Research: Sharing MA thesis online and a bit of a PhD update…

I completed my masters back in 2008 (MA in New Media and Society at the University of Leicester) but (shock horror) I never put my dissertation online at the time… even though it is about Facebook and much of my essays were skirting around the politics of open access and social media – before there were really words to describe *what* that all this was.

I guess at the time (2008/2009) I was a little worried about the consequences of putting my work out there – from both the perspective of my department (that I ended up being registered as a PhD student at Leicester for a few months before transferring to UWS in October 2009) and from the fact I had dinnae have the confidence to stick my work up online when there were only a few people that were doing it. I found other ways to do it – mainly through blogging – but I didn’t think to go back and retroactively publish it.

A few weeks ago I attended the first half of a free symposium at Glasgow University on Digital/Social Media and Memory to keep things ticking over in the academic research department during my year out of the PhD. After listening to Jose Van Dijck‘s presentation on social networking ecosystems with relation to the emergence of Facebook timelines (a core theme being the move from profiles as a form of self-expression to a form of self-promotion), I realised that I have actually thought about this quite a lot in my relative short academic career.

So yeah, I stuck up my MA thesis on slideshare (embedded below) half way through the seminar and gained some really useful commentary on it from twitter. Which makes me think I should have done this sooner. Or I should have worked to publish it at the time. Shoulda, woulda, coulda – I’m working on different things now but having taken quite a big break from the PhD writing at the moment, it has been kinda good to go back through some of the writing I was doing when I was entirely focused on my academic work. I think I’m finally starting to see a way out of the fudge that I’ve swimming in since the funding ran out last October. Here is hoping by the way.

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The #digitalsentinel and on being the cutting edge of mundane.


I’m currently in London after attending the AHRC Connected Communities Showcase yesterday. I was representing the Digital Sentinel project that is based in Wester Hailes and is a follow on from a wider set of ‘Community Hacking‘ projects (check out the amazing comic strip on the projects website!) such as Ladders to the Cloud and the installation of the Digital Totem Pole last year.

I feel, for me, the process of the Sentinel is at a crucial stage where it is now moving from a vision of a ‘digitized newspaper’ format (that will replace the previous paper copy that had its funding cut in 2008) to become something that is more of a living breathing news agency, which needs to be by the community, for the community (and that doesn’t mean it can’t be printed/hard copies produced and shared as well for those with limited access to the technology. I’ll get onto that in a mo.)


Last month, I ran a taster session for the staff of those who work for the service providers in the community – which includes representatives from places such as the Health Agency, the Library, Community Learning Partnerships, Prospect Community Housing and others – to discuss what a Digital Sentinel might look and feel like.

After walking through Citizen’s Eye (a community news agency in Leicester that I was very much involved in/advocated when I lived there) and other Media Trust’s Local 360 beacon hubs as case studies of successful and active community led news agencies in the UK, I got the group to walk about between different flipcharts and to write down the How, Why, What, Where and When of the Sentinel from their perspective, keeping it open for interpretation (as ‘Where’ for instance could mean both a physical space for meeting to produce news, a place to host content or a place to access the website. I left the workshop deliberately informal to leave space for much needed discussion and debate about what this should actually be, where we should take it and, most importantly, who was going to step up and actually do it (as it’s all very well that I’m there and funded to be there for now, but essentially ,it’s not about me and never will be, and I need to be able to hand it over to the community as a thing and a process, not as a tick box, step by step commissioned wordpress magazine format that sits empty without me putting my own content up.)

Some of the obvious (but I needed to hear it from the community) points was the notion of an affordable central service provision for communicating the information that they currently provide online (be it through email lists, social media or facebook/blogs – see (and get lost in) the excellent social history of Wester Hailes blog “From There to Here.” to get a taste of what is already happening in online around this community.) whiteboardsThis is absolutely attainable through platforms such as WordPress and content that already exists can be aggregated/converted to be pulled into the website – no problem.

But – and this is a big but, the energy and stamina for a community news agency to get of the ground and to exist needs to be beyond sharing existing services and act as simply an information giving service – even if that information being given is stories from the past or a social history style project. It needs to want to exist and it needs to be opened up to new ways of thinking through co-collaboration with those who will be involved (and I honestly canne tell you/or predict who will be.)

