When I started working on the Alternative Media and Web Production (AM&WP) module late-2010, it was with the intention of working towards embedding citizen journalism and the Olympic Games as a priority topic and theme for the module. It begin with #mc539, which then evolved into #MED5008, a course within another – online journalism. The first 6 weeks, my AM&WP students worked within groups of online journalists as multimedia producers that supported the ongoing investigations around the Olympics or Education areas. The first investigations were as follows:
- Are West Midland Universities really doing enough to prevent student’s dropping out?
- Student Loan Black Hole: Who’s to blame?
- “Universities in the West Midlands are currently deciding to cut staff expenditure rather than course delivery costs, our investigation shows“
- Sponsor deals and your career
- Higher education opportunities: are we aware?
- (A 6th investigation into the Olympic legacy was submitted digitally but not published online)
After a directed study week where there were no classes, and the online journalists had to submit an assignment snapshot (AM&WP didn’t) the groups were reshuffled and given new editors (based on our observations and recommendation) and there was an ‘golden bunnies’ award ceremony for the class to showcase and peer-review the best work -which Paul blogs about here around morale and momentum. The groups were then divided up by role and we (Paul, Caroline and myself) took them away to discuss next steps in terms of investigation, new groups and new roles.
The thing is… it just wasn’t working for the AM&WP students. I have a grand total of 7 – and only 4 were present, meaning that anything that I deliver specifically to them, has to be repeated to nearly half of the cohort if and when they do attend class. It isn’t fair on those who are consistent in work and attendance – and it’s not fair to assume that what they do is the same as the online journalists, despite being part of the class giving them additional skills, context and briefs to work around that would be be possible in a classroom of 7 students on their own.
At the same time, I was given an opportunity through #media2012 and other networks through contacts such as Matt Lee from BBC West Midlands to allow a team of students to attend a local cultural olympiad event that same morning. I could have decided to remove the AM&WP students from the rest of the group and return to traditional format of lectures and workshops, using the reshuffle as an excuse to return them to normal in order to complete the class – or I could have used the flexibility that the format affords the space (being a working newsroom after all) to embed the students in their own project, working together as AM&WP students but still within and together with the OJ students in their roles. The event gave me a kernel of an idea – and space to come up with a solution that didn’t involve the AM&WP students getting stuck or pushed into the technical-only roles that they were encountering in the first half of the module. Furthermore, there is no excuse for any online journalist to not try out that role as a web developer and multimedia producer as it is as much as core skill for the trade as any other that they are being exposed to for the this first on this course.
After identifying two OJ and two AM&WP students who were able to cover the launch of the West Midlands Cultural Olympiad Festival 2012 launch, I contacted the press officer on their behalf and managed to get them in as student journalists, simply to observe the event. I briefed them with details of what the cultural olympiad is and what the launch might entail, but also linked it to #media2012, a citizen media news environment where the content and curation may lead to the first citizen journalism legacy project of an Olympic Games.
I’ve already presented this heavily in class (this year and last), using powerpoints and other exercises to explain the alternative media context in this light. But actually, it is almost impossible to convey how powerful it can be until you attend your first event under the guise of a community/alternative media organisation. It is mainly to do with confidence, it can feel intimidating if you are trying to think like a journalist without an organisation or a title behind you (same as academia really) so #media2012, the organisation, can provide a identity and a purpose for writing/documenting/working towards.
For instance, I was told on the phone that it would be nearly impossible for the students to interview the main speaker, Jonathan Edwards, because of time restrictions on media access. Then this happened…
From a tweet late the night before, to getting students into an event, to capturing interviews and media content for the web in a way that I could have never imagined ever getting access too. After Vancouver, I learn that it was often not worth chasing the sport and the athletes because that’s where access was hard, but through the cultural olympiad, there is space to widen the cracks and ask different questions that often the mainstream, ‘employed’ journalists aren’t able to. This is equally important as one of the new investigations that the OJs will be leading on is around following the money associated with the Cultural Olympiad, with a mentor from Arts Professional magazine. There is every chance that the students could produce important findings around impact and legacy that are not currently being discussed thoroughly by the mainstream media.
For me, this has became a real break-through in blending practice with theory – especially when topics such as the cultural olympiad and the arts council can seem incredibly complex to anybody outside of the spaces that it works within.
Last time I blogged about the student-led curriculum, and as I know there is at least one AM&WP student who wants the opportunity to build teaching experience, I will let them lead on preparing workshops around the technical aspects of the multimedia production. The problem is trust and reliability, not ability, and unless that I can trust that those sessions are going to happen, I can’t accept that they are going to happen, so will also have to prepare my own sessions of this nature. You can lead a student to become a producer, but you can’t make them produce. Especially when you are constantly fighting the tide of consumer-demands.
#media2012 West Midlands as an Alternative Media project
The AM&WP students will not be part of any current investigation being held by that OJ students. Instead they will be working as a group, bringing together the knowledge and information that they learned from the first 6 weeks as working as a newsroom team to manage, produce content and attend and cover events on behalf of #media2012. They will essentially become the West Midlands hub for #media2012 and by the end of the module, should be produced a complete events guide for the area, attended and live blogged as many Olympic and Paralympic related events and interventions (both official and ‘unofficial’) as #media2012 citizen journalists and helped contribute to the website and multimedia productions for youtube, podcasts and liveblogging.
They will also liase with the other groups who are working on Olympic related investigations and work to push their findings and reports to wider audiences through the #media2012 and connected networks. They will need to get to grips with the #media2012 charter and understand the connected arts, education and community based organisations who are partnered in the scheme, as well as making attempts to formulate a strategy for the summer to ensure that there is a network of individuals/volunteers who will connect to the West Midlands hub once the module ends and the assignments are in. This could include visiting local community groups to offer training and support in using alternative media – or it could be to arrange a build a sustainable newsroom for the time during the Olympics.
This connects to the projects that were delivered by last year’s AM&WP students through #mc539, but also to the first year Olympic production event that is happening on the 10th of May. They will need to work hard to turn this kernel into a viable alternative media and web based project, that already has a history and a network, but its up to them how they take that forward as a opportunity to build on.