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New Article: Revealing the platform politics within community journalism

Originally posted on Centre for Community Journalism website, Cardiff University – 7th October, 2014.

Revealing the platform politics within community journalism: what do we mean by empowerment in the context of digital storytelling and hyperlocal websites?

There is no denying, people have been talking about the ways that the internet and mobile and social media devices allow us to produce and publish content in ways that were not possible even 10 years ago. The citizen can become a journalist, the community can become a newspaper, the journalist can go off the beaten track, research becomes data becomes storytelling then is distributed through existing mainstream channels. The media landscape is shifting, changing, merging and augmenting – causing a disruption in how we both make sense of the media we consume, but also gifting the possibility to create our own – and have our stories heard.

In my work, I look at the act of journalism and how it can be taught to anybody so that they can de-construct and re-construct their own narratives into how media is formed and how stories can be told digitally. Where communities becoming empowered to tell and mediate their own stories, rather than being mediated through alternative modes of existing mediums in a digital format – i.e. blogging sites that look like newspapers or magazines, community radio stations operating out of dedicated facilities or producing television style documentaries for distribution on YouTube.

How we see it, digital storytelling is a method that can be applied to varying degrees of personal social and political contexts, not just a citizen producing their own act or form of journalism. It can be a way in which the stories of individuals can be revealed and amplified whilst gaining access to emerging practice and skill development under the premise of growing digital literacy demands. It offers an alternative to ‘learning digitally’which is beyond form filling, bill paying or online shopping and it is a chance to critically reflect on the importance of storytelling within community settings whilst creatively selecting the right tool to do so.

Hyperlocal models of community journalism tend to require those participating to follow and adhere to a model of delivery that replicates existing forms of media infrastructure in a digital form. An example of this may be using the blogging/content management system WordPress to develop a website in a newspaper-like theme, that is then populated by stories relevant to a specific location, and often delivered by 1-2 keen and driven self-identified community leaders and/or a team of volunteers.

The hyperlocal blog is a service based approach, an attempt to use emerging digital tools and affordable methods of publication as a way of rebooting local news into communities that may have lost access to previous forms of information. The merit is in the economic factors for production and delivery – on the offset, digital is ‘cheaper’than paper in order to develop a publication – but does not take into consideration the human resourcing required in order to source, develop, write, report and promote that content in the first place. Therefore, it could be argued that some forms of hyperlocal operation reflects the principles of the current UK government’s big society model for community development – where keen volunteers will replace paid staff as a method of achieving the same service without a concrete funding model in place, relying on the principle that the community will love the hyperlocal blog so much that they were contribute to it for free – thus developing a thriving journalism site, produced ‘for the community, by the community.’

It is a nice idea in principle, and does work successfully in many contexts, however to apply this model uncritically would leave me feeling uneasy. For instance, the socio-economic background of those participating need to be considered if we are seriously consider this as a default model of rolling out recommendations of emerging forms of community journalism. Often those who set up or contribute to a hyperlocal blog may already have a background in journalism, academia, digital media or communications more generally and can contribute effectively to the publication within their ‘space time’and around existing commitments. They possess platform and network literacies and knowledge of media production to make critical decisions of how and why they participate. It is nice to be able to write something about your community, publish it and not be too restricted by other expectations such as an appeasing an employer or working for a client – but a hyperlocal’s accountability to ethical or the notion that this is an empowering form community journalism requires similar principles and governing documents that would exist in a newsroom or existing media platform. The editorial of the hyperlocal is governed by those who produce it – and if those who produce it have an existing grasp of media production and governance, we need to be aware of what that is and how it may affect the ways in which other voices from that community are heard (or not heard.)

Unlike commercial journalism, the hyperlocal blog can set its own parameters as to what is acceptable coverage on its blog, its accountability is governed by those who participate with in it, so it is worth being careful when making vast claims of community empowerment when it is not entirely transparent who is behind the hyperlocal itself. Volunteers may receive training in return for their participation in the blog – which may lead to further opportunity – but realistically, there is no obligation to publish content that the volunteers produce, nor is there obligation for people to volunteer in the first place. What is the trade of for participation – is it social or monetary capital? is it a form of health or wellbeing? is it an opportunity to learn new skills or gain employment or access to education? In this case, many hyperlocal blogs tend to be ran by one or two people who attempt to find a way to monetise their efforts so what may have started as a ‘hobby’project can draw its own income, mainly through advertising and associated projects.

