Tag Archive for 'Community Media'

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TECH2503 Lecture Summary Two

This is a short video summary of the main issues that will be covered in the lecture for TECH2503 Community Media Production.

TECH1502 Workshop Week One Video Introduction

This is a short video that outlines what we’ll be doing in the first workshop for TECH1502 Introduction to Community Media.

TECH2503 Community Media Production Intro Number One

This video gives an introduction to the first lecture session for TECH2503 Community Media Production

Planning Community Media Modules Over Coffee

I met with John Coster yesterday to discuss how we will be running the Community Media modules that are art of the BA Communication Arts course in Leicester Media School. It’s great to have John on board helping with the module as he brings years of experience running community media projects and working with community media groups in Leicester.

The learners are going to benefit from someone who has direct, first-hand experience of what it’s like to challenge mainstream media, and who has imagined an alternative way of producing media that is better suited to the lives of people who form vastly different communities in Leicester.

One of the changes I’m making to the running of the first year community media module this year, is to split the workshops back to a more traditional format. Last year I incorporated the lecture and the workshop in one session, but I felt that we never really covered enough background and contextual information in the process.

So John will be running the workshops and I will be developing the lectures. We want the workshops to feel very informal and relaxed, much like a community media café session is run. It’s surprising how much work you can get done, and how many questions get asked when there isn’t a strong agenda for the session.

Yeas, we’ve identified several things that we want to happen in each of the sessions, but if there’s something else more pressing that the learners want to explore, then we’ll cover that instead.

The themes of the lectures are going to identify the basics of community media, in terms of both thinking about why community media is different to mainstream media, but also how our sense of community has also changed as society has changed. Here I’m thinking of Robert Putnam and his analysis in Bowling Alone.

The aim of an introduction to community media is therefore twofold. One the one hand it is to help people to feel comfortable with the idea of self-produced media – what gets called citizen’s journalism or user generated content by media industry insiders. While on the other hand, it’s about developing an appreciation of why community media is different.

The simple premise of community media is expressed in the idea that it is people speaking for themselves, in ways that they and the other people in their community find meaningful. This might not be very business-like, professional or cutting edge, but it’s forms of media that emerge from the grassroots, and which have a strong focus on DIY.

So we’ll be encouraging learners to have a go at making basic media content, with no fancy production values, no sophisticated equipment, and no wider sense that we expect it to please anyone other than ourselves.

This way we can be free of the weight of expectation that media has to be planned for an audience, or that it has to serve a function. If we like it, and the students and volunteers like it, and make sense of it, then that’s all for the best.

I’m going to try and post a blog as often as I can that shows how we are getting on with these ideas. We’ll make a couple of podcasts and a few YouTube videos as well. After having fun with the media that we create is what this will be about.

Community Radio Networking Day

On Saturday I attended the Community Radio Networking event organised by Christine Slomkowska and Patrick McCracken from 103 The Eye in Melton Mowbray. This was the second year that the event took place, and it gave community radio station organisers and supporters the chance to come together to discuss issues of common concern and celebrate the achievements of the different stations.

Bill Best from the Community Media Association gave an overview of the recent work of the CMA and how it is representing community media from the point of view of the associations members’ interests. I’m a member of the CMA council.

Tony Smith from Angel Radio gave a lively talk about radio aimed at older people, and how fundraising at the station is encouraged through programme sponsorship and fun activities such as ballroom dancing takeovers in their local Tesco supermarket.

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martyn Introduced Community Radio Awards

Martin Parry talked about the Community Radio Awards that he’s inaugurating this year. He’s long argued that community radio needs to be celebrated in an accessible and open way, and so a grassroots award ceremony is something he is passionate about.

It was great to catch-up with Christine, she is always so passionate about the role that 103 The Eye plays in Rutland and Melton, and the way that it gives people a chance to participate in the station and its programmes, and the role it plays in the life of the local community.

It was also great to hear about the work of Siobhan Stevenson and Neil Hollins from Birmingham City University about their work in community media supporting Scratch Radio, and the impact that community media has for the life chances of different students from some challenging backgrounds.

I always feel relaxed at community media events, because so many people are happy to share their experiences about community media and the difference that it makes to the communities that they are part of. It’s less about marching along to a corporate purpose, and more about developing social spaces that people can share and engage with one another.

TECH1502 Photowalk

For our workshop today we went on a photowalk around Leicester. We wanted to look at the city center as the shops are geared up for Christmas, and what the flip-side might be as we moved away from the main shopping streets. After walking around and taking some photos we headed to the LCB Depot, but there was a power cut that affected a large part of the city center, including Phoenix Arts. We then walked back to the DMU campus and called in to Leicester Cathedral. The overall opinion is that Leicester doesn’t feel very festive, but we enjoyed the chance to get out and about and to observe the range of people who live in the city.

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TECH1502 Podcast Planning

Last week on TECH1002 Introduction to Community Media we started to record and edit a short podcast feature. I took some photos as we worked and recorded some interviews.

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Social & Community Media Learning – My Years Review

The past year has been one of curriculum development, in which I have primarily focused on the leadership and delivery of the modules TECH1002 and TECH3022, supervising project students, and supervising the delivery of TECH3026. This involved:

  • TECH1002 Social Media & Technology – this year I have further developed lectures, workshops and assessment activities to support learners understanding of digital mediation, network culture, digital identity and collaborative media. This year I introduced the DMU Commons Wiki as part of the module activities in order to promote and test collaborative learning practices and skills. I have further developed the use of blogs as part of the role of a social media practitioner that learners are modelling. I have strengthened the approach to the examination and the expected requirements for associated reading.
  • TECH3022 Advanced Social Media Production – this year I have introduced and developed a focus on digital capabilities, digital activism, digital literacies, and digital sociology (netnogtaphy). Engagement with social media has centred on a campaign to raise awareness about processed food, sugar and carbohydrate rich diets. Learners participated in a social media project to support a campaign directed through the www.noquartergiven.co.uk site. Learners worked collaboratively using the DMU Commons Wiki http://wiki.our.dmu.ac.uk and other social media tools.
  • TECH3026 Creative Media Entrepreneurship – while I failed to win support for the continuation of Seed Creativity Ltd running this module, I am satisfied that the operation and standard of delivery of this module will produce satisfactory learner engagement and progression.
  • TECH3010 Project Supervision – there has been a low turn-out from learners at the regular supervision sessions I held.

In addition to the above teaching duties I have contributed to the validation of the BA Communication Arts course, by writing three templates for modules based on Community Media. I have continued to build my external academic profile, both in terms of research, teaching & learning and support for external community media. I am an active blogger and social media user. I am an external examiner at Liverpool John Mores University. I am a council member of the Community Media Association. I have asked for an extension to my PhD registration so I can continue to collate and write material. My submission deadline is now expected to be the end of September 2015. Following advice from the (now former) Deputy Dean I have continued to refraining from engaging in administrative initiatives and management activities in order to focus on academic work and the completion of my PhD, and to maintain a satisfactory and work-life balance.

Three priorities have emerged that I wish to take forward in both my learning and teaching activities, and in the support I can offer to colleagues in the Leicester Media School. All are associated with the idea of Social Learning.

Firstly, I wish to reinforce the practice of verbal instruction and note taking with undergraduate learners. There is a low sense of expectation demonstrated by new learners on TECH1002 that they are required to take notes in lectures and workshops. Many learners seem to have only a limited sense that they are expected to attend lectures and workshop sessions, and that when they do they are required to make notes. Subsequently, learners who do not attend, and who do not make note, are often the ones who struggle to perform at the required level, and often find it difficult to complete assignments independently. While this can be expected as part of the process of orientation and enculturation to different learning styles at Level Four, the speed at which learners make this change can be uneven, and for some, problematic. I will therefore trial the Social Learning approach, and test through the use of small-group discussions and ‘talk-aoke’ sessions, if learners can be encouraged to engage with informal discussion of the reading material associated with the weekly taught sessions. I will be looking for them to use appropriate academic language and concepts in these discussions, and to exhibit some fluency for the concepts that are considered. Learners will be given clear expectations that evidence of reading and discussion ought to be reflected in their blog and wiki posts. In addition, and as a fundamental principle of delivery, I will primarily engage in face-to-face interaction with learners. This face-to-face interaction will be clearly signposted as an alternative to email, Blackboard and other forms of electronic communication, and will stress the benefits of learning how to interact with tutors directly. The lab arrangements for the delivery of the social media modules are at present far from satisfactory, with no regular activity-base to work from that is dedicated to the development of a social-learning approach (i.e. café style seating, comfortable sofas, round table displays). It is a common occurrence for many learners from other courses to use the same rooms (often being the only place that the can access bespoke software), which puts additional stress on the learning sessions being developed here, and provides an inappropriate justification for a significant number of learners to consider being absent – i.e., that the room is full and they won’t be missed.

My second priority is to support colleagues in the Leicester Media School to develop the capability and use of social learning tools, and collaborative development/production tools. Often the general approach to communication within the Faculty of Technology is to cascade emails. This is a failing approach that doesn’t build knowledge communities based on collegiality, mutual engagement or transparency. Email and hierarchical management practices don’t allow for the shared and de-centred approach to learning, curriculum development and professional practice. By identifying and testing different models of social collaboration, learning and peer-based project work, it should be possible to iron-out many of the communication issues that are prevalent in a large organisation such as the LMS. With the aim to reduce operational log-jams, improve two-way communication, facilitate longer-term planning, allow for a more inclusive set of decision-making practices, and to build an identity around the core practices of the community of learners that make up the LMS. These peer-based learning and professional practice approaches are difficult to integrate within standard daily routines, but when established they will help to foster a ‘community of practice’ type approach and support a shared and collective intelligence ethos among colleagues that might otherwise go unrecognised, unreported and unsupported.

