This is my second post of 2014 that checks in with my writing goals and sets some new ones for the month. As I’m working full time at the moment, it can be quite difficult to be disciplined with my own writing, as especially (I hope!) to have some good news in terms of where restarting my PhD is concerned, so I’m going to make sure I write a small update every month so I can keep tabbed on the process and keep pushing things forward.
Last month I wanted to sharpen my PhD focus, start to look at my ‘missing’ ethics form and prepare an abstract with Kieran for the Leisure Studies conference in July. Thanks to a writing retreat half way through January, I not only managed to address the ethics form – I completed a full draft (10000 words!), participant information sheets, letters, consent and draft interviews questions and have submitted it to the committee to get approval to interview bloggers and citizen journalists about their perceptions of the Vancouver Winter Olympics as a follow up to the ethnographic data from 2010.
I’ve already wrote about this, but I am super proud of this achievement as it really has pushed me on in terms of seeing a light at the end of this very long PhD tunnel.
The updated title of my PhD is: Hacking a Virtual Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers’ of Vancouver’s Social Media Olympics.
So my goal for February is to turn these 10000 words, along with notes and other materials I have, into a draft of my methodology chapter. I have blocked out this Saturday for a writing day, hoping to fit 6-7 hours of focussed work in. I’m in limbo at the moment so this an exercise is something I can work on quite autonomously until I’ve received feedback.
Kieran is going to be the first author on the Leisure Studies paper as it has taken a focus much closer to his area of perceptions of recreational drug users so he led on the abstract, where I’m going to write about the methodology and twitter data gathering (something I’ve been keen to write formally about) and to help explore some of the ethical issues around topic areas such as drugs and social media. We have split reading duties here – I’ve invested in some new books (such as Fuchs’ “Social Media: A Critical Introduction“) and looking at the opportunities and challenges of using open tools to manage social data in this way.
I’m going to work on my own abstract relating to my updated PhD work for the Leisure Studies conference as I’m part of the steering committee (there has been over 70 abstracts submitted on the first call for papers!) – I need to have this completed in the next few days ideally, so this is a sooner rather than later goal.
Finally, as we work through February towards the first series of community media and digital storytelling workshops as part of my Digital Commonwealth role, I am going to be working on adapting the resources that my colleagues have been working on for a Buddypress platform used for the Schools’ programme and then ‘remixing’ the resources on Mozilla’s Webmaker to take them from a schools to a community learning/adult education environment. The planning stages will dominate my February.
I’m writing this blog post during the final 30 minutes of my second writers’ retreat. It has been great to be able to return to the retreat so soon after the last one in November. This time Kieran was able to join me (who is 2 weeks into his PhD, after spending the first 3 months of his enrolment completing him MSc research), which was good as it meant we didn’t ‘miss out’ on the weekend but also managed to get a lot done individually – more so if we had a working weekend at home.
My first retreat resulted in me writing over 13500 words as part of my PhD that I hadn’t touched since I began my year out. It was a pretty emotional experience for me as I was never sure if I would be able to return to it, let along to contribute to it. Over the course of 2 and a half days, I managed to turn my little piles of half written notes and false-start chapters into a format and structure in Scrivener that looked like something that could resemble a PhD, sketch out a plan for restarting and begin to make notes on my methodology. It really did feel (like one other retreater called it… an enema of the brain) and after I felt I could at least make a start at finding a route to restart, followed by completion.
This time I had a number of smaller things that I do. A couple of abstracts, one related to a work project about Digital Commonwealth, another the opportunity to submit an abstract to the Leisure Studies conference where I am on the organising committee for. For that, I wanted to begin to use my PhD research again, rather that presenting on something new. I needed to update my work so it was suitable for that audience in 2014, not recycling presentations from the last time I properly worked on my PhD.
So, I thought it might be a good opportunity to begin that dreaded ethics form that I had been avoiding since long after I returned from Vancouver. Rowena gives us 5 mins at the start of the retreat to set short (by the end of the night), medium (by the end of Saturday) and long term (by the end of the retreat) writing goals using free writing, paying attention to how many words we can write in 5 minutes (325 words if you are wondering), then we discuss these goals with our neighbour. I mentioned that it would be good to start preparing an ethics form by the end of the retreat.
The reality is that I completed a full, complete draft of an ethics form. All 8072 words of it – before lunch time today. That includes a letter of invitation, participant information sheet, consent form and a set of interview questions. I have eligibility criteria for my interviewees, I have a procedure for how I will go about doing it, I even have the theoretical underpinning and managed to contextualise and find a way of supporting my ethnographic data that I collected during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Games nearly 4 years ago. It is all there. At least in draft form. But the only way I can describe it is that I now possess the practical steps that I need in order to collect the right data and use a grounded theory (I only found out that I could do that in the pub on Thursday!) to develop an understanding of what actually happening during Vancouver 2010 with regards to blogging, citizen journalism and independent media.