When we think about sustainability and allowing these sites to become self-financing and self-governing, this should also include reflections on keeping the community engaged both as readers of the content, but also through participation from a community development perspective. Producing media is political, it is not just a commodity to be bought, sold and provided as an uncritical service. There is fantastic opportunity to use forms of media making as a development and learning tool, that can often align with instances of political education, digital citizenship and wider community participation – but there needs to be clarity on the role of the site. If producing local news to a house style and editorial is the aim, and the site begins making money through forms of advertising – don’t be surprised if your volunteers drop off. They need to feel like they can own the site, and community learning and development is as (if not MORE) important than simply producing blog posts that look like local journalism used to look on paper. Do not take this level of community participation for granted.

One way to ensure that the community blog can include a array of voices and opinions is to ensure there are multiple avenues to access, share and contribute content – not just replication of journalism style on a blogging platform, but perhaps multimedia forms such as audio recordings, videos, photographs – and showing people how they can access this on their own devices, be it a smart phone or a smart TV, and how they can pass this on to members of their family or social network in a way that it suits them.

Similarly, it doesn’t always have to look like journalism, journalism as we know it today is a constructed form but the essence of research skills, investigative enquiry, ethical use of sources and telling stories are transferable skills than allow for those participating to be creative in their expression of their story – it might not look like a digital version of a newspaper, but believe me, being able to produce rather consume content on your existing devices can be empowering for somebody who thought the only way to have their story heard was to write to a local newspaper and engage in debate through a publishing gatekeeper. Social media and digital storytelling allows the discussion to not only come into existence but the conversation to carry on.

In some ways, it could be argued that those who run and manage hyper-locals could be in danger of being the same form of gatekeepers when it comes to providing an editorial – we must be careful that we don’t ring-fence this form of community journalism, deciding what is considered acceptable content for the hyperlocal and throwing away the rest. What if that ‘rest’ is the emerging evidence of that person contributing their first steps into participating digitally, it might not bring in the site hits, YouTube views and Facebook likes – but it brings that person’s story into existence. They experience mediation, they learn how to communicate digitally and can begin to make critical decisions wherever to participate or not. And most importantly, it is told by them, not on behalf of them. There is a staggering difference.

So my suggestion?

Teach the world to see how media is constructed. Deconstruct it, reconstruct it, ask questions of the process and who is underneath and above and beyond those narratives. Don’t get hung up in replication the forms of familiar journalism rhetoric and technique or even expect those volunteering to adhere to your specific house style, if your desire is to support the development of a hyperlocal site that reflects the voices of the community, co-produce the mediation of events together. Take from journalism the need to be critical of what you are being exposed to, how to develop and ask the right questions, and to capture that investigation in the best way possible – make sure the sound is clear, the image is the right way up and your style suits the platform you are presenting within.

I’m interested in helping people start fires and develop the expectation that they should benefit in someway for doing so – be it confidence in using tools they have already to do something better, become more critical of what they are being told by the media and importantly feel that no story is too small, too irrelevant to be told.

Focus on equipping and supporting people to find the tools and approach so they can speak on behalf of themselves, rather than only let media outlets, even with all good intentions in the world, do it for them. It is then possible to make a critical decision about their decision to participate, much like the practicing journalist who volunteers their time to a hyperlocal blog that allows them to write without pressure but ultimately makes an informed decision about how their labour is being used.

Similarly, it is about notions of content ownership, a gatekeeper can make a decision whether to publish a piece of work on the site that they govern, however, the creator can still self-publish regardless if the gatekeeper choses to use the the post. The main requirement here would be confidence, confidence to know that their position and story matters – and operating and articulating ‘in public’ can often feel a daunting task, regardless of how supposively easy it is to do now using social media.

There is transparency in the purpose of why people may sign up to participate in a community blog, what is the trade of, what are the perimeters and are they able to co-produce the governing outline of the website they are participating within – if one person, with the additional knowledge of how news sites work is deciding the editorial approach of the outlet, how is this being communicated to the volunteers and the public more broadly – how can we ensure that we move beyond simply replicating ‘cheaper’ big society ways of delivering the craft of journalism to increasingly localised communities and instead work towards using community journalism as a form of community development, media & digital literacies and a broader political education

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What is it that you do?