The third priority I wish to continue to support, is the work I have started in TECH3022, looking at social media as an advocacy tool for digital activists, ethnographic researchers and campaigners. Working with issues associated with the Obesity and Diabetes epidemic gives learners an opportunity to develop social media skills related to a platform of action and awareness raising that satisfies a clear social need; questions established social values, and, allows learners to practice creative forms of social media production. By questioning the prevailing culture of processed food and carbohydrate-rich food-like-substances, and by advocating the Low Carb ethos, learners have to demonstrate their ability to research, comprehend and situate a complex and controversial set of issues. Learners also have to be able to reflect on their own experience of food consumption, and generate insights that are relevant to the wider social discussion about obesity and diabetes, particularly as issues of weight carry a significant social stigma. As well as practicing creative approaches to producing engaging content that resonates with an audience of engaged participants, the social learning approach adopted here also allows for the clear demonstration of the impact of practical literacies, skills and know how (in this case food but with a reference to digital media), and how media/digital literacies might similarly be adopted and sustained on a grassroots and participant-led basis. There is considerable scope to develop a research platform within this topic area and subject, that can be linked with credible public services and advocacy bodies, as well as the LMS being seen to take a lead on a debate of significant public interest. [Prof Richard Hall has cited this as an example of good practice on his blog posted on The DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research http://cpr.our.dmu.ac.uk/2015/03/18/on-assessment-and-feedback-some-notes-on-student-as-producer/]

I am aiming to submit my PhD thesis for September 2015, and hope to continue to be associated with the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility afterwards. I will be submitting a separate IRP outlining this. Upon completion of my PhD I want to aim for Readership so that I can develop my research and publication paper output in issues around collaborative and community media. This will involve developing research projects that support community-based organisations who seek to build and sustain capabilities, skills, resources and awareness in the use of digital tools for social media production, social learning and social network development, either as communities of interest, identity, practice or locality. I aim to do this within the CCSR’s remit as a learning community that accounts for the use and deployment of computer mediated communication practices and their ethical and social consequences. I believe that this will support the aims of the Media, Design & Production Subject Group, as a community of practice itself, and the wider Leicester Media School, by fostering collaboration and engagement with partners in other academic communities.

Liverpool COOL Creative Community Radio

I’ve come up to Liverpool to see my mum, and get a bit of culture – with or without the capital ‘C’. Every time I come back to Liverpool I encounter something that is invigorating and engaging. It’s far from a perfect place, but it’s got a lot more interesting in the last few years. We had lunch in the Everyman Bistro on Saturday, which was very nice, and I’m not surprised the design of the rebuilt Everyman has won awards. The café and the bistro feel very intimate and the food was simple, elegant and flavoursome. A simple menu that is done well rather than the over-extended trendy mixture of fusion foods that are done to death elsewhere.

001-DSCF4268On Saturday evening we spent a couple of hours in Sefton Park watching the Lantern Parade and the fireworks. It was great to see how enthusiastically these events are received in Liverpool, and the sense of involvement and participation that people give over to them. I’d heard that last years parade was engaging, so had high hopes for this year. Perhaps the timekeeping and the stewarding could be looked at, because there was a lot of people eager to see the performance, and it took a long time to get all the parade participants into the central arena, by which point many of the families with small kids had given up. A bit of narration would have helped as well. The PA was more than adequate, but encouraging people to spread around the arena would have taken some of the pressure off. But who doesn’t like fire and fireworks in the dark?

On a Sunday morning my mum always listens to BBC Radio Merseyside, which I detest, as Maurine Walsh presents her show like she is the Queen. However, we sat and chatted about why people like her? What she brings to the station and who she thinks she is talking to? And this got me thinking about the extent to which radio stations in Liverpool reflect the COOL agenda that is being developed in the city. COOL stands for Creative Organisations of Liverpool, and is group that brings together many of the established and the emerging creative projects, organisations and people across the city.

And so it struck me that with such as strong focus on creativity and performance in Liverpool, with music, literature, poetry, theatre, visual arts, film making, design and architecture, I don’t think Liverpool has any radio stations that do what ResonanceFM does in London, which is provide an independent and DIY focus for creative outlets and the arts using radio, with a continual discussion of arts, music, culture and performance for the generation of peoples who aren’t stereotyped by a reliance on nostalgia (BBC), football (Radio City) or double glazing sales (JuiceFM).

Walker Gallery

Walker Gallery

I know very little about Liverpool’s community radio stations so I’m probably wrong in thinking that the arts aren’t discussed on the radio in Liverpool, but it’s just that there isn’t a station that is dedicated to it. There may well be people using radio as a creative medium itself, rather than thinking it is just a stepping stone to other things, or a way to provide a warm bath of nostalgia and self-affirmation, so I need pointing in the right direction if anyone has any examples they are happy to share

I’d be very interested in starting a discussion about how community radio can be developed around this idea of talking a leading cultural role, rather than just providing an echo-chamber for a fixed community. I would wonder if talking to the organisations that lead with COOL, the Arts Council, the city council, the other universities and colleges, the music promoters, and so on, might expand the purpose of radio from the very narrow model that we have in the UK?

I interviewed Ed Baxter at ResonanceFM the other year, and he’s much more interesting than the usual suspects in the commercial or BBC radio sector. He hates the whole corporate and consumerist culture that UK radio is locked in. I have two favourite stations at the moment. Campus Radio Montpellier and L’Echo in Montpellier. Find them both on Tune-In Radio to see how different a student/community stations can be from the UK variety. This is radio that is allowed space to breath and lets the listener come to it, rather than being shouted at by a bunch of ego-maniacs who want to tell you how wonderful they are. They are my favourite stations at the moment – even though I don’t understand a word of French!

I’m always struck when each time I return to Liverpool now how much the atmosphere has changed since I left in the late 1980s, and how much more open people are to creative arts, storytelling, musical diversity and so on. With a great tradition of writing, poetry, performance, acting, musical innovation, and all the rest. Community radio with a purpose to foster diversity, creativity and participation in DIY aural/music cultures would get me excited. No charts, no formulas, no fixed schedules, no corporate missions-plans…. (haha, I’d get eaten alive…).

TECH3022 Lecture Week Three – Participation

In this week’s TECH3022 Lecture I wanted to introduce some concepts that would help us to situate the role of participation in the function of social and collaborative media. Our discussions are looking at developing our understanding about social media, and the way it has the potential to encourage civic or grassroots media engagement. I wanted to highlight some ideas, therefore, that have been associated with the way that public sphere has been used as a way to explain how civic discussion is understood. Coupled with this I also wanted to introduce the idea of hegemony and the critique of dominant ideas within society, and how they are controlled by ruling elites. To do this I wanted to introduce some examples drawn from DIY and alternative media, as well as thinking about the relevance of community media.

It is useful to keep in mind that despite what many voices in the mass media might want us to believe, it’s entirely possible to imagine alternative ways of communicating with media that aren’t dominated by corporate control and the dominant social discourses that define Western society. This challenge to the dominant monoculture of ideas and thinking in Western capitalism can be examined, on a number of levels. Either from the point of view of social movements and historical forces that might be argued to shape society, or, by paying attention to the daily life practices of ordinary people working on the day-to-day functions of living and interacting. In the context of social media we should remember, as Henry Jenkins points out, that “what people collectively and individually decide to do with [new media] technologies as professionals and as audiences, and what kinds of culture people produce and spread in and around these tools, is still being determined” (Jenkins, Ford, & Green, 2013, p. xiii).

I’ve been working and researching in the field of community media quite a bit over the last ten years or so, and I’ve developed a familiarity with the way that participants in community media can find the confidence to articulate their individual voices, nurturing and developing alternative ideas and practices. Community media has the potential to offer something different for participants that is not as fixed or determined by the controlling influence of mainstream corporate media. Follow this link to listen to one of my Community Media World Podcasts.

Kevin Howley notes that “community media represent a unique site to interrogate the process of identity formation through communication technologies, and to examine the dramatic impact of social and technological change on the everyday lived experience of disparate groups within a geographically based community. Put another way, attending to the institutions, forms, and practices associated with community media provides enormous insight into the relationship between people, places, and communication technologies” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

So, a focus on participation, and the development of social media practices that promote participation, have the potential to afford us, as Delwiche & Henderson suggest, a mechanism by which individuals and grassroots groups can challenge the domination of centralised and hierarchically organised media organisations. According to Delwiche & Henderson:

“Armed with inexpensive tools for capturing, editing, and organising, people tap into a vast ocean of real-time data and multimedia content to promote personal and political interests. Functions once monopolised by a handful of hierarchical institutions (e.g. newspapers, television stations, and universities) have been usurped by independent publishers, video-sharing sites, collaboratively sustained knowledge banks, and fan-generated entertainment” (Delwiche & Henderson, 2013, p. 3).

This notion of a usurping function for community and collaborative media is echoed by Howley, when he explains how an “emphasis on ‘social-political policies’ is instructive insofar as it highlights the constructed and contested character of media systems. In other words, rather than view these systems as the natural or inevitable outgrowth of any given technology, this perspective illuminates the social, political, economic, and cultural dynamics involved in creating a media system” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Howley goes on to give an example and suggests that, “for instance, radio broadcasting operates in terms of a hierarchical, one-way flow of information between media producers and media audiences. This centralised form of message production and distribution positions audiences as relatively passive consumers of media messages. And yet, there is nothing inherent in broadcast technology that precludes decentralised communication between message producers and received. Indeed, in its early days, radio was a vibrant, participatory, and decidedly two-way medium of popular communication” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

If we keep in mind that the choices that have been made to regulate broadcasting and media services in Western societies come from a particular set of ideological conventions and ideas, then we can start to examine how the process of organisation shapes and structures our wider expectations about media democracy. As Howley points out,  “terrestrial radio broadcasting, as we know it today, developed as a result of explicit policies – rules and regulations covering every aspect of broadcasting, from technical specifications governing spectrum allocation and transmission power, to the conditions for licensing, ownership, and financial support mechanisms – that favoured well-financed private ownership or some form of state sponsorship and control” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

Therefore, and as Howley continues, “as media and cultural historians remind us, the policies and structures that set the terms of broadcasting in the first half of the past century were the result of a series of negotiations and bitter disputes over how broadcasting would be organised, regulated, and paid for. Critically, the level of public participation was constrained by a number of social, economic, and political conditions. As a result, powerful economic and political forces, representing an narrow range of interests, prevailed and established the foundation for present-day broadcast structures and regulations” (Howley, 2010, p. 280).

