On being in London, “doing the ‘lympics” and putting the brakes on.

The last time I wrote one of these blog posts was back at the end of January 2010, several days before I was due to head out – on my own – to the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games. I remember at the time feeling a whole wave of different emotions; excitement as it was my first long distance flight, my first massive research project, first Olympic Games, but also terrified because I had no clue what I was to expect when I was to arrive and what I should be doing when I get there.

Now we are onto games numbers two for me. And this is my blog post about what I might do during London 2012.

I took on the Olympics context in October 2009 after transferring my PhD (around new media) that was registered part-time at Leicester University back to the University of the West of Scotland – where ahm fae – but continued to live in Leicester due to work and domestic commitments. I’m hoping that when I return from the London once the games are finally done and dusted in August that I can finally get the PhD write-up blasted, where it has been all most impossible between travelling a ton, not travelling a ton (moved back to Glasgow permanently – should have done it sooner) and working on projects connected to the Olympics as and when they happened.

So how am I feeling about being in London during the Olympics? 

Firstly, it is probably the longest that I’ve been in London in one prolonged stint. When I lived in Leicester, I didn’t ever need to spend longer than a day there as it was only 1 hr and 20 minutes on the train and it was just easy if you booked your train in advance and crammed all your encounters together into an 18 hour day.

Back in Glasgow, I’ve had three opportunities in 5 weeks to be in London – the first involved a sleeper train, a cold shower and entire day of work and back in Scotland for teatime (not recommended if you want to maintain a sane disposition) – the others had been postponed to during and after the games. But  now seems that there I’m not short of opportunities and avenues to get down to London for specific jobs – and it takes half the amount of time by weekly commute between the midlands and ayrshire took – but I’m sort of terrified of amped up Landon 2012 ™ and how anything can get done during that time. “It’s going to be a lot better when it is all over and we can start to get back to normal,” I remark sarcastically.

I go through waves of looking forward to being back in the thick of it again – then completely writing the whole damn thing again, citing that I would prefer to sit with my laptop on the couch and concentrate on the next wave of amazing things on the horizon. It’s true. No denying, I peaked during #citizenrelay because it really did feel like we managed to achieve something with the resources, the people and the context that we were positioned within – not to say it was a comfort zone by any means, but it was something I could really get my teeth into and pay forward any outcomes into bigger, more meaningful (at least to me) projects that go beyond all this ‘lympics banter.

I just don’t have the energy to do it all again, this time in London and it is not because I am tired – or because I’ve overdone it, spent a long overdue week off chillaxing my face off – the transient nature of social media means that much of the things that I’ve been speaking about, writing about and dedicating mass chunks of my life (for free or out my own pocket) just passes by in the noise of other people catching wind that the Olympics is a unique phenomena that does strange things to the staunch ‘i-don’t-have-an-opinion-on-this’ brigade. And that’s fine – I’m glad the baton has finally been passed.

I’ve stepped out of the debate. I’ve stopped sharing links because others are getting there first. I am still getting my news from my twitter and facebook feed, rarely directly from the TV, radio or newspaper. For a period of time, I banned myself from consuming any mainstream media at all, because I go on mad vocal rants – at BBC Breakfast usually, then it was Radio 4 – about things I can’t do *anything* about – but that is starting to wane now I’ve stopped taking it/myself so seriously. And when I started to pick up the bug for data and investigative journalism that seems to actually make a significant dent on the news agenda. It’s not a lot compared the the PR and media machine that we will be staring at over the coming weeks, but it feels a lot more productive and better for the blood pressure.

Anyway – It’s been a while since I’ve blogged, almost like I’ve been sitting on it in order to make the right decisions about what I might do during the games time period. Originally, there was talk of being part of a collective running independent media centres (similar to Vancouver’s w2 or True North Media House). I’ve been involved in Counter Olympic Network meetings, mainly discussing media impact of resistance to the games (that gamesmonitor have managing long before London ‘won’ the Olympics, and lately space hijackers have been engineering brilliantly in terms of winding up LOCOG). Furthermore, I’ve wrote a ton about occupying the Olympics, mainly about trying to reclaim some of the histories of events that are presented on our behalf and trying to harness some of that ‘social media’ olympics chatters away from the brands, PR and marketers and more towards capturing and archiving the voices and stories of the people who lived through it. Regardless of what happens in London over the next month, it is already in the process of being looked back on as a great success and slotted neatly alongside all the other mega event stormers.