I also have a new title for my PhD, the last time I posted after the retreat, I wasn’t too sure about the focus – did I want to use London 2012 data, did I want to focus more on digital storytelling? – so now I have decided to look at the following, ahem:
Hacking a Digital Legacy: Uncovering the Digital Storytellers of Vancouver’s “Social Media” Olympics
I’ve managed to elaborate on this more during the process of preparing an ethics form and the necessary materials that are required to approach an ethics committee in order to carry out the research. I’m still not registered back on the PhD officially, so I am unsure what the best way to take it forward can be at this stage. All I can hope at the moment is to use my ethics forms as a opportunity to focus the next steps of thesis, collect the relevant data and work towards getting it written it up.
So, retreat number 2 down, with 3 minutes to go – including this blog post & 3 documents I needed to finish for work on Friday, that’s my total number of words for the weekend now sitting at 10401 during 11 hours of dedicated writing that is possible during the retreat. This has definitely pushed me on in terms of hitting my writing goals for the end of the month & when I’m pretty busy at work as 2014 kicks in properly.
First post of 2014, a particularly important year for me as I’m working full time on a project with “Glasgow 2014″ in the job description. Eek. Secondly, 4 years after I initially collected my data from the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics (after a year out in 2013!) I am returning to my PhD (part time) to complete the write up and get it off my desk for good.
Just two more days (a weekend!) until I am back to work, readdressing my swelling inbox and trying not to think about just how many workshops, events and training days and materials I need to coordinate before the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. Until then, I am using my precious me time to set a-side some public writing goals to help me work through the PhD deadlines (evenings and weekends only) alongside preparation for writing retreats and days of focus.
I intend to do one of these posts every month, ticking of what I managed, what I intend to do next and how much I need to do until I have finished the bloody thesis.
A reminder of my PhD focus:
I updated my PhD abstract at the last writer’s retreat, I will probably have another bash at it by the end of the month but for those who need reminding, this is what the main focus on my PhD is about:
From Vancouver 2010 to Glasgow 2014: Major events as a catalyst for community-led media production
The thesis seeks to identify and evaluate the catalytic effect of mega events on community-led media generation and citizen journalism in host city and nation environments. Major events such as the Olympics and Commonwealth Games allow us to track the rise and maturity of new media platforms as institutions and organising committees adapt and react to profound changes to the media ecosystem where audiences become co-producers of the media experience. Since the growth and maturity of social media platforms and emergence of easier to access mobile and digital tools for networking and self-publication, granular narratives can emerge through alternative communication channels out-width established platforms such as newspapers, television and accredited broadcasters.
The thesis tracks these forms of independent or alternative narratives across 3 major events; the Vancouver Winter Olympic Games, the Olympic Torch Relay for London 2012 and the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games and will demonstrate the catalytic effect of major events can have on independent/interactive/citizen-led forms of media.
But having spent 8 hours reorganising my primary data for Vancouver 2010 (and the writing retreat was the first time I touched my PhD in a year – after 18 months intense work on the London 2012 Summer Olympics and now onto Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games). I might just still to one case study – this is a decision I need to make in the next few weeks, the xmas holidays have been brilliant for giving me some distance to actually think.
Personal Writing Tasks for January 2014:
Ethics Form -> Methods Chapter:
My main focus this month is to draft a departmental ethics form for my PhD research. As it was an ethnography, I should have completed this before I went to Vancouver in 2010, however, this did not happen – and I don’t want to dwell (and I’m not sure this particular form existed or was even required when I started my PhD) – and instead I am looking to develop a strategy to complete a series of interviews with key participants who I encountered during my 6 weeks of Games time. I have collected most of my research diary, social media outputs (tweets, photos, blog posts, video) (which I guess I can call “live field notes” now, thanks by this fantastic blog post from Tricia Wang at Ethnography Matters), pdf archives from blogs and news sites, favourites and lists of videos and photographs and emails sent and received during the time I was in Vancouver – 1st of Feb to 7th of March 2010 – and inserted them into Evernote, with some basic tagging and notes to accompany them. This will form the basis of a timeline of activity, made up of media content, social media content and focused around my own experience during the Vancouver Games, with a particular focus on alternative media outlets and social media as a source for citizen generated news stories. Therefore, the interviews I will be requesting ethical approval for will be used to triangulate my primary data, giving people involved the opportunity to reflect on the experience, what were their motivations for becoming a citizen journalism and what came next? I will be using the writer’s retreat I am attending on the 17th-19th Jan to work on this form and to develop my methods chapter some more.
