and intermittently explaining the political events that had led to the demonstrations. He stopped from time to time to thank new followers of Brut’s TikTok channel, and to tell viewers to subscribe and turn on notifications for when he’d next go live. During his livestreams, he doesn’t eat and rarely drinks. Some have lasted as long as eight hours.

With each passing day of protests—both planned and spontaneous—Buisine’s audience grew. At their height, his livestreams have had more than seventy thousand viewers; in total, millions of people tuned in each night. Among those watching were protesters who didn’t want to risk being tear-gassed or beaten by police—frequently, officers have used force against civilians and journalists; during one of his livestreams, Buisine himself was truncheoned—as well as viewers in parts of France where protests either didn’t take off or had already ended. Buisine has also had viewers from outside of France. The phrases “English please!” and “what is he saying?” have been commonplace in the comments of his feeds. (Buisine doesn’t speak English).

Buisine got his start in journalism by livestreaming on Periscope, a now defunct video app. Before joining Brut at its founding in 2016, he had never had any formal journalistic training. Late last week, ahead of a protest against police violence on Thursday night, I spoke with Buisine in Brut’s offices in Paris. Our conversation has been translated, and edited for length and clarity.

BN: How did you learn the techniques for livestreaming?

RB: You learn over time. I was lucky in the beginning as my livestreams weren’t heavily followed, so I could learn by watching how people reacted to what I was doing. I realized that there was one really important thing: the link with the audience. When you are in front of a TV, you watch without a link to the journalist, whereas, with livestreaming, you have comments coming in in real-time that you can interact with—you can read both the good and bad. That’s what’s interesting: you can show people what they want to see and hear, and answer whatever questions they may have. Really quickly, I understood the essential point: the link with the community.

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I use an iPhone 14 Pro Max—we try to have the latest technology that’s available. Rechargeable batteries are important because they let us recharge an iPhone two or three times. I take several cables because they can get exposed to water or break. One time, one of my cables melted due to the heat from a fire; fortunately, I had another. Another important thing to have is protective equipment because I go into protests that are relatively violent. I have a gas mask, a helmet, and a decontaminant for my eyes in case I get sprayed with tear gas. Sometimes, I wear a reinforced jacket—people don’t necessarily see it, but I have something protecting my spinal column. There are others who take and wear much more protection, such as forearm guards. I’m relatively soft in that regard.

I haven’t seen you wear a gas mask or helmet much. 

I use them when I have to, but there isn’t always a need. It depends on the nature of the protest.

How do you know there isn’t any need?

Sometimes, as a precaution, I will put it on but not use it. There are protests we tell ourselves are going to be calm, but aren’t actually. I try to adapt to the situation, depending on the level of violence that can take place in protests, but the idea is to have protective equipment ready just in case. I have to stay limber, because if you have twenty kilograms of equipment on and you have to run, it’s going to be hard. So I try to find a balance between protecting myself and not having a suit of armor on.

How do you go about livestreaming protests?

I arrive early at the location to see what’s going on, to talk with people, and get a taste of the event’s atmosphere. Then, I start my livestream. Once it’s started, I don’t know how long it’ll go for. When I press the button to go live, I never know how long it’ll last. Maybe it’ll end in an hour, maybe eight. I adapt to the event and I start from the assumption that it will go for a long time.

The editorial director at Brut watches the lives. Sometimes he responds. He sends me messages like, Pay attention to this; you should be more precise about that. Brut’s community managers make sure the livestreams are available everywhere and moderate the comments, even if it’s not obvious. On one livestream, there were over a million comments, so it’s impossible to moderate everything, but we try to do as much as we can. It’s a collective workplace. I may be alone on the ground but there are lots of people behind me.

How do you find out about protests that spring up spontaneously?

It’s quite easy because the objective of the protests is to get as many people there as possible. It’s all on social media—it circulates really easily. The day Article 49.3 was invoked, people tweeted at me saying, 7pm, we’ll be at Concorde. You see it, you go. Once, I was going to an initial meeting place. There were police everywhere and I heard people saying, We’re going to a second location. So I went. You have to always keep your ears open.

The number of people watching your livestreams goes up a lot each time that you’re attacked by the police. Have you noticed that?

Yes, there is a lot of solidarity and that touches me. It comforts me in difficult moments. In a respectable democracy, journalists should be able to work without being subjected to violence. Citizens should be able to protest without it. So I welcome the support, because if we normalize violence against journalists or people, that’s serious.