I can only hope that the little nuggets of work that have been going on in the fringes, all those blog posts, videos, audio files and tweets can be stored somewhere for others to find in the future. Even though it might feel that it is all streaming past, irrelevant 20 minutes after posting, I learnt from #citizenrelay that the impact of one sentence battering out of your mobile over breakfast can turn entire projects, narratives, themes on their head. But it fades, turns to dust if it isn’t written down, documented, backed up. Even try and find some of the online newspaper articles from Vancouver, Beijing games around alternative narratives (human rights, protests, displacement, for instance) that haven’t been archived in the public domain – if things aren’t backed up and contextualised now then there is every chance that anything that isn’t the official post-Olympic legacy site, including social media and citizen journalism, will either dissolve or just be folded back into the mix.

So, after all that, what am I doing to during the London 2012 Summer Olympic Games?

Firstly, I will be acting as a free-agent. I have made a decision not to run any fringe projects or attempt to disrupt the notion of what a journalist might be in that space. I’ve now got a better idea of what works, what doesn’t work, what gets you into trouble and what is worth saving for post-Olympics. I have the opportunity to write for several publications – and in that time I will be probably be doing it fairly regularly. I have opportunity to do some freelance work at the same time, so all in all, a pretty productive and cost-efficient games.

I will be working on Help Me Investigate the Olympics.

I will go to some of the anti-Olympic protests, especially the one of the 28th of July, making it absolutely explicit that I’m an academic researcher. This is more realistic than hanging around drinking free coca-cola and busting my head with the sponsors banter.

I will be working on a research project around live sites with David and Matt where I will spend much of my time exploring and mapping the ‘3rd sites’ of the Olympic Games. This will be carried out much like #citizenrelay – lots of media being captured and aggregated into a wordpress site that can be used as a resource for researching future events.

I will try and go to some of the London Festival 2012 events.

I will catch up with friends.

And after all that, from the 10th of August, I am going to take some well deserved time off.

For me, I’ve had to do a lot of soul searching, battling and now realisation that I’ve probably taken the most I can from the Olympic Games this time around. Obviously, I want to compare it to the first one I attended, an experience of a life time that I could barely speak about when I got back because I was very aware of becoming “This time in Vancouver…” girl. Similarly, I don’t want to lose my cool – and most importantly, I want to enjoy it. I think about the experiences that I could have had if I wasn’t stressing about trying to attend everything and nothing, about not feeling that I knew enough about it to contribute and how the lack of sleep and stressface impacted on pretty much everything I did. This is a very deliberate attempt to put the brakes on and not always be on call to action all the time. I’ve got plenty of that to be doing for Glasgow 2014.

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Project: Stories and Streams, week 8: #media2012 as an assignment brief revisited

After the classroom restructuring in the previous session, this week was used to define the #media2012 west midlands brief for the remaining alternative media and web production (AM and WP) students to take them through the processes to complete their final 100 percent portfolio task due in May.

The brief

The AM&WP cohort will now be working together as a group (rather than part of an online journalism investigation) and will form the basis of the #media2012 west midlands hub for during the Olympics and Paralympic Games.

In this task, each member of the group is given a title and expected to define a role based on the existing roles used in the previous investigations and linked to the core themes of alternative media production. They will develop a web presence and strategy to curate, cover and amplify Olympic and Paralympic related events in the West Midlands.

Expected roles include the Editor, Researcher, Web Developer, #media2012 network coordinator, events and community manager and training and development officer. The students are expected to define the expectations of the role and to negotiate a position with myself (who will be their academic mentor, rather than lecturer) about how they will fulfil these expectations over the coming weeks.

They will work as a team to construct a plan for the west midlands hub, identifying communities, networks and events that they can connect to now, beyond and during the games time, whilst signing up community reporters and facilitating training and workshops in alternative media and web production, allowing for the curation of a sustaining citizen-led news wire during the London 2012 olympiad.

Academic mentor: wills and wonts

This brief will inform the last assignment before the students begin in their final year, so it is expected that it will be student-led, rather than tutor-led in its approach. This does not mean I will be absent, far from it, but below I’ve outlined my own expectations for the activity.

What I will do:

  • Mentoring around the mega events and media activist context
  • Provide support and administration access to all the national #media2012 online assets.
  • Where possible, connect the group to individuals and groups who I have personally encountered through my own research or as the #media2012 national coordinator.
  • Encourage and facilitate ‘events based learning’ – supporting students to attend events as #media2012 reporters in person, capturing and producing content throughout.
  • Implementing their strategy and findings during games time, seeking support to encourage them to take the project beyond the classroom.
  • Where possible, be available and accessible online.

What I will not do:

  • Prompt or chase up work, this will be treated like a professional working brief (because it is, #media2012 is a legitimate organisation that requires organisation and support in the West Midlands)
  • Provide information that can be found through research or enquiry.
  • “spoon-feed”

The Online Journalism context.

The AM&WP module is still embedded within the larger Online Journalism cohort, completing a different assignments and focusing on alternative perspectives. Just because they are not integrated with the the OJs in their investigation/brief groups for this section of the module, there is a subsequent aim embedded within mine and their roles.