My second focus is to prepare an abstract for the Leisure Studies 2014 conference in July 2014 – which is being hosted at UWS (I’m on the organising committee). I’m working with Kieran (my partner – who is an alcohol and drugs policy researcher) to develop a paper on legal highs and mapping perceptions on social media. We collected the social data last year during a Channel 4 programme called “Legally High” and we are now about to begin the analysis. I will be coming from the methodological angle, particularly inspired by the ESRC Research Social Media Conference I had the privilege of speaking at last November. I’m into doing something with a relatively small data set, which isn’t attached to a mega event and allows me to explore some of those critical issues associated with Twitter research. The deadline for the abstract submission is at the end of the month so we’d like to have submitted pretty soon.
Work Writing Tasks for January 2014
As I blogged before Christmas, I have been working on developing educational resources for the Digital Commonwealth project, with a particular focus on how we can use Open Badges during the process. Amongst other things, my main writing task for work this month is to draft an outline for a Handbook of Digital Storytelling that focuses on social media, blogging, video and audio that our recruited trainers can use to help teach digital literacies skills to participants on the project. This needs to be outlined ahead of a Digital Storytelling Symposium that we are organising at the Big Lottery HQ on the 24th of January.
Anyway, I’m sick as a dug and full of the cold from excessive chilling so I am going to enjoy my final two days off (after 16 full days off from work, first time since I left secondary school!) and then get cracking. Cheerio.
Inspired by this call to action from Jessica on collecting the stories of mental health and PhD students, and the fact I am looking forward to working on ‘it’ through the enforced Christmas annual leave that working in a University insists I take (:-D), I thought I would give an update on my progress of trying to get back on track with my own PhD.
For long time readers, I have been a PhD student (part time, self funded) since January 2009, starting at the University of Leicester and moving back to the University of the West of Scotland in October 2009 (full time, part-funded) – where I was an undergraduate at the previously named Paisley University between 2002-2005.
I am currently coming to the end of 12 months suspension – year out – as I had to deal with a combination of burn out, running out of funding and moving back to Glasgow to be closer to friends and family – and importantly the University where I am enrolled to complete my PhD.
Defining the problem:
My PhD journey, or my PhD story – in one word – has been a struggle. If it hasn’t been a struggle for finding cash to fund it, it is the struggle of receiving enough funding to pay your only your rent and topping it up with many other short term roles across the academic and related research industries. It’s the struggle of not feeling good enough, not being able to conform to some of the bizarre processes that some academics partake in, or the struggle to get my head round what the hell the Westminster government was doing to the Higher Education system. Struggle of course come with opportunity – I have met so many people, learnt so much, done so much, dare say achieved so much in a short period of time that is 3 years of a PhD, but also blurred lines and distractions that are unavoidable when you are looking for the next series of work to pay the bills and make up the short fall on your stipend. It is getting wrapped up in projects that are relevant to your PhD – mine is about the Olympics, so try and avoid the attention that gives you – wanted or otherwise – in a country which is hosting a Games during your final year of funding. Obligations, opportunities, blurred lines. It was hard – I sometimes wish I did it on something more desky.
Finding the space to write, the time to give your PhD more than a quick once over between project deadlines, marking, tutorials, travelling for work, is difficult. I would (and did – but cut them out) go into the details, but I don’t need to add to the body of blogging that states how much of an isolating, exhausting heavy-going experience writing up a PhD is. I know it can be done – and I know so many inspiring people who have managed to drag themselves from the brink of drop-out to completing and moving on with their life, doing even more amazing things in the process.
My year out of my PhD as allowed me to gain enough distance from the challenges I was facing when the funding dried up – and enough space to be able to write without guilt about how I felt about having to down tools on something I was defining my entire life on.
When I suspended my PhD, I lost a large chunk of my identity that I could always lean on with it. It was my certain, it was my base point. And I was definitely not prepared for the polarised advise that came with the suspension, but I got/am getting through it – and probably about half way through June this year, I stopped feeling angry about the reactions, circumstances – or upset like I was a failure and let people down – and that should probably give it a by and move on with my life – but actually felt that it was indeed possible to carry on and get this document finished, submitted and move the hell on.