In this respect as Howley argues, media and political theorists would be well advised to acknowledge that “community media provide a unique site to illuminate hegemonic processes,” and that “community media demonstrate not only signs of resistance and subversion but evidence of complicity and submission as well” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). In this respect, it can be argued that “Social media breaks down the control and the hierarchy between the mainstream media and the population” (Hill, 2013, p. 53). Marking out spaces and territories that can be populated with alternative voices, contrary opinions and distinctive, and clearly non-mainstream, participants.

This argument rests on some assumptions about the role and the function of alternative and community media Firstly that the levels of control exercised by corporate media actively excludes people. Secondly, that the highly structured hierarchies that are set in place to manage corporate media encourage a largely one-way flow of information, and mark clear distinctions between producers and consumers which are absolute. All of which is held in place by state organised mechanisms and regulations that are designed to hold these economic, civic and social policies in place. What community media is useful for, therefore, is to gain some insight and sense of how an alternative model might work in practice and what it might mean when encountered in the life-worlds of different participants.

Underpinning many of the ideas and thinking about the role of community and participant media is the concept of the Public Sphere:

“The concept of the public sphere, as described by Jürgen Habermas, provides a robust theoretical framework to examine the crucial link between democratic self-governance and communication. Habermas (1993) argues that the public sphere is the foundation for civil society; it is a forum for the citizenry to reach consensus on the issues and policy decisions that affect public life. In Habermas’ formulation, the public sphere is a realm, insulated from the deleterious influence of state and commercial interests, in which citizens openly and rationally discuss, debate, and deliberate upon matters of mutual and general concern to a self-governing community. Isolated or ‘bracketed’ from both state and market forces, this public sphere is the space in which a public comes to understand and define itself, articulate its needs and common concerns, and act in the collective self-interest. In short, it is a space in which a social aggregate become a public” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

In this sense then, “the concept of the public sphere [is] in a very general and common-sense manner, as, for example, a synonym for the processes of public opinion or for the news media themselves. In its more ambitious guise.” However, as the idea of the public sphere was developed by Jürgen Habermas, and according to Peter Dahlgren, “the public sphere should be understood as an analytic category, a conceptual device which, while pointing to a specific social phenomenon can also aid us in analysing and researching the phenomenon” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 2).

Howley points out that “according to Habermas, an effective and robust public sphere depends on two conditions: the quality of discursive practices and the quantity of participation within this discourse. The first requirement calls for rational-critical debate based not on the speaker’s identity or social standing, but upon the reasoned and logical merits of an argument. The second requirement entails opening up the debate to the widest public possible and encouraging the inclusion of competing opinions and perspectives” (Howley, 2005, p. 19).

Who constitutes a ‘public’ is one of the key questions to emerge from this line of thinking. Indeed, working out who in practice is capable or given permission to be included in this sense of civic engagement is one of the fundamental critical questions we can seek to establish.  As Habermass himself suggests: “we call events and occasions ‘public’ when they are open to all, in contrast to closed or exclusive affairs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 81). And the extent to which “the private sphere of civil society [is] no longer confined to the authorities but [is] considered by the subjects as one that was properly theirs” (Habermas, 1994, p. 89) is the foundation for much of the ethical interventions that are associated with participation.

According to Howley, however, “the threat to the public sphere, as Habermas sees it, is the encroachments of the state and commercial interests into this realm. Habermas observes that as the public sphere shrinks, there is a marked increase in political apathy, a relentless pursuit of economic and material self-interests, and a rising tide of cynicism and social alienation” (Howley, 2005, p. 19). Therefore, “the concept of the public sphere has enormous relevance for the ongoing project of building and sustaining a more democratic media culture… As the nature of citizenship changes in an increasingly integrated world, the question of who deliberates has enormous implications… There is relatively scant popular participation in this deliberative process” (Howley, 2005, p. 20).

So, to recap, the public sphere is a way of understanding the role of the media in civic spaces. Participation is at the heart of what is said to constitute a healthy public sphere. Media participation formulates ‘publics’ that challenge ‘private’ interests, and therefore the public sphere cannot be thought of as free standing – it is challenged by the state and commercial interests, and therefore the he idea of the ‘citizen’ or ‘agent’ is vital to participation because it the actions of citizens that bring about change.

Across this debate it is widely asserted that “politicians whose views and policy recommendations challenge corporate interests are rarely seen or heard in the mainstream media.” And that, “conversely, those who are sympathetic to and support corporate policy tend to receive favourable coverage in the press. As a result, alternative positions on public policy and oppositional views on corporate culture are rarely publicised, let alone opened up for broad popular debate” (Howley, 2005, p. 23).

So practices do exist that point to an alternative way of thinking about and producing media. As Delwiche points out: “creative cultures flourished beneath the surface of the mainstream media; many of these cultures were nurtured and extended by mimeographed zines” (Delwich, 2013, p. 19). If, as Howley suggest, “corporate media depoliticises both the public and private spheres. In their efforts to deliver audiences to advertisers, commercial media socialise people to believe that health, happiness and the good life are to be found in the implacable, competitive, pursuit of consumer goods” (Howley, 2005, p. 24). Then alternative forms of media, such as zines elude to a different way of thinking about media and media participation, As Delwiche points out: “researchers have demonstrated that participatory cultures are characterised by commitment to access, expression, sharing, mentorship, the need to make a difference, and the desire for social connections” (Delwich, 2013, p. 11).

It’s worth watching each of these documentaries about zine culture to get a sense of how embedded the idea of participation is and what consequences it has for the development of a participation-based outlook.

 

If, as Howley suggests: “advertising was instrumental in engineering a shift from a producer ethic to a consumer ethic. In so doing, advertising and consumer culture divert the public’s attention, energy, and resources away from society’s fundamental needs like public education, health care, the environment, economic justice, and racial, ethnic, and gender equality that are essential to the institutions, needs, and values that are not based on capital accumulation or profit generation are all but ignored by commercial media” (Howley, 2005, p. 24).

One such example that is said to define online media and the notion and practices of virtual communities was The Well. “The Whole Earth ‘Lectronic Link, normally shortened to The WELL, is one of the oldest virtual communities in continuous operation” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_WELL. According to Delwiche the “WELL was firmly rooted in participatory cultures, with founding principles that included self-governance, community connections, user-driven design, open-endedness, and low barriers to access. Power was deliberately decentralised and the network’s programmers carefully embedded ‘a countercultural conception of community’ into the entire fabric of the system’”(Delwich, 2013, p. 19).

This optimistic and (sometimes) utopian view of participation, as an alternative to the corporate and consumerist notions of civic engagement, presents us with a conundrum, such that as Howley argues, when all is said and done “the commodification of public communication belies claims that the information age will free the minds and liberate the spirits of the world’s people” (Howley, 2005, p. 26).  As Jenkins points out: “the growth of networked communication, especially when coupled with the practices of participatory culture, provides a range of groups who have long struggled to have their voices heard” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv). And that these “new platforms create openings for social, cultural, economic, legal, and political change and opportunities for diversity and democratisation for which it is worth fighting” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

To echo our starting point for this discussion, and as Jenkins et al suggest “the terms of participation are very much up for grabs, though, and will be shaped by a range of legal and economic struggles unfolding over the next few decades” (Jenkins et al., 2013, p. xiv).

So, to summarise, the terms of this discussion suggest that it is possible to challenge corporate interests through creativity. That participation that is based on access, expression and sharing will make a difference to the quality of social and civic engagement in the public sphere, and therefore the producer ethic needs to be nurtured. Self-governance, networking and user-generated content are the principles that will drive participation, and that new platforms as well as giving us a wider range of affordances also change our expectations about how, and who, can participate.

Kevin Howley uses the work of Martin-Barbero to “demonstrates how mass media are embedded in the everyday lived experience of local populations and illuminates the distinct role various cultural forms (e.g., theatre, cinema, radio dramas and telenovelas) play in the construction of national and cultural identities. In this way, the concept of mediation encourages the examination of both micro and macro level processes of cultural production from a socio-historical perspective. As such, mediation provides a valuable analytical perspective from which to consider community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

According to Howley, community media is “akin to the practice of appropriation so often celebrated by cultural analysts, community media form and content is a bricolage of artefacts and routines generally associated with the culture industries. Like textual poachers (e.g. Jenkins 1992), community media producers glean bits and pieces of media culture and invest this material with their own social experience in attempts to make sense of their lives. And, like the fan culture commonly associated with textual poaching, community media represents distinctive cultural practices that create and nourish affective relations” (Howley, 2005, p. 34).

