Viral Video Ethics – Eagle Snatches Kid


I just watched a cable TV show, Caught on Camera, Viral Videos – Is That Possible, about the making of videos that have gone viral with some fake and some real situations. One was a “phony” video of a man flying like Icarus with wings flapping through the man’s arm movements. The show debunks the stories that are phony and shows some that are real in contrast.


I was both fascinated and disturbed by the story of four digital design students at the National Animation and Design Centre in Montreal. The young men devoted 400 hours to creation of a 59-second 3-D animation clip of a golden eagle snatching a child from the ground and flying off for a short distance before dropping it unharmed. Seems like a harmless stunt to them. They needed 100,000 people to watch their very realistic video to get an A+ for their CGI (computer-generated images). They have had more than 40 million views to date. Some viewers believed it to be real and were interviewed by the show debunking contrived videos.


ABC News blogs posted an article about the faked “eagle snatches kid.” No mention was made of the ethical questions involved. It was all straightforward reporting on the ingenuity of these digital entrepreneurs. They got the A+. contributor, Chris Stokel-Walker wrote a very detailed posting about Robin Tremblay, the lecturer who gave the class assignment. Stokel-Walker wrote, And unlike 2009’s Balloon Boy debacle, which smacked of opportunism and exploitation, this was the rare public hoax that remains victimless and good-natured and unmotivated by malice or greed — one that could actually be a teachable moment, not just for the perpetrators, but for all of us who participated by clicking, or by telling others to.


For those of us who have spent decades teaching people about eagles and their benefits to ecosystems and the planet in general, these sorts of hoaxes do not seem “victimless.” Eagles will not sue for slander and likely no malicious intent was involved, but what does it take to undo the harm done by such a video? Few people will see the stories or videos that debunked the phony animation of the eagle and child compared to 40 million who saw it and now use it as proof that their child may be in danger from eagles flying overhead.


Never mind that a 10-pound eagle cannot pick up more than a pound or two, certainly not a 20 pound child. Eagles simply will not attack humans of any size. We do not look or act like prey. But the common sense knowledge that most folks lack about eagles, wolves and other wildlife is overshadowed by the “truth” of a video, a seemingly real experience.


Hollywood has been producing ridiculous movies for decades that encourage fear of valuable animals, especially predators. Jaws, Snakes on a Plane, and other movies feed the fears of viewers. As computer-generated images and animations become more and more convincing with little or no ethical scrutiny, the public will likely be influenced to be even less comfortable with nature and natural dangers. I have no simple answer for what we do to counteract these sorts of misimpressions, but recognize that it is another challenge to our ability to interpret the planet and increase understanding of the species with whom we share our world.


– Tim Merriman





Branding a Region – Kona Coffee Cultural Festival

KCCF_2014ButtonThe coffee tree (Coffea arabica) was brought to Kona in 1828, now flourishing on more than 800 farms on the rich volcanic soils of Mauna Loa and Hualalai on the Big Island of Hawaii. It is one of the most expensive coffees in the world due to its rich flavor, very limited growing area and demand for the brand. The people who grow it are from diverse cultures and the coffee is celebrated in varied foods from coffee butter to spicy tapas.


This past weekend, we enjoyed several events as part of the Kona Coffee Cultural Festival. This 44th annual event takes place throughout North and South Kona with more than 45 separate events that celebrate Kona Coffee, Hawaiian culture, local food, and the diverse people of North and South Kona communities. A $3 commemorative pin is sold at every event and provides entrance to all events spanning 11 days from Nov. 7 to 17, 2014.


We started on Saturday morning at Holualoa, a beautiful community of more than 6,000 people nestled among the coffee farms that blanket the western slope of Hualalai volcano. Hundreds of people streamed up and down the main street stopping at dozens of coffee stands to try samples of hot Kona coffee, iced coffee or coffee husk tea. Tasters can vote on their favorite coffee by booth number. It was all tasty and the food varied from BBQ to delicious confections like the haupia purple sweet potato pie with a macadamia crust. It was obvious that there were as many or more local folks as tourists at the event.


kumuLast year we enjoyed the festival by attending the Kona Coffee Recipe Contest and this year we ended our stay in Kona at the Aloha Makahiki Concert with wonderful music by renowned Hawaiian musicians Bobby Moderow, Jr., Aaron Mahi, George Kuo and Stephen Akana. Kumu Mika Keale-Goto performed a makahiki oli (harvest blessing), joined by dancers from both local and Tokyo halau (hula schools).


