On Citizen Media: Types, Governance and Education. #media2012

One of the groups who have got behind the #media2012 project in the North-West are a arts and media organisation called Let’s Go Global, based in Old Trafford, Greater Manchester . They’ve been using the #media2012 initiative as a mechanism for providing ‘citizen journalism’ training to volunteers from around the region, specifically focussing on covering arts and culture in the northwest during the Cultural Olympiad 2012 festival.

This evening I was invited to Manchester’s Cornerhouse, under my role as #media2012 coordinator, to give a quick talk about citizen media and the Olympics to the group and their volunteers and introduce the under-reported social and political context that the games are situated within. About how you can research and work within the Olympic context and totally detest competitive sport.

The second half of the session was broken up into small groups to discuss the next steps of the project – which brought to attention the need for a better website/platform for hosting content and empowering people to produce content, the focus on the themes and objectives of the group, where #media2012 is essential an umbrella, contextual hashtag and it is up to the individuals within an organization/group to decide amongst themselves about how and what they wish to cover, and the need for an element of formal and informal ‘training’, be it from ‘official’ sessions or through peer to peer learning (a huge focus for me next term, more to follow on that.)

From this, I’ve drawn on three areas of note for me, which I hope to address in my PhD thesis:

Types of citizen media;

 When I think of types, I am not thinking about the types of content (text, audio, video) nor am I thinking about production values – instead, I’m thinking of types as a form of motivation for the production of content. For instance, a citizen journalist that is embedded within an existing media organization, will use a rhetoric of citizen media associated with a particular style.  Or the media student might see citizen journalism as a route into “traditional” journalism (whatever that is!) They may produce media in this way (fast paced, shot on a flip cam, written up quickly or in real time) or they may ask for contributions in a speak-your-brains participation with a perceived audience. Alternatively, a citizen journalist may not even identify as being so, producing media as a response, because they feel that they have to in order to be situated within communities that they identify with, the media is the conversation. Or it might not even have the self-awareness of being a piece of journalism, but instead a record, a documentation that they were they and they were experiencing what was happening. Recording and archiving everything as a way of showing that they and the things that they were capturing ever existed. If those stories are not told, then there are little chance that they were ever be addressed. I think about the statues and historical records that we use to understand our past, if youtube, or even better, invisible geographical data, stands the test of time, then there might be a real possibilities of reclaiming histories from those who are in power and have access to the tools that hold records (think remains, museums, state-control documents, censuses etc) – it’s mind bending to think of it from the perspective that every tweet we make might leave a little bit of ourselves scattered around for other people to find.

Governance of citizen media;

How citizen media (or any) communities are organized are firstly governed by the existing  structures in place. It’s much easier to play by ear & just get excited by the fact that people are wanting to get together to just do something. That’s what I experience when I work with people like John Coster of Citizen’s Eye, who can have 2 to 100 people in a room at any one of the events/things that citizen’s eye do. It doesn’t matter, it the act of doing stuff. When funding comes in (be it through a grant or through employment at that organization) expectations and objectives start to come in, in order to justify that use of money for that particular thing. So then numbers start to become an issue, metrics and outcomes in order to convince the funders or the boss, when in fact the real impact comes from empowering the few that are there to go away and inspire others to join in outside that space. One thing that I’ve noticed that through doing workshops with citizen’s eye (around social media, digital technology and the olympics) that I’ve stopped caring about the quantity of attendees and, instead, about the quality of discussion and the conversations that emerge in each space. Hint – not one session has ever felt the same, unlike when I teach year on year… which brings me to…

The role of education in citizen media;

I tried to tackle the link between citizen media and education back in June when I presented at Virtual Futures at Warwick University. I wasn’t quite there, but it still comes back to haunt me, like the words are not yet formed yet. The fact that peer-to-peer learning has came up in three contexts in the last week, the first in discussion with Paul Bradshaw about the Online Journalism/Alternative Media module that we are going to run together at Birmingham City University next semester; tonight at #media2012 meeting where the topic of ‘skillsharing’ and informal learning took precedence over formal training (in the context of learning multimedia tools) and lastly around the praxi of alternative education models, something that I am going to explore over the course of the next two days at Occupy Nottingham (with the @thirduniversity) and the Tent City University @occupylsx.

I’ve seen and met people who are been genuinely empowered by the ability to use the internet to tell their story and to help other people do the same, I’ve helped people set up blogs and all sorts of platforms over the past few weeks through the social media surgeries in Dumfries and Galloway, but also as part of Community Media Week in Leicester, where I ran social media surgeries out of the Phoenix Square on Sunday and Monday.

I don’t want to hold onto this knowledge and only exchange it for something that suits me (££ ), I want to pass it on and see it as my way to contribute to the social movements around me, especially when I am taking from them in terms of getting a doctoral thesis nailed and an ‘academic career’ on the go. I still don’t feel using people as data is a fair exchange on their part, that’s why I’ve found myself choke during academic conferences and give up presenting in the ‘traditional’ “speaker-to-audience” half way through. I feel that if I am to be truly embedded and have people trust me (and befriend a lot of people in the process), I need to give back as much as I take from them. The role of education, for me, is more than feeding it back to my students in an ‘official’ lecturer to student role, or to write publisher protected, academic-prose in a researcher to peer role. It needs to be in constant exchange. It has to be.