You see, when you identity with employment or a service role, it is much clearer to identity with the purpose of communicating online as part of a process. If you want to use social media/citizen journalism as an exercise in stimulating community engagement, empowerment or even politicising (with a tiny p) people enough to want to attend some of the many activities in place that are inclusive to democratic, citizenship style processes (like the community council for instance) – then it needs to be more fluid, less replicate on journalistic processes and more about seeing value in the mundane, not the shiny.

68913_10151173953067654_843607420_nMy lovely friend John Coster (who is the editor of Citizen’s Eye and a big inspiration in my life) phoned me last week for a bit of a #peptalk style catch up on all of the things (including some of the exciting #citizenrelay plans for the Glasgow 2014 – stay tuned!) and having just opened the first UK Community Media Training School in Leicester (*proud* get to visit it in a few weeks!) the came out with the phrase “I aim to be the cutting edge of all things mundane” – which got me thinking. I’ve been trying hard to get to grips with how I am going to stimulate a community to want to take ownership of their news – getting a bit hung up on the fact that I’m *not* from there, I’m all academic-d out my nut when it comes to theorising about it (which is why AHRC event yesterday  – and the the related Connected Communities UWS event on Remaking Society a few weeks ago was so useful for me in terms of getting back on track with PhD and reflecting on that weird role of being a academic who does practice and is/has been pretty political with it all.) and that during the Olympics it all just got a bit too bloody much.

Anyway… cutting edge of mundane. What does that mean for Wester Hailes and the process of the Digital Sentinel as a thing that needs to be imagined but also start to exist?

Rather than focussing on the big ideas and the complexity of community (rarr, PhD, rarr!), in fact, I need to focus on just getting those who show an interest in the future taster sessions (to be arranged this week) to 1) get involved 2) produce content that is relevant to them 3) get it online 4) walk down to the totem pole with the kit bags that are getting bought in the next few weeks, to scan the QR codes of the pole (on smart phone or the rentable ipads) that point to the Sentinel and to see that what you have made, written, filmed, taken a photo of, is now online and existing online, live and feeding into a site as part of a wider community.totem

It can be present in the community (there is a section on the website that can only be accessed from scanning the pole, so you have to be in Wester Hailes to do it) and it can go out-bound. It can be tagged as super -hyperhyperlocal (there are 7 estates in Wester Hailes, all with clear identities right down to whit street you live on – like everywhere really) or it can be pointing out to the wider world as a process that folk might want to get involved in, connect with, respond to or just read as something related to their interest. It can be all or both – but the main things is to make the access to such processes (the making of the media stuff) so simple and non-judgemental a process (so none of the ‘this isn’t proper journalism’ argument at this stage – it’s story telling, its data, its whatever you want to make it – it is mundane) and to be able to meet in places to get involved. It’s loose and it is flowing & anybody can get involved.) My support is getting those who are interested and engaged at this stage (with little existing stuff happening on the site) to get to a stage where they can take ownership and feel that it is theirs.

I rambled some stuff to myself on audioboo a few times about this yesterday.

What is just superb is that all of the things I am using to update about the Sentinel are all tools that can and will be used to make it exist. Even down to the photographs which are all my own and taken in Wester Hailes on my phone and using instagram to make them look a bit better. It is important to remind yourself that some of the most mundane, boring things that you find yourself doing on a daily basis (or feel a little silly doing at the time – #jencam) can actually be some of the most interesting and useful things that you can bring to projects such as this. It’s not about being, replacing, challenging the mainstream/established media and processes. It is about giving people the option to provide and contribute to their own alternative narratives.

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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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Reflection: Education for the crisis? Notes from #e4c, 29th March

This blog post has been burning in my head since last week, feeling (rightly so) equally troubled, inspired and generally itchy about the whole subject area so excuse me if I get all ramble-y in places, I’m still working this out in my own head.

Last week I was invited along (with around 40 others) to be part of a discussion group that was looking at education for the crisis. There were some people there who are good friends, people who I had never met but been following for twitter (in some cases, for years), some who I had came across at events and others who I had never met. They ranged from academics, activists and artists (which always seems to go well together) and aimed to open up chatter around particular topics related to technology, economics, social issues and sustainability in education.


The format was designed not to see if we could provide solutions, but instead to simply talk in a capacity that might often not happen in our existing environments. There were a few ice breakers (where I found out that I was the only Scottish person in the room) and many break out sessions which started as discussions around particular pre-defined topics and then around personal suggestions from members of the group. The final session was focused on action, that is, things that were already happening, could happen or should happen after we left the room.