I will be mentoring two groups of online journalists who are working on Olympic related investigations; Cultural Olympiad and corporate sponsorship. Additionally, I will be providing support where I can for the remaining groups who are working on issues such as student prostitution, G4S and the mayoral elections in Birmingham.

In turn, my students will be access the remaining workshop streams relating to their new roles (such as community managers, network journalists and the editor roles) – as well as being expected to work closely with the Olympic groups to knowledge/resource share and to promote relevant content on their networks.

Finally, with the focus across both modules to attend events and to gather expert interviews and supporting multimedia content, we will be encouraging students to collaborate across investigations, if it means that AM&WP students can gain more experience in multimedia production by supporting journalists on location or using investigative skills to ask better interview questions for the #media2012 brief.

Next week

Like the activism project week last year, I will setting the group a self-directed task to be carried out over the 3 hours and to be completed over 8 hours of directed study time. I will not be present in class, following a similar structure that Jon Hickman has spoken about in his blog from earlier in the semester, where sometimes leaving the room is the best way to teach, ask Stuart Hepburn and his recent hack-day approach.

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Project: Help Me Investigate the Olympics #media2012

Through the work that I have been doing at Birmingham City University and collaboration with Paul Bradshaw on the Online Journalism and Alternative Media module, we have launched a new Help Me Investigate site focusing on the Olympic Games, to provide support, help and resources for people exploring critical aspects of the mega events. Along with Paul, I’ll be curating submissions and adding posts relating to documents, data, links, questions and other information relating to all aspects of the Olympic Games, beyond the remit of sport.

More details about Help Me Investigate is available on Paul’s website, the online journalism blog.

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Project: Stories and Streams, Week 3 – Incorporating Feedback, (27-4) Support & Learning Outcomes.

For more context and posts on the Stories and Streamsproject, check out the website.

Today’s class was the first week that it felt that the majority of the students had a clear understanding of their role in the group and how they are working as a class as a whole, with most of them having already published aspects of their investigation online, using a content management system and linking to distribution social media accounts (albeit a personal or investigation specific twitter or Facebook account)

There are three points of interest that have emerged on reflection of today:

Feedback and Evolving Streams

This allows us, as lecturers, to see and provide feedback on topic, style, presentation and format of the investigation and allow us to fine tune the future workshops and sessions to suit the needs and issues of the class as whole. The observation of practice is supported by student requests for workshops, working simply with post-it notes and selecting from most popular skill request (see below). A definite move away from defining and sticking to learning outcomes ahead of individual weeks and bringing the student’s negotiation of learning back into the dialogue around set curriculum of the modules.

24/7 Online Support

Often the most daunting question asked when I am discussing the use of social media in learning and teaching with other academics is the notion of 24/7 support, where the lecturer is expected to be “always-on” as part of their duty to the student and the module.

It is clear, if we believe the expectation that an academic role is similar to the 9-5, switching off when the clock hits 5pm, that a 24/7 online support module could be considered a threat to a particular way of working (especially if you are an hourly paid contract staff)-however- the process of working with the groups to get their investigation groups does require extensive interaction beyond the three hours of the class.

What remains and what is being replaced when you remove lectures and workshops out of the equation?

Well firstly, I already feel that I am much closer to the work that my students are researching and producing from day one, and I managed this (mentally and institutionally) in a way that allows me to see what their doing not as a student project that exists in a vacuum, that I will mark in May as part of my admin duties as a visiting lecturer, that will have no effect beyond the grade that they are given at the end.

Instead, I feel like each website and investigation is each as much a living breathing journalism project as any other that I follow on RSS, on twitter, on facebook (etc) and something that I can fold into my online media space in the same way that I can fold in any other news feed. This is partly one of the reasons as the module progresses that I can see myself engaging in their projects at anytime, not just set ‘teaching’ times.

Secondly, I have given students access and ‘permission’ to get in touch with me using my twitter account. This is not something that I’ve actively done before or in previous years, despite some students finding me and following me anyway. Not that I mind, often I have found it difficult to link what I am doing to what they are doing through pedagogy and/or influence I have in modules, this is the perfect opportunity to try.

I can understand the concerns about introducing a social media channel into official communications, it’s not something that you can switch off at 5pm and it is not something you can ignore as they can see clearly and publicly your replies to others.

There has to be an element of managing expectations. This year, because of the changing and evolving nature of the module, and where the students are in terms of researching, producing and displaying their work, it’s only fair and entirely unavoidable to not give them the opportunity to use me and my network to help them achieve the goals set.

Similarly, being able to tell the difference between communicating by email, communicating by module and communicating by twitter are important – and the fact that the students are being asked to communicate to others in different ways (such as pick up the phone) should give them an idea of what method works best for different requests through experience, not expectation.