I know it can happen because I never thought I could be at this stage where I would be able to write a blog post about restarting the PhD. This time last year, if you mentioned the work ‘PhD’ or ‘Olympics’ – I would curl into a ball and rock back and forth, my closest friends would warn people to dare not utter those words unless you wanted to change the mood of the party to black. But despite those feelings, I know now that can see a way of finishing this – and much of it was overcoming that fear of opening the document after 18 months on the virtual shelf.
Restarting the writing process:
I have been working by stealth on finding ways to write and to carry on writing, even if I am technically in limbo officially- writing doesn’t need me to be enrolled for it to happen at this stage.
A few weekends ago, I went to a Writer’s Retreat in Aberfoyle, hosted by Prof. Rowena Murray who has recently joined UWS. I found out about the retreat through some other PhD students (mainly those, who are like me are members of staff too) – and it was one of many that happen all year round.
The format usually takes place over 2 days, where I took part in over 11 hours of group writing, chunked up between 1hr-2hr blocks of working in silence as a group, with 1/2 hour/meal breaks between them. At the start of the retreat we were asked to write a short, medium and long term goal for the weekend, and to discuss it with a partner about how you were going to achieve it – the shortest goal was for the Friday evening session itself (1hr 30 mins), which after a 2 hour drive after work from Glasgow to the remote village of Gartmore near Aberfoyle, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to open my laptop, let along write something relating to my PhD. I had let that document become a demon, something that I could avoid easily – if only for my own sanity, so asking myself to tackle after a day of project work was a scary prospect.
For my short term goal, I said that I would try and rewrite my PhD abstract and to produce a revised chapter outline based on some of the notes I had been leaving myself in Evernote since I started thinking about my PhD again. The thing that surprised me the most is that I managed to do this quite quickly, and it wasn’t as painful as I thought. I thought I might want to completely change my PhD focus and move it towards the work that I have been doing recently, but after a bit of work on it, I was relatively happy with the current approach and indeed, time away from it and distance away from a media-saturated world gripped with Olympic hysteria has definitely helped me with clarity.
I don’t/didn’t have an ethics form prepared for my research, which I should have done back in 2009, so I thought if I was to complete one for the purpose of restarting, it would be easier to start from scratch than retroactively fit to the data I have – but instead, I found myself sketching out the method chapter that I have always wanted to work on – and focusing my ethics on gaining interviews from key participants that I encountered through my ethnographic data from Vancouver games time and London pre-games activity. Therefore my medium goal (what I wished to achieve by end of Saturday evening) was to take all the pieces of writing that I had and to rewrite them in order to ensure I had reviewed my previous progress and to turn the muddled mess that was my head in July 2012 into a document that I can authentically call the bloody thesis.
The final goal (by the end of the retreat) was have a document I could show at my meeting with the head of department the following Monday, a timeline for completion and compiled next steps for the next stages of writing. By the time we stopped writing on Sunday afternoon, I had written over 13200 words in 2.5 days, and had time to go for a swim, have dinner and drinks with friends and eat a lot of different types of cake. Importantly, I had found a way to unstuck the stuck, the possibility to actually open the document and start writing again.
Not only did I have a document I could call a thesis, a plan and the confidence to start writing again, I had unwillingly began the methods chapter – began work towards correcting the massive problem of not having a ethics form (3 years in) and could see how it would be possible to turn what I had into a PhD. The writers’ retreat was exactly what I needed in order to begin seeing myself as a writer – and gave me a safe space with other people who are pursuing writing projects to work together and support each other through some of the isolating factors of dealing with a project of this nature.
I have booked another retreat for the 17th-19th of January, and although I accept that this can’t be the only way that I will be able to work on my PhD, the technical of chunking up your day to focus on writing does help, being able to work closely with other PhD students does help and finding a way to get over the feeling of failure that comes with suspension does help. With the Christmas holidays kicking in from the 20th December this year – and this being the first year where I haven’t had to find a project to work on over the break to ensure the pressure of spending and the lack of holiday pay/steady income doesn’t result in no money come February, I am going to use the next 2 weeks to try and push up the word count on that bloody thesis document and prepare for my next burst of retreat.
My next retreat aim is to get the ethics form, rewrite the methods chapter and pursue interview request for triangulating my data that I already have from both Olympiads. Finding those days where you can dedicate your mind totally is hard, at the moment work pressures are so much that I am finding it hard to find time to sleep and eat properly, but I know that these will pass soon as we move onto a new stage of the project – in the mean time, I am going to carry on when I can, pushing the PhD document forward. It’s not perfect – and I have a long way to go, but I’m in the strongest position that I’ve been with my PhD so far and if it means that I have to wait a little longer to re-enroll, at least I’m moving in a better direction now.