Hullo. Long time, no write. Question. What AM I doing? Folk keep asking me what is it I actually do. It’s good. I’m living in one place now, not everywhere and nowhere. I can firmly announce that I’m not “olympic girl” anymore, I’m not having to have to self-embargo on my opinions down the pub. I am not mad-for-it on bunting scandal. I’m not having to convince people that the Olympics is something to be questioned. It’s not my job anymore. It is over. It’s not relevant. Pathetic, but a big fat yas. I am free.

And, since the carnage that *was* the Olympics (was booked for 2 weeks in London, lasted exactly 48 hours down there, the best part of it was a lebanese chicken kebab shop in south-east London that was probably the most delicious thing I am have ever encountered IN MY LIFE – so much so that I will make that zone 3 pilgrimage again),  living ‘offline’ for a bit – which is much easier to do in Glasgow because Glasgow is my best friend and me and her have a real fun time all the time and beginning a new role at UWS (an actual, on the payroll salaried thing) – I’m now back. Was looking a bit shaky there, didn’t think I was going to make it. But you haven’t got rid of me that easily. Now I’ve got used to being back in Scotland, I’m wanting to make loads of things happen now.

I’m sorry, before I go there, I’m admitted a big massive defeat on the fact that I have ever liked the Olympics, but at least now I can talk freely again about the complexity about WHY I didn’t watch it, WHY finding out the best 149 quid I’ve drunkingly spent on the internet at 2am was easy jet to Glasgow after self-medicating myself through a massive button pushing exercise called the opening ceremony and WHY, at the time, I felt like a total lonely freak for not drinking the koolaid when I should have done. Now I am pretty proud of the fact that I stuck to my guns, I get invited to talk about it, I get to look back to the stuff that I wrote before it and feel confident in myself that I was honest and open about how I feel about it. This will help me write up my PhD lots as probably the hardest part of the process has been articulating and finding confidence in my argument in a world where most folk who research the Olympics are puir mad sport freaks, it’s like doing a trying to write a PhD up with a gang of smug P.E. teachers health-shaming over your shoulder.

In all I wrote 7 things for the Metro newspaper before the Olympics. I didn’t write anything during it-  and I certainly didn’t write anything after it, although, I am allowed to still be an author for the immediate future – so I will probably take advantage of that in the near future in terms of plotting. I am pretty proud of these 7 articles. They are so honest, like scarily so. It was also during a time where I probably had the most public glare for the work I was doing but at the same time was desperately wanting to be private, reaffirming that if I ever find myself in a similar position again, I want to be the facilitator, helping pushing up some of the unheard stories, rather than be seen as some sort of public intellectual that had the final word on things. I don’t – in fact, I have no answers now. Only questions. All of that fits into some of the academic impact debate ya-da-da. But that’s another blog post. But, here are the 7 things I wrote, in context – all of which I didn’t even think would have even published.

The Olympics are in occupation of Scotland. It is time to fight back. 

We should use London 2012 to reclaim and challenge the grand vision of the Olympic Games.

Be a citizen, not a subject: How media studies holds the key to the point of London 2012. 

Olympic tickets: Access to the party was never designed for the public.

Is anybody else quite scared to be in London during the Olympics? 

Why I am already checking into the official rehab unit of the London 2012 Olympics Games

Today I learnt about Coca Cola’s commitment to academic research

So, there we go. Olympics done. I promise to never mention it again. I just had to get all of that out to help make sense of the future. I’m onto the Commonwealth Games mate. Glasgow. Glasgow. Glasgow. This is going to be SUCH a different animal. I don’t care if you don’t agree, well I do care, but you are going to have to bare with me. There is less than 2 years to go – and we must get organised to make sure that the grand vision can be realised and it’s not just remembered by a corporate commemorative DVD and a couple of random white elephants draped on Dalmarnock.

Right so, I’ve started working on a community media project at the WHALE Arts Agency based in the Wester Hailes area of Edinburgh. This feeds into the work I will be carrying out at UWS, developing community media practice as a thing, as a concept – as something we can ‘do’ around the Glasgow 2014 games (but it isn’t the main focus, just the stimulus), something we can establish across Scotland, case studies, media hubs, training, support, media literacy, education the wild, challenging the notice of what higher education can be. All of that. Plus, I have been working as a research assistant on a the evaluation of the work Creative Scotland has included in the London 2012 cultural programming. Mainly for the work that I’ve done in social media data and research – but learning loads about event policy and evaluation. So much so, I’m also currently working on the evaluation of the Paisley Spree (happening this weekend) – I’m dead into this.