Likewise, “the culture industry’s dismissive attitude toward the technical abilities of ‘non-professionals’ and the social value of their work underscores the adversarial relationship between dominant and community media. All too often, the work of ‘amateurs’ is marked as esoteric, frivolous, and apolitical. Rarely do commercial or public service broadcasters even acknowledge the existence of community media organisations. More often than not, when community media is acknowledged, it is invariably depicted as a refuge for outsider artists, hatemongers, pornographers, and the radical fringe: a perception some community media producers enthusiastically embrace” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

And that “community media also represents strategic alliances between social, cultural, and political groups mounting and organising resistance to the hegemony of dominant media institutions and practices. As a resource for local service agencies, political activists, and others whose missions, methods, and objectives are antithetical to existing power structures, community media publicise oppositional messages that are either distorted by or altogether omitted from mainstream media coverage” (Howley, 2005, p. 35).

“These initiatives” according to Howley, “diminish the debilitating effects of political-economic systems that cater to well-heeled special interests by enhancing the capacity of local communities to organise themselves and participate in political processes” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). And, “as a result, producers and audiences alike are complicit in accepting and circulating the notion that community media are aesthetically inferior to mainstream media form and content, and socially and politically irrelevant for popular audiences. Perhaps the reluctance of communication scholars to engage more thoroughly with the phenomenon of community media” (Howley, 2005, p. 36).

As Howley describes, “This emphasis on participation, local content, and especially the impulse to revitalise the civic life of place-based communities is the motivation behind yet another strain of the community networking movement, so-called civic networking” (Howley, 2005, p. 78). Any that of equal importance are the ‘civic networks that are “designed to encourage and facilitate discussion within and between local residents, thereby promoting participatory democracy at the community level” (Howley, 2005, p. 78).

And it is through this process of facilitation that we are able to observe how communities and participants are able to underpin the “creation of new cultural territories,” and work for the “preservation of existing cultural spaces.” According to Howley, this “takes on enormous significance in light of the ease with which people, sounds, imagery, and cultural practice circulate about the globe.” Community media, according to Howley contributes to the “reterritorialization of culture by establishing new structures and creating new spaces for local cultural production. In this light, community media can be viewed as a dramatic expression of the felt need of local populations to exploit as well as contain these forces in their efforts to make sense of the dramatic, and at times traumatic, upheavals associated with globalisation” (Howley, 2005, p. 38).

The question at hand, then, is how do we build the capacity for participation? On what basis should we plan and support the necessary social and symbolic resources that extend participation as a general social process. As Christopher Keilty points out, “those who provide the capacity for participation expect something as well. Participation is now a two-way street. Government now provide participatory democracy, citizens are engaged by the government or corporations, and publics are constituted, consulted, and used to legitimate decision-making” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).

And as such, “participation is now expected to have an effect on the structures, institutions, organisations, or technologies, in which one participates. Participation is no longer simply an opening up, and expression, a liberation, it is now also a principle of improvement, and instrument of change, a creative force. It no longer threatens, but has become a resource: participation has been made valuable” (Kelty, 2013, p. 24).

So we can see that community media is a useful way to examine how media functions. It is also a useful for building a picture of how our own social experience is essential to defining how we participate in different types of social process, both media and intersubjective. We can see this in the way that the amateur has become central to participative media, and how the subsequent resisting of the dominance of corporate culture is played out through oppositional messages in alternative and community media projects. Generally, community and participation-based media is poorly thought of, but if civic-life is to be invigorated, then participation must be given more status.

To summarise: “community media are strategic initiatives to counteract a climate of political apathy and social alienation that confounds a sense of belonging in local communities” (Howley, 2005, p. 35). “The challenge of building a participatory medium hinges upon the extent to which a diverse user population can not only access the system, but also make safe and productive use of it” (Howley, 2005, p. 250). And likewise, “without full consideration of the enormous variations within a given user population, community networks are unlikely to meet the needs, competencies, and preferences of heterogeneous users” (Howley, 2005, p. 250).

It is necessary, therefore that we take a closer look at the “institutional configurations of the public sphere” so that we can make sense of the participative phenomenon, both at the macro-level of structures and at the micro-level of structures. In this sense, and as Peter Dahgren points out, “an understanding of its dynamics requires that we also consider the processes and conditions of sense-making, whereby subjects link experience and reflection to generate meaning (political or otherwise)” (Peter Dahlgren in Dahlgren & Sparks, 1991, p. 16).

If we are to ask one question as a consequence of this process it would be, as Kelty proposes that we ask: “What is participation like today? How has it become newly important with respect to yesterday? Are participatory democracy, audience participation, user-generated content, peer production, participant observation, crowdsourcing all the same phenomena? If they are different, what characterises the difference” (Kelty, 2013, p. 23).

References:

Dahlgren, P., & Sparks, C. (Eds.). (1991). Communication and Citizenship – Journalism and the Public Sphere. London: Routledge.

Delwich, A. (2013). The New Left and the Computer Underground – Recovering Antecedents of Participatory Culture. In A. Delwich & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 11-21). London: Routledge.

Delwiche, A., & Henderson, J. J. (Eds.). (2013). The Participatory Cultures Handbook. London: Routledge.

Habermas, J. (1994). The Emergence of the Public Sphere. In Polity (Ed.), The Polity Reader in Culutral Theory (pp. 81-90). Cambridge: Polity.

Hill, S. (2013). Digital Revolutions – Activism in the Internet Age. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.

Howley, K. (2005). Community Media – People, Places and Communication Technologies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Jenkins, H., Ford, S., & Green, J. (2013). Spreadable Media. New York: New York University Press.

Kelty, C. M. (2013). From Participation to Power. In A. Delwiche & J. J. Henderson (Eds.), The Participatory Cultures Handbook (pp. 22-31). London: Routledge.

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What to Do with the BBC? Turn it into a Members Co-Op

A curious article in Today’s Sunday Telegraph by Johnathan Maitland, argued that the BBC should be butchered and broken up so that only the news division remains, and all other content production and services are put out to the private sector. According to Maitland we should “Transfer all in-house radio and TV production – bar news and current affairs – to the independent sector.” Keeping only a “skeleton staff of essential personnel.” Maitland thinks we should pay no more than £20 for this residual service, and that the private sector would be able to innovate as part of a free market in ways that the stuffy-old Beeb cant because of it’s layers of Bureaucracy.

Here’s a more radical alternative. Why not turn the BBC into a network of members co-operatives, each with a local membership based on their existing local radio station profile, that are then federated regionally and nationally. Everyone who pays their licence fee gets a voice at a local level, and the chance to elect representatives at a regional and national level.

The BBC is funded by a tax and yet there is no direct representation. There has been a whole lot of centralisation over recent years, both in the public sector and in the private sector, that has diminished the independent local identity of our counties, towns, cities and regions. The programmes and services that the BBC offers are subject to the market forces that drives global media in the same way that Amazon and Netflix are hammering home with their on-demand programming.

The sorry state of BBC Local Radio and Television, however, with it’s generic programming, limited involvement of the public and standardised marketing, means that it’s almost impossible to innovate and provide local service that people actually want, and that are distinctive in this new pluralistic and plentiful media age.

If each individual station was an autonomous members co-op, with the right to withhold part of their funding to the regional and nation networks, then they would have a lot of clout. They could involve people in their local area more directly in programmes and programme making.

The BBC could become the first national media organisation to encourage mass participation in making and producing content. The BBC could become a local media training provider for media, working with colleges and universities to give room for alternative and marginalised voices that are presently excluded at the moment.

We’d have to do away with the Ofcom Broadcasting Regulations, mind. I’m sure that would be a relief given that they are a straightjacket on democratic and civic representation. Instead we’d have to put a system in place that would allow ordinary people to challenge the powerful in their own words and without the threat of legal action or hefty fines being imposed by the censor. With all the knowledge and expertise that the BBC attracts, that shouldn’t be hard to work out how to do it responsibly and ethically though.

So, Jonathan, rather than resorting to the tired-old thinking that only the private sector and the market can sort out the BBC, lets have some genuinely radical thinking and put the decision making power in the hands of the people who pay for it – or don’t you trust them?

Starbase Leicester Makes It So…

StarBase Leicester is a Science Fiction and Fantasy group, who meet once a month, for a variety of events, run for members. Regular events include Superhero Night, creative writing night, Megazone, Roleplaying Games, Muchkin, Cinema trips, Console nights Starbase Leicester aims to encourage its members to contribute and run ideas of their own, make new friends and to enjoy everything scifi, fantasy and gaming related activities, amongst like-minded individuals. This group accepts anyone, as long as they are 16+ and prepared to have a little fun. I spoke with Hannah, Sam and Chris who told me about their roles and what they get out of being members of Starbase Leicester.

Digital Literacies, Critical Pedagogy and the Challenge of Community Media

I’ve recently been introduced to the ideas of Critical Pedagogy and how the concepts of progressive and radical social change as an objective of education and learning practice that goes beyond the role that individuals can play and, instead, offers a much more radical idea about social change. It seems to me that as media and social practice have changed, and as expectations of technological capabilities and their affordances have become more dispersed, we have witnessed a shift in thinking about the role that literacies play in a range of social process.

Academic debates and studies of the role and function of media literacy are widespread and challenging, and are well documented. But with the shift towards information and communication technology as an integrated part of our individual experience, there has been a surge in the discussion and the documentation of this new vista of human interaction. The lived experience of users and producers of media content is moving centre stage and is increasingly recognised for its capacity to inculcate a vibrant sense of participation in dispersed and decentred media cultures (McCarthy & Wright, 2004).

At the same time, expectations about the capabilities and skills that are thought to be needed by agents acting in this emerging economy of media practice are being revised and opened-up. Indeed, the simple fact that we can talk about an emerging form of agency at all in this way is significant. The role that digital literacies play, moreover, are clearly important, particularly as they are recognised as an essential, and therefore primary function and characteristic of this emerging world. This is a function that is shaping the economic and the social nature of the Twenty First Century, and as such is no insignificant issue to explain.

