Project: Update on Wester Hailes #digitalsentinel community reporter taster sessions

Over the last few months through my freelance community media development role at WHALE Arts in Edinburgh, I’ve been facilitating several community media ‘taster’ sessions in Wester Hailes for the development of the Digital Sentinel, a community-ran local news agency. I have been in this role with WHALE since October last year, having developed a ethical media policy and timeline for developing and understanding the potential of a replacement digital news service for the deceased Wester Hailes Sentinel which lost its funding in June 2008.

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The taster sessions followed on from an initial workshop that was delivered in February to employees and representatives of community services in the area and were promoted and hosted by three of the services who attended; the Wester Hailes Health Agency (and their time-bank initiative), Wester Hailes Library and Gate 55 (the Community Education Centre based in Sighthill).

The first set of taster sessions were completed in May and were completely open to anybody to attend, without having to RSVP and or have previous experience. They included a brief introduction to the Sentinel and the projects that lead up to the relaunch. Participants then got the chance to practice interviewing each other using audio and video tools on mobile devices and then upload them to the web. They were repeated this week (mid-June), with a focus to cover the Wester Hailes fun run (happening today, I’m writing this on the train, on my way to Wester Hailes) as the first event to have reporters in attendance. After today, they’ll be content uploaded onto the Digital Sentinel website for the first time – still very much as a practice space at the moment- and we will begin work towards covering two events on the 4th and 6th July respectably; a AHRC connected communities open day involving a barge trip from Wester Hailes to Edinburgh, incorporating a QR code social history walk and a citizen reporter presence/video box at the canal festival. It is hoped, much like #citizenrelay last year, by using existing events that we know are definitely going to happen and have a lot of activity going on, we will be able to use them as a catalyst to capture & produce local stories for the website.

What is also significant about the development of the Digital Sentinel is that we were lucky to receive funding from the Carnegie Trust “Neighbourhood News” call; not only the only project to be funded in Scotland but also the only project that is at this stage of development and delivery. This means that I will be able to continue this support work through to May 2014 and also build on the enthusiasm shown by the community at these early stages. Similarly, as we aim to have the first ‘community generated’ content on the site as of this week but we can also look towards ongoing training and development processes, such as accredited learning & the linking the site to political, social and educational agendas within the area, aiming towards operating fully as a community-led media initiative.

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It is also worth emphasising that my involvement with the sentinel is very much in my freelance employment as a development worker, with the aim to withdraw myself from the process over time and hand over the full responsibility of the Sentinel to the community that decide to take it on. I know at times this can be difficult politically as I switch my online voice from an academic interest, journalist interest and a community activist interest (due to the nature of my work & my research interest) – so I need to make this explicit in my intent. It is also a very interesting space to operate within, I am learning a lot from the process. Once the Sentinel site is running as a functioning news site, there will be space on the website to include reports on development process, mainly for evaluation & archival purposes, that will allow for posts like this to be cross-posted and stored in context of the website.

The fact we are developing a community news site from scratch is a story in itself, at a time when local news is wrapped in a narrative of decline & Wester Hailes is been shown as a community that is doing interesting things in this area. It is an exciting time and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to continue this work at a stage where it is becoming increasingly clear that the Sentinel is becoming a much-needed entities in the community.

To follow the content and on-going process of the Digital Sentinel, you can follow the #digitalsentinel hashtag on twitter, which will soon have its own Facebook and Twitter profile to join it in the coming weeks – additionally I’ve embedded a youtube playlist of some of the videos produced during the training tester sessions below.