I don’t know what this is all called *at the moment* but if I was to draw a Venn diagram, I’m probably sitting in a weird space between teaching alternative media in the wild (so not teaching undergraduates this year, which is so weird), coming up with ways to evaluation the impact of events in different places and space (which could potentially lead to the transformation of a place’s identity and community confidence) and finding ways to use digital tools (internet and mobiles mainly) to create, produce, critique realities/histories/narratives (story telling mainly) rather than simply consuming what is lying around (the telly, the newspapers, the commentary on twitter and facebook). Even then, that’s all a bit vague. But that’s ok, I am between things, I am trying to work it all out – and that’s fine. This is just a blog post. It is helpful. I’m trying to remind myself that it is important to not let the messiness stop me writing. It’s been so useful in the past. Update over.

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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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Trolling from within: On how citizen media might *actually* transform the grand narratives of media events

I’ve found myself writing (and been given the keys) for the sister paper of the Daily Mail. So far, I’ve wrote three articles – and if I write another two before the Olympics is over, I am in the chance to win another iPad. It is the new media economy of volunteering in return for access and ‘credibility’ (hey, my mum actually reads (understands and retweets what I write now!) – but what has been quite interesting is that I’ve managed to play a game where I’ve wrote the distinct articles that cover topics not traditionally favoured by said publication. I’ve had an anti-Olympic, call-to-action one (in the spirit of Occupy), I’ve had a pro-Scottish, anti-bunting one - and now I’ve managed to slip a pro-media studies, anti-establishment one under the radar as well.

But what does this mean?

Probably nothing, it is the ‘blogs’ pages, where 100 people who blog about the ‘lympics can now blog about the ‘lympic over on a mainstream hosted platform. But interestingly, it has generated a bit of buzz for the bigger project I’m working-a-million-hours-a-week-on-but-it’s-my-baby, #citizenrelay.

What I really want to raise attention to – but also is starting to become a catalyst for other things, like the partnership with Help Me Investigate the Olympics  and Newsnet from the Media Trust – is the multi-layered trajectories that begin to emerge around small findings in big data. Like breaking a story about the corporate shame behind sponsor nominated torch bearers in the Independent here (first reported here.)

Working precariously between higher education (so getting students involved), journalism (with connections to big projects from big outlets), the cultural olympiad (where #citizenrelay is within the Festival 2012 brochure and funded by Creative Scotland) and academic research (critical informed events and media geeks ahoy!) , we are actually beginning to leave teeth marks behind some of the more general coverage that is rampent within mainstream, accredited broadcasters. See also the Jobbylee.

That being said, we (#citizenrelay) are being fed onto the BBC Torch Relay pages to be included on each day the torch is in Scotland. Those who go to watch the torch live, will be able to click into our humble wordpress site, hosted for peanuts on my server and view content produced by people who, thanks to Adam Perry from Newsnet, have now been equipped with the skills to ask proper interview questions, to anybody – not just authority figures or celebrities – and record and upload them on devices that they already own.

We potentially have more capacity to be on the ground asking these questions than those who are employed to do it. We don’t need to compete in that arena, we just need to go out and do – and make it easy as possible allow others to as well. It is easy as filling out this form. But the really important part of this, isn’t just capturing the citizen’s voice, no matter who they are, it is what we do with it during and beyond the project.

There is real potential, thanks to covering in the context of just one nation as a whole, using a consistant method of aggregating, archiving and visualising social media data – and working in, against and beyond the larger media outlets who might be too cautious, too restricted, too under resourced to attempt what we are about to do, in the way we are going to do it – that we could actually affect, change, transform the wider and dominant narratives of the Games time.

It is always worth remembering that something of this scale has never been done before at an Olympic Games. We didn’t have the tools that made it possible and access to the internet and mobile web has rocketed in the last 18 months. I’m going all out to make sure we can attempt to take on the Olympics at its own media games.

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Media: “The Open Researcher” – Profiled in #jiscinform

Several months ago, I was approached by JISC Inform, an online magazine, produced by JISC and used to raise awareness of technology in further and higher education in the UK. Having found me on twitter, they wanted to profile me as an open researcher in a ‘day in the life’ style of what my researcher practice looks like. It was a really enjoyable process that forced me to think about what (and why) I do and I feel quite honoured to be approached in the first place. The final article was recently published in their spring edition as is available in full multimedia glory (including me interviewing myself) on their website.


 

 

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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.

Structure

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.

Background

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.

Reflection

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.

Conclusions

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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