The introduction, then, of new media and communication technologies, has prompted a thorough re-evaluation of the nature of civic interaction, professional interaction, politics, economics and social and community experience, and many more forms of human collaboration and communication. Socially networked individuals and communities are therefore forcing the established and dominant interest groups to face-up to new patterns of mass media consumption that are different from the way that they where laid-down in the Twentieth Century. This wholesale revision, it could be argued, is being enacted on the basis that the formerly passive subjects of consumption-based mass media practices, are becoming intrinsically active as social agents, and are reflexive, participative and engaged in a widespread array of socially mediated communities of intertextual representation, self-identification and ironic role management. For example, when the Pope is taking and sending selfies, it is clear that something significant is going on.

It would be useful to remember, perhaps, that during a time when social change is recognised as so widespread, and potentially more far reaching, that we should not make the mistake of assuming that the experiences we are sharing are in any way unique. Yes, they have many novel traits, and they allow us to do many novel things, but overall the legacy of past historical changes will remain with us as an inscribed memory in the practice of the present. As Zygmunt Bauman reminds us, the danger is that “in a world such as ours, one is therefore compelled to take life bit by bit, as it comes, expecting each bit to be different from the proceeding one and to call for different knowledge and skills” (Bauman in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 145).

In actual fact, many of the changes that we experience now, and respond to as if they are entirely new, have echo’s in the past from different times. For Bauman now “It’s all about convenience, stupid – about an effortless comfort and comfortable effortlessness; about making the world obedient and pliable; about exercising from the world all that might stand, obstinately and pugnaciously, between will and reality. Correction: as reality is what resists the will, it is all about getting rid of reality. Living in a world made of one’s wishes alone; of mine and your wishes, of our – purchases, consumers, users and beneficiaries of technology – wishes” (Bauman in Bauman & Donskis, 2013, p. 151).

It would be a mistake, therefore, to eulogise the role of culture in this process, but as Richard Hoggart argues

“Culture is a sign of disinterested goodness, of brains and imagination used to give liberty and poise. Behind the often strange form of striving is a wish for the assumed freedom, for the power and command over himself, of the ‘really cultured’ man. This may be a delusion, since it expects more from culture than culture can give; but it is a worthy delusion” (Hoggart, 1957, p. 257).

Bauman, Z., & Donskis, L. (2013). Moral Blindness – The Loss of Sensitivity in Liquid Modernity. London: Polity Press.
Hoggart, R. (1957). The Uses of Literacy. London: Chatto & Windus.

The Revolution Will Be Tweeted

If you are interested in how social media is being used and understood by activists’ movements around the world, then Symon Hill’s book Digital Revolutions is a clear and concise introduction. From #tag activism to the complex political, economic and nationalistic dynamics of the Arab Spring, Hill charts a path through some of the main dilemmas facing political and civic activism in the age of Twitter, Facebook and social media networks. Hill starts by stating that his core principle and conviction is that “liberation comes from below and never from above” (Hill, 2013, p. 15), and that “however much we discuss technology, let’s not do so in a way that leads us to forget the slums in Egypt, the soup kitchens in Greece or the newly present food banks in Britain” (Hill, 2013, p. 26).

Hill isn’t an open-ended optimist, as some of the internet and digital networked society evangelists have a tendency to be. Instead Hill grounds his ideas and his examples in the reality of social change that won’t be won through online media campaigns alone, but only when they turn into popular movements for change. The UK Uncut movement is given prominence in Hill’s account, free from hyperbole and rhetoric. It is good to note how Hill points out that “social media is a tool rather than a cause of social change.” Facebook and Twitter, according to Hill “did not overthrow Ben Ali or Murbarak, any more than the printing press overthrew Charles I” (Hill, 2013, p. 81).

What I was particularly drawn to is Hill’s unequivocal rejection of transactional forms of hierarchy within much of Western social and civic life. According to Hill “we need to appreciate the importance of the rejection of hierarchy” (Hill, 2013, p. 97), and therefore give some thought and energy to thinking through what the alternatives might be. This is something that I am intensely sympathetic with. The challenge, if we accept Hill’s argument and look forward to the emerging forms of social organisation, is how we can prepare people to act as mindful and reflexive citizens who have the skills and the sense of self-awareness and self-confidence that allows them to claim their entitlement to participation in our shared social life?

To understand how networks of peers and co-developers and citizens can gain through collective action for the benefit of the wider community, rather than simply clawing for personal, partial and financial advantage, is a worth challenge for all.

 

Hill, S. (2013). Digital Revolutions – Activism in the Internet Age. Oxford: New Internationalist Publications.

 

Community Media World


This is Braunstone Comes Home

This is Braunstone had its premier as part of the Doc Film Festival earlier in November, but it today was a chance for local people in Braunstone to catch up with the project and to see what it was all about.

Championed by Lainey Halford the film is a loving and honest account of residents life in Braunstone. It’s great to hear people speak for themselves and to talk about the things that matter to them without being put into the box of ‘social controversy’. At the end of the screening there was a well-deserved round of applause for everyone involved.

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This is Braunstone Comes Home

This is Braunstone had its premier as part of the Doc Film Festival earlier in November, but it today was a chance for local people in Braunstone to catch up with the project and to see what it was all about.

Championed by Lainey Halford the film is a loving and honest account of residents life in Braunstone. It’s great to hear people speak for themselves and to talk about the things that matter to them without being put into the box of ‘social controversy’. At the end of the screening there was a well-deserved round of applause for everyone involved.

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Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery – Networking Report

During the summer Ian Davies from Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery and I travelled around the country and visited some photographic and contemporary art galleries to find out more about what makes them tick and how they are using social media to develop their relationship with their volunteers, their audiences and the people who fund them. The project was supported by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Dr Thilo Boek at De Montfort University.

I’m making the report available here for download:

Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Network Visits Report 007 FINAL 2013-10-08

City of Dreams – What Next for Leicester?

Last night I attended the recording of the BBC Leicester debate ‘What’s Next for Leicester?’ after its bid to become the UK Capital of Culture 2017 failed. As a structured debate the BBC are expert at bringing people together to consider a controversial subject in-depth. This should have been a vibrant and dynamic discussion about the cultural activities that matter, not only to ordinary citizens and residents, but also to people who want to push ahead and take a lead in arts and culture in the city. Instead, this debate was sterile and had about as much passion as a group of accountants trying to settle a bill at a business development seminar.

The panel included Sir Peter Soulsby, Leicester’s mayor; Cllr Nick Rushton, the leader of Leicestershire County Council; Fiona Allen, chief executive of Curve theatre. Aminata Kimara, Artistic Director of Unidentified Drama theatre company, and James Bowen, MD of the Belmont Hotel.  The recording was tucked away on the top floor of Curve, in one of the private seminar rooms, with an audience that was brought together by invitation only, based on a carefully controlled list of attendees. Perhaps this is representative of the wider issues of cultural and economic debate in Leicester?

There was no strong creative voice expressed on the panel, and no testimony by grassroots creative practitioners to relate this debate to the experiences of creative artists and activists who struggle to get by in Leicester. The debate and discussion focussed, instead, on the problems of booking hotel rooms and planning a ‘brand’ for the city. Important as these things are, I can’t help but think that this is putting the cart before the horse. Where is the creative leadership? Where are the artists, and writers and producers and developers of creative content, performers, activists and events planners? Surely an ethos of creative ambition and intention – dare I say a manifesto – needs to be articulated before the debate is turned to models of organisation, business planning and marketing?

There was no mention during the discussion of what actually takes place in Leicester. Look at Pedestrian, Off The Fence, Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery, Handmade Festival, among many other groups. Then there is FD2D, The Monograph, Arts in Leicestershire, and [the bizarrely titled] Leicester: It’s Not Shit, who are telling the story of how Leicester’s arts and creative communities work and what makes them interesting – and have been doing so for a long time. Did any of these groups get given any acknowledgement or recognition in the official debate? If I was being unkind, I’d say that the expectation is that the community arts and grassroots creative champions are expected merely to sit in the audience and listen to the executive managers devise a strategy on their behalf, and then they are expected to act as ‘brand ambassadors‘ for something that they don’t feel they belong to, didn’t help form, and yet are still expected to be grateful for, even when it doesn’t work in their interest.

Would the debate be stronger if it brought together people who practice art and creative performance in the city? Would it have been a stronger debate if the people who administer and manage the infrastructure had taken seats in the audience instead? Who is empowered to speak in this debate is as important as what they speak about? Where are the young people? Where are the voices that are marginalised? Where is the challenge to the people who hold the purse strings and make the spending decisions?

I wonder, though, that Leicester has missed the boat when it comes to the creative economy debate? Does there need to be a de-coupling of the economic and the cultural regeneration debate in the city? Would Leicester be better served by cutting its arts and culture free from the professional management organisations and allowing them to find their own feet? Would the regeneration money be better spent on technology infrastructure, on transport infrastructure, on environmental development? The point was made well on Jim Davis’ BBC Leicester phone-in this morning: ‘If people don’t have cash in their pockets to spend, they can’t be going to events and theatre?’ If you can’t get a cheap bus into the city then you are cut-off from what’s on offer. Perhaps solving these problems is less attractive and brings less glamour, but its a whole lot more important.

Realistically, Leicester has to face up to the fact that other cities are doing the creative economy thing better, and have stolen a march by building infrastructure and networks that have more pull and a stronger sense of identity. Investing in challenging creative activities is not just about spending money on prestige buildings, it is about creating space for people to share and experiment. Other cities, though, have put massive amounts of money, time and expert investment into their infrastructure, buildings, services and communication networks. Leicester doesn’t have an independent contemporary gallery? Perhaps this tells us something about the nature of the debate and gives us a sense of why the next steps for Leicester have to be founded on more than a sense of optimism and blind hope. While Leicester is Forever Steadfast, it isn’t a city of dreams, and ironically, that’s the strength that being missed.