I’ve been to and followed online a few events of this theme over the last 2 years, mainly as a curious observer, and mostly around pre-occupy education-related activities and more recently, anti-Olympic meets and reactions to changes in HE policy in England.

The link between higher education and, for now, the forthcoming Olympic Games have been a constant for me throughout my PhD, perhaps because it is so close to me in terms of lifestyle, research and online discussions – or just general political context of the UK in 2012, the use of the games as a political tool (or a societal shock doctrine in terms of using mega events implement policy etc) and the almost exact repetition of similar news stories and media themes ahead of the last Olympic Games in Vancouver and the same before that in Beijing in 2008. It is difficult to predict what the impact of direct action might be against the forces of the biggest PR machines in the world.


I’ve thought long and hard about my role in fighting/challenging/resisting/opposing the current changes in higher eduction, and more, recently, if I even want to, at least in this way. Not that I am saying I agree with what might happen, but I’m finding myself increasingly intimidated by being in rooms with people who have read more critical theory than others, speak about wanting change, then speaking in a language that turns off supporters (like myself – and I’ve done 3.5 years of a PhD!), let alone reaches out to the people they articulate they want to help – young people predominantly. Very rarely have I seen young people in these spaces, and when I do, they are kept elsewhere whilst the ‘adults’ are speaking. And often being the youngest in the room, at a ripe old age of 27, I feel like I have more in common and therefore, more to say, to the teenagers outside, fiddling with their ipods, than the rest of the group discussing the future. I’ve often walked out of ‘open spaces’ because they make me feel more claustrophobic, drained in fact, than ever, despite finding the subject areas discussed interesting and valuable and entirely appropriate.

Citizen Media in this space.

From spending time working with community media groups such as Citizens Eye, which is grounded heavily in social support and community engagement (such as the work of WotBox Consultancies in schools and the array of news agencies that cover widely personal politics of individuals and brings them together across Leicestershire) as before the actual act of producing media, I’ve learned that one of the best use of energy that I can give is to work in these spaces, with the people who make it feel so rewarding.

The wider networks of citizen media makers that I’ve encountered through these projects (in the UK and further afield) leave me feeling energised and like we can use forward and achieve something, whatever that something is, if something if just waking up in the morning and not wanting to spend it hiding under the covers. Of course, these experiences on their own are not the wider solutions, or even the processes for working towards an ‘alternative’ discourse (that we can somehow own) about how we think about our planet, but in someway, neither is through imposing a new phrase regime to the same old problems.

I’m struggling here. I know, deep down, I am a more useful, passionate person when I go and stand next to somebody who is doing things that gets my gears going. I’m not interested in dominating the agenda at meetings, or to be part of a committee, or trying to force people to think the same as me or the group I have attached myself to. I prefer, and I keep reminding myself this, to take the best bits of what I observe and bring it back into the spaces where so feel like I can actually do something, rather than speak about doing it. Sometimes this works, like teaching and research, and sometimes it doesn’t, in the ways I constantly have to stretch my eyes open with matchsticks and force myself to be places because I know it will be important in the longer run.


Anyway, eduction for the crisis really did confirm for me where I need to be on the scale, and it is out and about doing and carrying on doing stuff, and not worrying too much about the current definition of what things are or might be. It was nice, as an academic like person, to be around others who were doing amazing cross overs between art and media production (if they are one and the same) with political agendas in full scope. Challenging difficult areas and putting young people at the heart of the discussion. Not, as one participant put it, seeing young people as an emerging community that needs to be changed or transformed in understand what it is that might happen in the future. Instead working, in what ever way, to help them feel empowered to challenge that dominant idea that young people need to be schooled to think a different way, either through the system as it stands, or through some alternative system that reflects the politics of ‘the left.’

We do that through citizen media, and currently, reclamation of the olympic games as a context and a reason, but others will definitely have other methods and reasons that work for them. It doesn’t have a grand alternative narrative that can replace the current one(s), but for some people who chose to engage, it’s those tiny little stories that are worth the while. Just like the way that I type this blog post, saying what I wish I could have articulated on the day but struggled to for whatever reason, it might not seem big and important and save the planet in the end, but it’s a platform in a media saturated world that allows one to make sense of it on their own terms. For some, that is an unbelievably massive thing and that is probably what I could bring and emphasis if there is to be further discussions and meet ups of this network.