How did you end up covering protests? 

I was always passionate about social movements and trying to understand their roots. I don’t know anyone who protests for fun. The people who protest prefer to be happy in their lives, to enjoy them, and to not have to fight to keep their social entitlements, or ask for more. So it’s always interesting to go and understand what brought people to the protests as well as those protesting for the first time.

If you look at the first protests against the pension reform bill, there were plenty of employed people, though more of a certain age—forty plus—who already went regularly to social movements and protests, who belong to unions and are actively engaged on that front. When Article 49.3 was invoked, everything reshuffled. I saw lots of young people show up, and many who had never set foot in a protest. At one point, I had young people taking turns to give me their views for forty-five minutes. It was interesting to speak with them because they weren’t necessarily politicized to begin with: they were people who hadn’t even voted in [the French presidential and legislative elections of] 2022, or weren’t old enough to vote then. I got long testimonies, sometimes lasting fifteen to twenty minutes, as there’s no time limit on livestreams. They were being real.

Beyond protests, how do you choose which events to livestream?

We judge the importance of a news event; we ask ourselves if it’s something that affects a large number of people. The idea is to leave Paris when we can, and we do so regularly. What happens in the regions is different. We spent a lot of time [outside of Paris] during the Gilets Jaunes protests [a leaderless movement that sprung up in opposition to a gas tax increase in 2018, but soon came to encompass other socioeconomic issues] as it was not a movement of the cities—it was one of small villages.

Sometimes, I go to cover conflicts overseas. I’ve gone to Belgium, which is French-speaking; we have a lot of Belgians who follow us. I’ve also covered the Catalan independence movement in Spain, because it’s next to France. Lebanon, too: when there was the explosion at the port of Beirut in 2020, I was over there. I cover protests overseas, too.

It costs money, so that always figures into whether or not we’ll go. We’re also a French media outlet, so it’s normal for us to prioritize French news. If I’m going to Lebanon, it’s got to be calm in France.

Do you think other protest movements around the world have affected the recent demonstrations in France, especially in an age of social media?

I remember the Hong Kong protests in 2019—it was the same time as the Gilets Jaunes. People here were watching in solidarity. Protesters in Hong Kong showed up with bottles of water, to counteract the effects of tear gas. The French people were inspired by certain things that they saw in Hong Kong, and maybe it happened in reverse, too.

Today, the world sees what’s happening here because of the images transmitted. One TikTok video that we posted has been seen thirty million times, maybe more by people overseas than those in France. Everyone sees what’s happening, and people are inspired by others.

Other notable stories:

  • Yesterday, Donald Trump was formally arraigned in a courtroom in Manhattan. He then returned to Florida and gave a speech from his Mar-a-Lago residence. NPR did not broadcast the speech live and neither did MSNBC; “There is a cost to us as a news organization of knowingly broadcasting lies,” Rachel Maddow said on air. CNN aired most of the speech, citing fairness to Trump as the reason, before cutting away.
  • Also yesterday, Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter jailed in Russia last week, was finally able to meet with his lawyers; they reported that his health is good and that he is “grateful for the outpouring of support from around the world” since his arrest. Meanwhile, the Biden administration is reportedly preparing to declare Gershkovich “wrongfully detained,” a designation that will free up resources to work on his release.
  • For Esquire, Nicole Chung wrote about the personal costs of becoming a writer. “My writing and publishing experience has often felt like an embarrassment of riches,” Chung writes. “But I am also aware of my losses, deep and unrecoverable. It’s hard not to question how much more I might have been able to do for my parents had I pursued work they would have not only understood, but materially benefited from sooner.”
  • For Nieman Reports, Jon Marcus spoke with retired reporters who are stepping back into the profession. Rather than “settling in beside the pool or playing pickleball, retired journalists are stepping into news voids nationwide, launching local and regional media outlets or serving on their boards, mentoring young journalists, advocating for press freedoms, and continuing to gather and report information not otherwise being covered.”
  • And Casey Newton explores why so many journalists can’t quit Twitter, “even as the site itself increasingly orients itself to make fools of them.” Newton proposes three answers to the conundrum: inertia, the fact that alternative apps to Twitter are “still missing something,” and “the power of chaos to command our attention,” such as the mysterious move this week to replace Twitter’s logo with the Shiba Inu from the “doge” memes.

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Brian Ng is a writer, originally from New Zealand, currently living in Paris.

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