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Community Media Mantra

I came across this article today while researching my lecture on social media I’ll be giving on Monday. I think it’s perfectly adaptable to stand for community media as well as open source programming:
“If you are going to legitimately adopt the open source mantra, you must expect, prepare for, and welcome outsiders into your organization (dare I say–community?).

As a matter of fact you should probably spend significant time working on making sure outsiders can really participate.

Largely this is going to consist of changing culture, and removing roadmaps as well as identifying and exposing the processes for getting involved.” David Nalley

What does anyone think? A realistic objective?

Community Media Mantra

I came across this article today while researching my lecture on social media I’ll be giving on Monday. I think it’s perfectly adaptable to stand for community media as well as open source programming.

“If you are going to legitimately adopt the open source mantra, you must expect, prepare for, and welcome outsiders into your organization (dare I say–community?).

As a matter of fact you should probably spend significant time working on making sure outsiders can really participate.

Largely this is going to consist of changing culture, and removing roadmaps as well as identifying and exposing the processes for getting involved.” David Nalley

What does anyone think? A realistic objective?

 

Interview With John Coster – Audioboo


International Community Media Day Podcast

Today’s International Community Media Day was a fantastic opportunity to listen to the testimony of people from around the world and based in Leicester about how community media has touched and added value to their lives. Led by John Coster of Citizens’ Eye, we spoke to people from New Zealand, Thailand, India, South America, as well as cities around the United Kingdom.

I managed to sit and talk with some of our visitors who shared their experience and their thoughts about why community media can change lives and strengthen communities.

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Making the Wheels Turn – Reflections on Citizens Eye

At the start of the 6th Community Media Week, I caught up with John Coster, founder of Citizens Eye and we discussed the changes and the challenges of running successful community media projects.

 

Community Media – Proper Credit?

If community media is to be given proper credit and support it needs to be embedded within courses that allow for the examination of practice and principles. What are the key issues that need to be considered when developing courses and learning opportunities associated with community media?

I’m working with John Coster of Citizens Eye [http://citizenseye.org] as part of my research work, and we’ve been discussing and testing an idea to develop formal training opportunities in community media, both within formal education settings, and as part of informal social networks and communities.

I’m looking to float and test some of the ideas a little further, and specifically the development of a pair of undergraduate modules to be offered by the Leicester Media School, focussing on Community Media as a set of participant-led production practices and as a vehicle for personal, civic and community development.

I’ve attached a document that gives a thumbnail outline of two modules that I hope could be offered across the LMS, one at level five for 2014 and one at level six for 2015.

I would appreciate any feedback and thoughts about the scope of the proposals, the level that they are pitched, and what forms of collaborative development within DMU – and with external partners – we might pursue?

There’s a discussion thread on The Community Media Forum. Apply to join, and any comments can be shared with other community media activists.

If you want to get a sense of the community media projects I’ve been working with, my blog has some posts and podcasts that outline some of the activities I’ve been engaged with.

http://robwatsonmedia.net/category/communitymedia/

Level 5 Community Media Production – Principles & Practices [2014/15 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media aim to promote and develop the voices, social presence and skills of ordinary people in grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media faces a number of challenges that would otherwise limit its measurable social impact, and which make sustainability in the sector hard to achieve. This module aims to account for and critically examine the principles and regimes of community media ideas and concepts, while giving learners the opportunity to experience and develop skills as practitioners of community and collaborative media through engagement with active community media organisations.

Outcomes: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:

• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with community and collaborative media, and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within a community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to be able to demonstrate skills in media production, collaborative and social media and critical and contextual analysis at level four.

Theme 1: Community Media Principles
Participation; community representation; civic activism, representation; grassroots organisation; alternative media; co-operative and membership association; collaborative networks; alternative voices; history of community media activism; legislative agendas; funding regimes & economic models.

Theme 2: Community Media Practices
Citizen media; sourcing stories;, hyperlocalism; communities of interest; ethical practice; staying safe; open source & free media; creative commons media; staying on the right side of the law, NCTJ diploma.

Theme 3: Community Media Case Studies
Local Media – Citizens Eye, Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery, EavaFM, Takeover Radio…
National Media – ResonanceFM, Community Media Association, Radio Regen…

Theme 4: Community Media Social Impact
Alternative voices; civic empowerment; working with marginalised people; social gain; local political activism; community regeneration.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

 

Level 6 Community Media Production – Development & Impact [2015/16 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media have a global significance, being championed and promoted in many parts of the world as development platforms for the enhancement and building of personal, social and civic literacies and skills within grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media organisations can be non-governmental, ad-hoc and anti-corporate, and therefore face a number of challenges in achieving long-term sustainability. This module aims to critically examine the national and transnational policy discourse of international community media development, and will give learners the opportunity to explore how the management and organisational structures and interactions of community media can be used to promote the social gain objectives of collaborative, grassroots and networked volunteers and participants.

Outcome: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:
• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with international community and collaborative media development and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of international community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within an international community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to have undertaken the previous level five community media production module, unless significant acquired prior learning or experience can be demonstrated.

Theme 1: Community Media Partnerships
Working with the third-sector, local authorities, education providers, professional bodies, regulators and trusts. Networking with activist, faith & community interest groups. Challenging stereotypes & barriers between organisations, communities & people(s).

Theme 2: Community Media Volunteering & Participation
Hearing all voices; communication for volunteering; project management for voluntary groups; recognising and rewarding volunteers; hosting & moderating discussion; managing realistic expectations; building capabilities and literacies.

Theme 3: Community Media Funding & Development

Making partnerships work; forms of organisation – cooperatives and members associations; sources of mainstream & alternative income; applying for awards; ITC infrastructure development; financial management & accountability; community regeneration.

Theme 4: Community Media Global Perspectives
International networks of community media practice, research & public policy; international development goals & bodies; development challenges – building capabilities & literacies; intra- & extra-community communication; case-studies of supporting organisations – i.e. Media Trust, Unesco, European Community, BBC World Service Trust, etc.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

Community Media – Proper Credit?

If community media is to be given proper credit and support it needs to be embedded within courses that allow for the examination of practice and principles. What are the key issues that need to be considered when developing courses and learning opportunities associated with community media?

I’m working with John Coster of Citizens Eye [http://citizenseye.org] as part of my research work, and we’ve been discussing and testing an idea to develop formal training opportunities in community media, both within formal education settings, and as part of informal social networks and communities.

I’m looking to float and test some of the ideas a little further, and specifically the development of a pair of undergraduate modules to be offered by the Leicester Media wpid-wpid-rwm_0068-2013-06-12-11-54-2013-06-12-11-54.jpgSchool, focussing on Community Media as a set of participant-led production practices and as a vehicle for personal, civic and community development.

I’ve attached a document that gives a thumbnail outline of two modules that I hope could be offered across the LMS, one at level five for 2014 and one at level six for 2015.

I would appreciate any feedback and thoughts about the scope of the proposals, the level that they are pitched, and what forms of collaborative development within DMU – and with external partners – we might pursue?

There’s a discussion thread on The Community Media Forum. Apply to join, and any comments can be shared with other community media activists.

If you want to get a sense of the community media projects I’ve been working with, my blog has some posts and podcasts that outline some of the activities I’ve been engaged with.

http://robwatsonmedia.net/category/communitymedia/

Level 5 Community Media Production – Principles & Practices [2014/15 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media aim to promote and develop the voices, social presence and skills of ordinary people in grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media faces a number of challenges that would otherwise limit its measurable social impact, and which make sustainability in the sector hard to achieve. This module aims to account for and critically examine the principles and regimes of community media ideas and concepts, while giving learners the opportunity to experience and develop skills as practitioners of community and collaborative media through engagement with active community media organisations.

Outcomes: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:

• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with community and collaborative media, and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within a community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to be able to demonstrate skills in media production, collaborative and social media and critical and contextual analysis at level four.

Theme 1: Community Media Principles
Participation; community representation; civic activism, representation; grassroots organisation; alternative media; co-operative and membership association; collaborative networks; alternative voices; history of community media activism; legislative agendas; funding regimes & economic models.

Theme 2: Community Media Practices
Citizen media; sourcing stories;, hyperlocalism; communities of interest; ethical practice; staying safe; open source & free media; creative commons media; staying on the right side of the law, NCTJ diploma.

Theme 3: Community Media Case Studies
Local Media – Citizens Eye, Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery, EavaFM, Takeover Radio…
National Media – ResonanceFM, Community Media Association, Radio Regen…

Theme 4: Community Media Social Impact
Alternative voices; civic empowerment; working with marginalised people; social gain; local political activism; community regeneration.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

Level 6 Community Media Production – Development & Impact [2015/16 Delivery]

Rationale: Community and collaborative media have a global significance, being championed and promoted in many parts of the world as development platforms for the enhancement and building of personal, social and civic literacies and skills within grassroots and marginalised communities. As a third-tier of media, outside and distinct from commercial and public sector media, community media organisations can be non-governmental, ad-hoc and anti-corporate, and therefore face a number of challenges in achieving long-term sustainability. This module aims to critically examine the national and transnational policy discourse of international community media development, and will give learners the opportunity to explore how the management and organisational structures and interactions of community media can be used to promote the social gain objectives of collaborative, grassroots and networked volunteers and participants.

Outcome: At the end of this module learners will be able to demonstrate:
• An ability to use and evaluate key terms and concepts associated with international community and collaborative media development and to use these terms and concepts to undertake critical assessments and interventions in debates associated with of international community media practices, organisation and policy.

• An ability to develop, produce and share – responsibly and ethically – content and media products within an international community media group or network.

Prerequisite: It is essential to have undertaken the previous level five community media production module, unless significant acquired prior learning or experience can be demonstrated.