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Talk at Leicester’s @docfilmfestival: Olympic Games and the rise of social media documentary

via Community Media Hub Flickr

This weekend I was asked by John Coster, editor of Citizen’s Eye and the curator of Leicester’s Documentary Film Festival to give a talk around the forthcoming Olympics and the rise of social media documentary around megaevents. Using a couple of slides from this presentation and showing a number of clips from a youtube playlist I prepared earlier, I gave an hour-long talk (which could have been much longer tbh) around themes of citizen media and resistance around the games.

Ambrose Musiyiwa very kindly interviewed me after the talk as part of his CivicLeicester project  – which has loads of interesting videos on its youtube channel of people doing creative and political stuff in Leicester, worth checking out.

Overall, the 2nd Documentary Film Festival ran over 3 days this year and was in partnership with Dogwoof Films and also hosted many local film makers who had films screened and took part in social events around the themes of the festival. A highlight for me was the “silent disco” social documentary session  on the Saturday night – where John brought the contents of his HOUSE to the Phoenix Square to change the entire vibe of the space. It was awesome.

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SkyRide Leicester, @citizeneye and #media2012 – take 2


After attending and take part in last year’s skyride in Leicester as a media volunteer for Citizen’s Eye community media hube, I decided to come back as a cyclist this year. 

Unfortunately – thanks to East Midlands Trains deciding to put on a bus replacement service between Loughborough and Leicester, this wasn’t meant to be – you aren’t suppose to take a bike on the train without booking it (which is frustrating for a 10 minute journey at the best of time) and bikes not allowed on the bus, I had to leave mine at home, get the bus and contribute to the traffic on the road instead (boo!)

Nevertheless, I get to be a media volunteer again and help man the fort at the Phoenix Square where a media centre has been set up by citizen’s eye which aims to cover stories that the official sponsors, Sky, won’t. 

For more context about what the media centre does, check out the post I wrote last year, where it was the first of its kind for Citizen’s Eye – and all part of an experiment towards the London 2012 Olympic Games in running an independent media centre for two weeks during the games and as part of #media2012 – a national network of citizen journalists that I am helping to coordinate as part of my PhD.

What’s different from last year? 


Apart from the awesome new Ride Leicester volunteer t-shirts, speaking to John Coster (the editor of Citizen’s Eye) and the volunteers who were here last year, the coordination between official event organisers and the media reporters has been practically seamless. Last year, it was all a bit experimental, what with the last minute change of route to go through the (at the time) under-used cultural quarter and past the Phoenix, nobody expected the amount of people to come through the doors of the centre. Logistically, this year they are much more prepared, with extra staff, food stalls outside and offering an event menu for people taking part – which has helped maintain a calmer atmosphere in the space (and definetely good for the Phoenix) – and something to consider next year for those who are taking part in a #media2012 event in a space with an ‘official’ event happening in the background.

Producing Media

Like last year, has been lots of meetings of volunteers ahead of this year’s skyride during the community media cafe that Citizen’s Eye runs on a Tuesday. This year, they’ve had the benefit of hindsight – where they have made the decision not upload everything that has been taken, but instead to select and edit the best of the content which has made everyone feel a lot more calmer and not as pressured to find a wifi connection or be chained to their computer for the entire day. Also, some of the volunteers have decided not to cycle so they can focus on capturing quality content, not just the most content. 

Raising awareness for Citizen’s Eye, Community Media Week/Centre and #media2012

I’ve spent a lot of time just promoting citizen’s eye and #media2012 and explaining *exactly* what community media is to the people who have came over to ask what we are doing. Doing this has been really interesting in itself, because I don’t think I’ve ever been in a position where I’ve just chatted to ‘the public’ (I’m careful to use that expression) about the stuff that I normally leave for the internet or for academia or for those who are already part of the thing. It’s funny when somebody asked me “what do you get out of doing this?” – as in, how do you know if it was a success, but actually, there could be two of us here and it would still be a fun and productive way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Gold Medals

Just lying around…


I think there is loads to be learned from activities like this – and it is nice to be part of something that relys on people power to *do* stuff- not the corperate sponsors. I’m hoping that *next* year I will finally get to do the ride, even if it means bringing my bike down the night before and camping out. 

Edit: Some of the content from the Skyride




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