Most community festivals happen in one community and over a short period of time. This festival takes you from coffee estate tours to music venues, food competitions, art shows, street markets, living history farms and much more. It helps shape the Kona Coffee brand against the backdrop of the entire region and the diverse cultures of people who live there and enjoy Kona lifestyles from mauka (up the mountain) to makai (down the mountain to the seashore).


halauCommunities too often compete for attractions when they might do more with collaboration. This festival demonstrates the power of working together regionally to bring tourists in to learn and local people to celebrate their communities and cultures. It is this rich mix of culture and community, nature and history, tradition and trade, ancient and recent, that has drawn us to purchase a small coffee farm on Kona where we will soon make our year-round home. It may take a few years to visit all 45 plus venues of the festival, but we will enjoy working on it. If you get to the Big Island the second week of November, try to find time to attend whatever events are happening near you.


– Tim Merriman




Build It and They May Not Come

Created at

Created at

Who doesn’t enjoy the passionate pursuit of a romantic dream? Kevin Costner’s successful movie, Field of Dreams, fed a new generation of dreamers in 1989 when it came out.


Many organizations plan their future facilities with the “Build it and they will come” idea in mind, but just because a facility works well in one city or town doesn’t mean it will be as successful in another. Some communities build a visitor center believing that is all that’s needed to draw visitors and their tourism dollars. Other communities go to great lengths, maybe even using taxpayer dollars, to build attractions only to find that those facilities fail to attract the numbers promised by the feasibility study provided by an out of town firm.


Ocean Journey opened in 1999 in Denver but sold to Landry Seafood Restaurants just a few years later at a huge loss. The attraction, built with bonds, never lived up to its promised attendance. Perhaps the thematic nature of a marine aquarium in Denver was a bit confusing with the Indonesian River/Sumatran tigers exhibit and Colorado River exhibits intermingled. There may be many reasons why an attraction fails in a given location, but usually the failure can be tracked back to poor planning and decision-making, which in some cases, would have suggested that the facility or program not be developed at all.


Here are five ideas to consider when dreaming up a new project that will be sustainable and of high quality.


  • Plan the thematic visitor/guest experience first, before the grounds, facilities and programs. Form should follow function and great architecture and landscape plans should be part of the story, not a separate story showing off the skill of the architects. It is challenging to overcome poor choices in design of buildings and grounds when operations start. Architects and landscape architects can help you make it all work together if they know what the overall experience should be.
  • Develop a Business Plan that realistically projects income and expense for several years, five or more usually. Be sure your financial resources properly support the business through lean times. It is easy and dangerous to assume a continual growth curve when cyclical attendance is more common. The overall economy has downturns your organization must live through.
  • Arrange all financing well in advance of construction. You sometimes see unfinished projects with a great concept drawing on the sign out front and progress toward completion has stopped. Nonprofits usually have a quiet phase of fundraising with major donors well before a public phase to insure enough funding is secured to be successful overall.
  • Hire expertise with real experience with similar projects. The architect who has designed 25 drive-thru banks may be locally available and have a friend on your board, but may not design a visitor center or nature center that makes sense for your planned uses. Bring in the appropriate planners, designers and builders for the kind of work you will do. There are interpretive planners, architects and landscape architects who have done many zoos, nature centers, museums and visitor centers and they bring great value to your project. Keep your operations and maintenance staff involved in the planning at every step of the way to ensure that design supports their ability to do the necessary work. If you’re a new facility and don’t have operations and maintenance staff yet, be sure that your planning consultants have experience with actually running a similar facility.
  • Be sure your analysis of competition and collaborators is honest and thorough. Ideally your new project has a niche in your community that no one else is filling. Try to identify opportunities to collaborate, not compete, with other organizations.


It’s great to have dreams and some amazing businesses arise from new ideas. But if you will plan, design and build thoughtfully, your organization may have a much better chance of long-term success.


– Tim Merriman