Theme 1: Community Media Partnerships
Working with the third-sector, local authorities, education providers, professional bodies, regulators and trusts. Networking with activist, faith & community interest groups. Challenging stereotypes & barriers between organisations, communities & people(s).

Theme 2: Community Media Volunteering & Participation
Hearing all voices; communication for volunteering; project management for voluntary groups; recognising and rewarding volunteers; hosting & moderating discussion; managing realistic expectations; building capabilities and literacies.

Theme 3: Community Media Funding & Development
Making partnerships work; forms of organisation – cooperatives and members associations; sources of mainstream & alternative income; applying for awards; ITC infrastructure development; financial management & accountability; community regeneration.

Theme 4: Community Media Global Perspectives
International networks of community media practice, research & public policy; international development goals & bodies; development challenges – building capabilities & literacies; intra- & extra-community communication; case-studies of supporting organisations – i.e. Media Trust, Unesco, European Community, BBC World Service Trust, etc.

Delivery: A combination of lectures, practical workshops and project work, utilising e-learning, collaborative media and network tools.

Community Media Wiki

I’ve been playing with the idea of developing a wiki based around community media. It’s separate from this site, and uses the MediaWiki software, that is used to run Wikipedia. There’s a learning curve to get the hang of using MediaWiki, but it’s probably about the best for ease of use for users. Is this something that is worth developing and seeing if we can get an on-line community of contributors for?

http://www.communitymediawiki.net

Community Media Wiki

I’ve been playing with the idea of developing a wiki based around community media. It’s separate from this site, and uses the MediaWiki software, that is used to run Wikipedia. There’s a learning curve to get the hang of using MediaWiki, but it’s probably about the best for ease of use for users. Is this something that is worth developing and seeing if we can get an on-line community of contributors for?

http://www.communitymediawiki.net

Community Media Wiki

I’ve been playing with the idea of developing a wiki based around community media. It’s separate from this site, and uses the MediaWiki software, that is used to run Wikipedia. There’s a learning curve to get the hang of using MediaWiki, but it’s probably about the best for ease of use for users. Is this something that is worth developing and seeing if we can get an on-line community of contributors for?

http://www.communitymediawiki.net

Update: I’ve been trying to get the registration process for the site working so that users can just log-in. Rather than an open process that will allow bots and spammers to get in. So I’ve set the site so that applicants need approval from an administrator. I’m also looking for a Captcha plugin to add to the registration process so that there is an extra layer of security. I’ll keep my eye on the number of registrations and see how it works.

Community Media Wiki

I’ve been playing with the idea of developing a wiki based around community media. It’s separate from this site, and uses the MediaWiki software, that is used to run Wikipedia. There’s a learning curve to get the hang of using MediaWiki, but it’s probably about the best for ease of use for users. Is this something that is worth developing and seeing if we can get an on-line community of contributors for?

http://www.communitymediawiki.net

Update: I’ve been trying to get the registration process for the site working so that users can just log-in. Rather than an open process that will allow bots and spammers to get in. So I’ve set the site so that applicants need approval from an administrator. I’m also looking for a Captcha plugin to add to the registration process so that there is an extra layer of security. I’ll keep my eye on the number of registrations and see how it works.

Community Media Wiki

I’ve been playing with the idea of developing a wiki based around community media. It’s separate from this site, and uses the MediaWiki software, that is used to run Wikipedia. There’s a learning curve to get the hang of using MediaWiki, but it’s probably about the best for ease of use for users. Is this something that is worth developing and seeing if we can get an on-line community of contributors for?

http://www.communitymediawiki.net

Update: I’ve been trying to get the registration process for the site working so that users can just log-in. Rather than an open process that will allow bots and spammers to get in. So I’ve set the site so that applicants need approval from an administrator. I’m also looking for a Captcha plugin to add to the registration process so that there is an extra layer of security. I’ll keep my eye on the number of registrations and see how it works.

No Quarter Given Planning Session

Despite the rain this morning, the students for MEDS3108 Forms and Practices of Radio wandered away from the DMU campus over to Phoenix Arts for a coffee and a natter about the No Quarter Given reports they will be producing. It was good to sit and chat about the different arts and culture events that we are all interested in and would like to hear more about in the regular podcasts from the site. The next few weeks is going to be spent doing some background research and checking out some potential stories. So watch out for a regular update from the site.

New Voices – Community Media Forum

Making the case for community media in the UK is more important now than it has ever been. It’s ten years since the New Voices report that led to the establishment of the Community Radio sector was updated.

When the report was first published Professor Anthony Everitt said: “This is radio not simply for the people, but by the people. The pilot projects gave hundreds of local volunteers the chance to become broadcasters, and produced real social gains for their communities as well as some lively radio. I have little doubt that, if it is introduced, Access Radio promises to will be one of the most important cultural developments in this country for many years.”

The question now is, are we in a better position now than we were then, or has government imposed austerity and consolidations in the market place made it harder for community media groups to thrive? Are we just paying lip-service to the ideals of community media, or is there a genuine future for all forms of collaborative and community media in the UK?

Across the world, particularly in developing countries and communities, community media is still regarded as an important driver for change. Both in terms of skills and capabilities of individuals, and also in interaction and the representation of communities. Community media is effective when it is clear about its objectives – either supporting social cohesion and expression, or providing an independent and alternative voice.

The challenge, however, is to find a financial model that will allow community media groups to flourish without succumbing to market pressures and to conform to mainstream tastes; but instead to articulate alternative views, to give people who don’t have a voice a chance to speak out, and to, perhaps most importantly, to find new ways to make things pay.

The Community Media Forum is a collaboration between Rob Watson at De Montfort University Leicester Media School, and John Coster of Citizen’s Eye, building a space that can bring people together from different community media backgrounds and experiences, to share and talk about how they have faced the challenges of running community media groups, and to think about how community media groups might be better supported and developed in the future.

Registering on the site is easy, follow the link for Community Media Forum and tell us a little about your role in community media, what drives you, and what you hope you can share with other community media activists. Community-Media-Forum-Banner-001

Hosting a Community Media Cafe

With over three years’ experience running drop-in café’s for community media, John Coster knows the ins and the outs well. As the founder of Citizen’s Eye, John has been meeting volunteers and activists from the community media groups and charities in Leicester to help connect people. The community media cafes are not only a chance for volunteers to share their experience about how they can develop their projects, it’s also a social platform in which it’s possible to meet people with a like-mind and a common passion for community media and social enhancement.

At today’s Community Media Hub session at BBC Leicester, John explained how to get the best out of hosting a community media café, how to make it a social event rather than a formal event, and how to make it as accessible to a wide range of people. Simple things like pushing tables together and having a badge can make all the difference, according to John. Make sure that people are welcomed when they come in. Try and do a deal with the café manager to have a discount for people attending the media café, but be sure to help the cafe by holding the event at a time when they aren’t that busy.

Community media cafés are a regular occurrence in Leicester, and coming along has helped me to widen my circle of contacts and friends, and to talk to other people who are passionate about community media. If you’ve never been to one, but fancy trying one out, just pop along to Coffee Republic on Granby Street in Leicester, every Tuesday 9.30-10.30.

Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Open Exhibition Preview

wpid-BUYgb30IcAA9IYa-300x225-2013-09-18-20-142.jpgLast night I was at the preview for the 2013 Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery Members Open Exhibition. I chatted to the guests and exhibitors about the photographs that are on display and what they thought of having the chance in Leicester to take part in such a democratic exhibition.

Rob Watson » DMU 2013-08-26 08:07:50

wpid-BSMmSxhIIAEzDPu-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgNetwork visits for the Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery took Ian Davies and me to Bradford and Leeds last week. Our first stop was Impressions Gallery, in Centenary Square. Impressions Gallery is located in Bradford’s newest open space, Centenary Square, with a large water-feature and pool. On the day we visited, and despite it not being particularly warm, there were many families and children enjoying paddling in the pool and dodging through the fountains. While we had a look around the gallery, it was unfortunate that we’d not been able to make contact with a member of the team from the gallery who could chat with us. The exhibition space is excellent though, with large white walls and a high ceiling creating a versatile venue. Presently showing was Forever Young, a touring exhibition which is billed as “a retrospective of James Barnor’s street and studio photographs, spanning Ghana and London from the late 1940s to early 1970s.”

wpid-BSMpNHNIgAASvwJ-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgNext we headed over to the National Media Museum, for a look around the exhibitions and galleries depicting the history of photography, television, gaming and now the internet. It’s always a pleasure to visit the National Media Museum, as there is always a good atmosphere, with a focus on activities for children. They usually end –up reading the news or the weather. The Kodak Gallery on the lower ground floor lays out the history of photography, but it’s interesting that the latest camera in the collection is a Nikon F2. Obviously the gallery doesn’t extend into the digital realm, and there’s not a smart-phone to be found. Is analogue photography is truly becoming a museum display then?

wpid-BSOGsQRIgAAXFti-225x300-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgOur overnight stay in Leeds was at the University of Leeds Halls of Residence, which is a modern building that has very good accommodation and was only ten minutes’ walk from the city centre. We had a lovely meal in the evening, at Veritas, just opposite the Leeds General Infirmary. Ian particularly enjoyed the Sticky Toffee Pudding.

wpid-BSRtQawIEAAg7wi-300x225-2013-08-26-08-071.jpgOur visit to the White Cloth Gallery was especially good, as there is a clear sense of inclusivity and an eagerness to engage visitors with a positive experience. The gallery is something of a mix between a gallery and a bar/café. This enhanced the informality of the visiting experience as it was less likely to be a hushed and academic experience, as had been the case with some of the galleries we had visited over the previous weeks. We spent time chatting with Kirstin Black, the galleries marketing director, who explained that White cloth doesn’t receive any bloc-funding, but instead relies on the support of a benefactor and by running the café and bar, as well as putting on events and hiring the gallery space to the public. It was good to hear about the ethos of inclusivity that White Cloth pursues, so it will be worth keeping in contact and sharing some of the networking skills that Ian has developed with the White Cloth team.

