On Monday we held the first stage of training for the #citizenrelay project; an ambitious attempt to follow the Olympic torch relay across Scotland during two weeks in June, capturing the alternative stories of the games, the stories that you wouldn’t usually hear out in the mainstream media, and producing an national archive, connecting communities and beginning to construct a Scottish network of citizen reporters for future activities, events and festivals beyond 2012. The video above gives an idea of some of the ideas and discussions that were had between ourselves about how we just might make this happen.
In a way, the torch relay is a catalyst for a bigger project or even more of an aim, one that intends to map out those who using online media production skills to develop local and citizen generated media (so partnerships with the Media Trust’s Newsnet project is crucial), as well as offering the opportunity to train, support and demystify the mobile and internet technology required to participate, establishing ways of encouraging those who are exposed to the training to not only get the chance to ‘learn’ about social media, but instead to gain the confidence to go back to their own networks and spread the word.
The project, unlike mainstream media outlets, needs to be scalable so they workload is spread, but also decentralised, connected only in the loosest terms by a set of keywords (citizenrelay, media2012 for instance – more commonly know as hashtags (#) these day) but also connected by the wider event, the relay, the spectacle if you are coming at this from the academic world, but the fact that for a short period of time, at least the illusion of the international media coming to town is utilised for the benefits of citizenship, rather than corporate sponsors/government propaganda and the controlled public relations rhetoric.
In simple terms, there are very few opportunities where communities of a nation can feel connected together as being part of the same story. The story doesn’t need to agree with the story that those who are implementing the event would like to achieve. It is about asking the questions, at the time, about what this torch relay really means for people, helping them feel confident to express their opinions about it (and related events) and to see value in knowing how to not only understand the purpose and value of such events, but to become part of the media making process.
With a convoy of over 150 vehicles that accompany the relay (which I will be covering and demonstrating tomorrow in Leicester as part of the trial run with local community organisation citizenseye.org tomorrow) and the fact that it is not a continuous process, but an edited collection of separate runners, and possibly multiple torches on the route, packed up and driven between carefully selected locations on the map- demonstrated through the fact that they will be covering the majority of Scotland’s landmass in one day (Glasgow-Inverness, a long drive at the best of times without stopping for the photo opportunity) whilst spending three days in and around Edinburgh and St Andrews, potentially emphasising the most London/power/empire centric/friendly city in Scotland.
Through preparing and engaging communities on and also off the route, we can attempt to build/facilitate a bigger, more decentralisation or realistic coverage of the process. For instance, are we interested in the torch bearer, maybe, certainly not when they are running, we won’t get access, but perhaps instead before or after the event, building a picture of the decisions made by those who selected them. What is the wider agenda?
But we need help. And we need help soon.
We have had a lot of support from a range of individuals and organisations, including friends and friends of friends who are situated across Scotland who have been suggesting people based on local knowledge and engaging with groups on our behalf. That’s what twitter is great for, it cut through previous communication structures and hierarchies and allows for things to happen. We have also had many people retweet and share our recruitment drive for interns (who have all be selected based on their online skills and local knowledge) and reporters (a more general role that anybody, at whatever level, can get involved in) by posting the promotional materials on their own social networking profiles and has been reblogged by the Big Lottery Fund, Education Scotland and Creative Scotland, Creative Loop Student Media Festival as well as our own institution University of the West of Scotland and the Skillset Media Academy. This is great, and it legitimises the process and the project through the amazing institutional interest in supporting the idea and the event.
However, it is still very top-down marketing in traditional means, the assumption that because we are XYZ and funded by a public arts council that people will come in their droves. Press releases and project blogging can do spectacular things in terms of influence of the project content and what we might do beyond the event, but this activity is about the people who make it happen, and it will be shaped and changed by both those we encounter, those who champion it and those who tell the stories. So we need to move away from just using the online version of traditional marketing, that has a place, but the place is not two weeks before training.
It was always going to be difficult to recruit beyond the West coast where our networks are. Where the people we can meet for coffee and get excited about ideas for being creative with social media around a once in a lifetime event such as this, and face to face is not always easy with a country as unique as Scotland – where notions of time and space function differently from the rest of the UK (that’s another blog post I’m afraid) – so we need to utilise we have got, existing ideas, networks, opportunities.
So this post is less about championing about what we are and why you should get involved, it is a discussion, who do you know that you think would be great for being an ambassador, a contact point, a trainer, a curator, a champion, however you interpret the project – for a citizen relay in the place you live in Scotland? Have you got any ideas about how we might collaborate on your existing projects in your area? It doesn’t matter if the torch doesn’t come anywhere near you, we want to know about what is happening in your area during that time, it doesn’t matter if you don’t think that you are fit into the project, you probably can, it is about everyone, not just those who want to produce media content.
We are running training days in Inverness (3rd May), Aberdeen (4th May), Glasgow (5th May) and Edinburgh (6th May) and we would love to get as many people as we can to be there. We have expenses to help those who are not from the cities (and we don’t expect you to be) to get there for it – and the only thing that you need to do beyond that is to describe, capture, archive, narrate, the story of the torch relay in scotland on your own terms.
So can you help us? Can you suggest contacts or nominate individuals, groups or even yourself for the reporter role. Is it education? arts? media? libraries? voluntary organisations? creative businesses? or something else?