Finally, If I am expect them to work as a functioning independent news room, producing quality and in-depth investigations in public, then I can’t put up a pretence that my own social media presence can exist separately from it. The case in point is the fact that I’m even blogging about the concerns of blogging, a module like this can only work if the theory is seen and worked through the practice on doing.

Therefore, I’m on and available through social media without a job role or a job title attached. I am me first online, then I fulfil the tasks I’ve been asked to do. And in this case, it is ensuring I can take my students through the process of learning -and if always-on social media/online contact is how I do that, and it can work, then there is a potential to explore that space further.

Web Production: what is it?

It has been a task over the last two years to define and present what the alternative media and web production module means as a concept. The word “web” is a clue, but often gets it mixed up with the expectation of web design and web development. The key words are “production” -and the key context is “alternative media.”

These are emphasised, because they are important.

Alternative media brings the politics. Alternative media brings the rhetoric -or the style- to the production -and alternative media brings the social and historical context, as what we are demonstrating and encouraging does not exist in a vacuum, devolved from politics, history and critique.

Production is the act of making something. It requires research, it requires creative and technical skills and it requires context provided in order to create something that has value to your and others experiences. Web production can be anything produced on the web, not just a web site.

So from week 4, I will be moving from the discussion and activity from producing a website and providing a technical support for the online journalists and setting new tasks for the alternative media and web production students, working as multimedia journalists.

The tasks will test them on the context of alternative media but also on their ability to illustrate and communicate a story for the web in a way that addresses issues provided by their other group members and is suitable for an audience/network of their choosing.


There are some themes that have emerged after three weeks of working on the stories and streams project. They are as follows:

  • clarification of role: the purpose of the student, the expectation of the student and challenging and defining expectations in the classroom.
  • learning outcomes: moving beyond rationalised, universal outcomes and using group work and individual roles to draw out key issues, skills and challenges in a way not previously possible through existing teaching methods in this area.
  • definition of terms: drawing down the role of theory and production methods in new media studies. Embracing student expectations but also challenging them. Working out new and transforming ways to introduce key concepts without losing sight of political and social context of work.

Anything else?

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Presentation: What does a Citizen Journalist want?: Alternative Media and Activist Rhetoric in Cyberculture (#virtualfutures University of Warwick, 19th-20th June, 2011)

Last weekend saw the return of Virtual Futures, a cult conference at the University of Warwick that 15 years ago addressed some of the leading discussions in cyberculture and emerging technologies. I was honoured have a abstract accepted as part of the event, on a panel entitled “Socially Mediated Futures.” The first draft of the paper is on my PhD notebook (where I hope to expand some of these early ideas into some activities, rather than simply ‘research’ as part of the Third University) and the abstract and slides are below.


“One of the long standing debates about new media culture since the early 1990s has been whether it has disturbed the media hierarchy. This question has gathered renewed focus since the rise of social media. However, it is often answered so generically as to be near impossible to verify. Thus, various responses focus on media ownership, bandwidth, audience reach, or technological association.Instead, this paper focuses the debate on how citizen and social media functions as a vehicle for developing an alternative sphere through which the concepts of education, justice and media equality are problematized. It provides an overview of the opportunities that arise through participation within organized online networks which connect on the basis of shared, often conceptual ideas rather than location, occupation, or common leisure interests. In so doing, it highlights the tension between the institutionalized practices of mainstream media and the presumed autonomy of fragmented online spaces, arguing that these ephemeral activities and communities provide important, alternative narratives on contemporary culture. Yet, despite their subversive ideology, recognition from dominant media remains an objective of alternative media participation. This claim is evidenced by considering how people within online networks identify themselves and with each other and the ways in which they use media rhetoric to strengthen the authority of their position. In closing, this argument requires that future research into the transformative potential of digital culture must provide an understanding of who occupies these spaces of influence, the motivation to self- or co-produce media content and dominant narrative that is associated with discussion relating to alternative media contexts.”

Overall, the weekend was a real success, it was great to be around the energies of those key theorists/artists/practitioners that I’ve read and studied as part of my undergraduate, masters and PhD research – in particular how much has changed in 15 years, and how much has stayed the same.

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News Dots: Pretty visuals for understanding relationships between breaking news stories.

Just came across this interactive visualization tool which pulls in popular news stories (around 500 a day) and links them to each other via Calais (a Thompson Reuters service which tags them with keywords associated with the original story) – the story appears on the graph if the tag has been triggered more than once, allowing for trends to appear from digesting these news stories. Furthermore, if tags are interrelated (i.e. the Olympics and the United Kingdom appear in the same news story) they are joined together as part of the network.

As I’m pretty sweet for network graphs, I appreciate ones like this as they not only state their methodology, but can actually be used as a way of taking an overview of a sample of breaking news stories, and potentially, further analysis. Not just a pretty face.

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