Once again it was well worth the effort of travelling to visit these galleries and finding out more about the approach that each gallery takes to servicing its audience. There are so many variations of approach that it’s possible to pick and choose good practice from each of the galleries and to incorporate that into the development of Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery.

LPPG Amplification Visits – Cardiff

DSCF0593This week Ian Davies and I have travelled to Cardiff to find out about the photographic community of South Wales, as part of our continuing amplification visits for Leicester Peoples Photographic Gallery [funded by the Joseph Rouwntree Foundation’s Amplified, Resilient Communities Project at De Montfort University]. We wanted to specifically find out about Ffotogallery and Third Floor Gallery, two prominent proponents and champions of photography and photographic practice.

The first leg of our visit took us to Penarth, and the Turner House Gallery, where Ffotogallery hosts it’s main exhibitions. The gallery was purpose built as a display gallery by the wealthy philanthropist James Pyke Thompson in 1888. The gallery has a sense of calm and quite that means it is a good space for contemplation, though on an education day the gallery can be busy and active.

We headed back to Cardiff to the Chapter Arts Centre so that we could experience the Ffotogallery training rooms, and chat about education practice of Ffotogallery and how important hands-on experience is and the resurgence in interest in analogue photography. Walking into the teaching rooms we were greeted with the smell of photo chemicals, and I was instantly transported back to my days in the darkroom at Southport College and my photography course. It was great to see two active darkrooms, and to hear the enthusiasm of Emma Daman Thomas as she explained how the darkrooms operate and what courses are like. Lisa Edgar, head of education at Ffotogallery talked us through the development of the gallery and it’s ethos, and the challenges that established galleries face given the present funding climate.

DSCF0613A quick taxi back into the centre of Cardiff, and we made contact with Maciej Dakowicz who is one of the people driving and championing Third Floor Gallery. Third Floor is an independent gallery space run by a highly-committed and determined team of photographers, who are focussed on keeping their independence from the ‘bloc-funding’ model so that they can develop and maintain their independent voice.

The gallery is aptly titled as it’s at the top of a steep flight of stairs. The present exhibition is “Pictures From The Real World” by David Moore, which revisits photographs taken in the 1980s of people living in Derby. In the centre of the gallery was a TV with a speech of Margaret Thatcher running. I asked what the reaction has been, which according to Małgorzata Kopczyńska, it’s been somewhat mixed. Younger people viewed the video as interesting, whereas older people had a negative response and reaction. A marker of age and time passing.

We then met-up with other members of the Third Floor team in the City Arms, which is a stones-throw away from the Millennium Stadium, and has been accorded the honour of being the best pub in Cardiff – which I wouldn’t disagree with. We met with Joni Karanka and Claire Kern who introduced Ian and myself to the delights of the South Wales micro-brewing. A few pints later, and some good contacts made, we stubbled into a taxi to get to the university halls of residence we were staying in (and rather further out of town than I had expected).

The following morning we headed to Cardiff Bay to have a look at the Welsh Assembly home, which was a very nice place to do some planning and some reflection on our visit to Cardiff and the galleries we have seen so far. Next week we are in Bradford and Leeds, followed by a trip to London. We certainly will have plenty of information and interviews to use for the podcast we are going to make. I’m not going to share the opinions and ideas we’ve noted just yet, but it’s been fascinating and invigorating to say the least.

My Community Media Week

PE_YYYY0805142350This week has been quite exhilarating. I’ve packed more community media projects into one week than I have done for ages. It started off on Monday when I was helping Ian Davies at Leicester People’s Photographic Gallery to hang the new exhibition. I love the process of managing the turn-over of an exhibition. I arrived at the gallery at 10am, only to find that Ian had been there since 6.30am. He’d taken down the previous exhibition and had hung half of the images of the next exhibition. So my role was to make tea and to assist in the hanging of the second-half of the exhibition. Then in the evening was the opening for the work of Chris Hanrahan, and his street photography. Despite a very heavy rain storm the opening was really well attended. After vacuum cleaning the gallery, and when the preview got underway, I spent time getting people to sign a board with messages for Chris about what they thought of his images and exhibition. Eventually I got home for 9pm, exhausted but feeling really great about how the volunteers at the gallery had been able to pull together to create such a successful exhibition.

 

PE_YYYY0806094952On Tuesday morning, after a refreshing swim, I got to the regular Citizen’s Eye Community News Cafe run by John Coster. There was a really good attendance, with loads of people chatting with each other about their community media projects over a coffee. These sessions are a very welcome way to keep in contact with the network of community media activist in Leicester and are refreshing because they are open to all. After popping back home because I’d forgotten some leads it was off to BBC Leicester for the Community Media Hub sessions. It’s a real achievement that John has been able to network with BBC Leicester to provide a regular venue for the community media hub sessions. This has enabled Mike Lane and myself to start a small test project of audio-drama mentoring workshops using the BBC Leicester studios to work from. At the same time I was due to deliver a presentation on podcasting to the hub participants. I really enjoyed sharing my experience of making audio reports and recordings for podcasts. The hour went by in a whirl.

PE_YYYY0807115709On Wednesday Ian Davies and I travelled to Manchester to network with some community media groups and art galleries. We chatted with Hwa Young Jung of the Manchester Digital Lab about how they have developed a grassroots network of tech and creative media groups in Manchester. This was inspirational stuff. There’s no one throwing money at the projects, but the sense that this was being built from the ground-up was palpable. Later we chatted with Cormac Lawler about his work with Radio Regen and the challenges that are being faced by community media groups as funding from local authorities has dried-up. Our last stop in Manchester was at the Corner House, which is one of my favourite arts venues. We chatted with Marisa Draper, who was very welcoming and supportive of what Ian is developing in Leicester.

PE_YYYY0808132727After a short hop on the train to Liverpool we headed for the University of Liverpool halls of residence – which are great places to find cheap rooms for summer-time visits. After a bite to eat I showed Ian two of my favourite bars, the Kazimier Gardens and the Roscoe Head. But there was no late night partying, because the pair of us where knackered. The next morning things went a little awry, as our contact for a later visit was pushed back to the afternoon. However, we used the time to look at some of the contemporary galleries that Liverpool has to offer. Unfortunately the galleries in FACT don’t open until 12pm, so we went for a tea at the Bluecoat Gallery. It was lucky that we where in that spot at that time. A chap fell down a couple of steps and cut a gash in his hand on a broken cup. Ian’s A&E nursing training kicked-in and he was able to offer immediate assistance. So our inconvenience came to good use in the end.

Next on the trail was Tate Liverpool in the Albert Dock. It’s amazing how much Liverpool has changed in recent years, with loads of tourists wandering about looking very relaxed and very engaged with the city. The Pier Head is a great place to chill out and take street photographs before we paid our visit to the Open Eye Gallery, where we chatted with Jill Carruthers about her experience of promoting and co-ordinating the work of up-and-coming photographers.

Looking back on the week, then it’s been pretty hectic, with lots of travelling, lots of thinking and a lots of talking. I jet hope I can make sense of it all when I sit down to figure out what it’s all about.

Audiotheque Workshop – Exploring Othello

wpid-DSCF0517-300x208-2013-08-7-06-24.jpg The latest audio drama workshop run by Mike Lane was based on an extract from Othello. Kirsty Mealing’ and Jennifer Smith played  Emilia and Desdemona. I’m picking-up loads of very useful coaching techniques from Mike, who has a very carefully and organised way of helping the participants ‘unfold’ the meanings and expressions within the text which gets brought out in the performances. These recording sessions are a work-in-progress that have helped me to understand how performers bring the written text to life, through a combination of understanding and intuition. Kirsty and Jennifer’s emotionality really starts to open-up and come through in their successive performances, as the workshop developed and as we made each recordings. I’m really looking forward to developing more of these workshop sessions and to sharing the content that we produce.

Audiotheque Workshop – Fine Tuning

wpid-DSCF0420-300x208-2013-07-23-20-04.jpgIt’s been a while since an Audiotheque workshop took place, so it was great fun today to get together with Michael Lane, Mike Leo Brown and Jonny McClean and produce some recordings. We’d planned the session as part of the weekly Community Media Hub run by John Coster of Citizen’s Eye, which takes place at BBC Leicester.

We started off by working through an intense piece of dialogue from King Lear, and really used the expertise of the two performers and their voices alone to bring something from the text. I enjoy working with performers in this context as it tests the capability of the audio recording process to deliver something that captures and reflects the emotion of the piece and the moment that it is delivered. Michael’s capability as a director and coach really shone through, and the end result was so different from the first.

I was using a Zoom H4n handheld recorder and two Audio-Technica AT8031 microphones with desk stands. Normally I’d set-up a free-standing mic, but given the quality of the studio that we were lucky enough to be using, it meant that we could get a pretty relaxed recording all the same.

After focusing on this one piece for nearly two hours Michael mixed it up a bit by moving the setting of the play from the past into the future. So now I’ve got to source some sound effects for a spaceship airlock and two people being ejected out among the stars. Which is great fun to do with audio. wpid-DSCF0417-300x208-2013-07-23-20-04.jpg

Lastly Mike and Jonny recorded a sketch which was great fun. I really like working with capable actors who can nail a scene in one go, with a straight run through. The performances went way over the top, and they might not be the kind of thing that will win any awards, but it made us laugh quite a bit in the moment.

Now, I’ve got to make some sounds of a space ship, how do I go about doing that?

[Update: Here's a quick finished piece of audio]