Recommended reading (from Rowena’s Retreat briefing):
Murray, R (2012) It’s not a hobby: Reconceptualizing the place of writing in academic work, Higher Education. DOI: 10.1007/s10734-012-9591-7.
MacLeod I, Steckley L & Murray R (2011) Time is not enough: Promoting strategic engagement with writing for publication, Studies in Higher Education, 37(5): 641-54.
Moore S, Murphy M & Murray R (2010) Increasing academic output and supporting equality of career opportunity in universities: Can writers’ retreats play a role?, Journal of Faculty Development, 24(3): 21-30.
Murray R (2011) Developing a community of research practice, British Educational Research Journal, 38(5): 783-800.
Murray R & Newton M (2009) Writing retreat as structured intervention: Margin or mainstream?, Higher Education Research and Development, 28(5): 527-39.
Murray R (2013) Writing for Academic Journals, 3rd edition. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw-Hill.
Murray R & Moore S (2006) The Handbook of Academic Writing: A Fresh Approach. Maidenhead: Open University Press-McGraw-Hill.
Having spoken at a few conferences recently about the impact of social media and community-led media in terms of community engagement, I have been meaning to write this post for a while – especially as I’ve been talking specifically about method and approach to developing community based media outfit – and – several people have been in touch about how they might kick start a project in their area, organisation or specific-project related context.
I’ve recently concluded my year long stint at the community media development worker for the Carnegie Trust funded news agency Digital Sentinel in Wester Hailes in Edinburgh. It has been a year full of learnings, a chance to look closely at models for developing a volunteer pool who can find news and lead to community story generation – but most importantly, how do you develop and follow on from a much loved community based newspaper (which lost its funding in 2008) and replace the news source from top down established news models to shift towards a locally produced, community made news agency – made by the people, for the people. I am a hugely inspired by the work of Citizen’s Eye in Leicester, who’s editor, John Coster, has been a key role model for me in terms of thinking about encouraging people and groups to tell their own stories and to make these tools more accessible to all – especially as more and more people find themselves online and/or using a smart phone to access social media for their news and small media.
The gauntlet of CMDW now been passed on to a local Edinburgh resident and hyperlocal media producer Phyllis Stephens from the Edinburgh Reporter (so safe and expert hands then!) but as a sort of ‘exit-interview’ with myself, here are my top 5 learnings from working on and (as it emerged from idea to reality) with, the Digital Sentinel to share with those potentially interested in starting your own community led agency:
1)Identity community leaders, and empower them to tell stories- not just for the website, but about the website itself
That saying “If you want something done, ask a busy person” is never truer said when it comes to beginning to recruit volunteers for a local media project. Meeting members of a community council, those who volunteer their skills through time bank initiatives or community education practitioners/participants give a good starting point for identifying who is already active on projects in their community. Similarly, many successful community media projects are lead by just 1-2 people who drive the image and the work of the project forward, it is not just a case of building it and they will come. A turning point for me was after the first training taster session at the health agency, and speaking with John, the leader of the community council about what he had learned since beginning the Sentinel journey. Total goosebumps.
A challenge is reaching beyond those who are aware and interact with services, community advocates who know and understand what is trying to be achieve are one of your biggest assets in terms of ensuring the project has longevity.
2)Free and accessible tools, use what is in your pocket
There are a range of specialist tools available to make and share media for the web. You can get bespoke cameras, apps and addons which a community group can purchase to help produce and share stories on their website – however – this can often be a difficult position to administrate, who looks after the kit, who gets to use it, what gets bought when starting up. It’s horses for courses, particularly as we live in a personalised, networked environment online – no one twitter or facebook feed is the same, depending on what and who we subscribe to – so sharing tips and techniques is key before a decision on kit and training of that kit is made. The Media Trust Local 360 is a great resource for getting recommendations of what might work for you.
3)Cutting edge of mundane, not all community news needs to follow a News model
My core thesis for all my research and project management interests is that events are the perfect catalyst for media content generation and can be used for working towards longevity and self-production in a community media setting. Take a community fun run.
Even if you’ve never attended a fun run in your life, you know what happens, what its aims are and you know that there will be news factored into the process – a starting call, individual and group causes being championed for fundraising or personal goals, the process and suspense of the run, the audience cheering on their relatives, colleagues and friends, data and stats of results – and of course, the winners.
Use these events to stimulate interest in your news outfit, allow volunteers to practice capturing and reporting in a safe environment, explore ethics and style – but most importantly, soak up the environment and have fun, these events will make the harder, more political and ethically diverse stuff easier to report.
This is what we did with #citizenrelay (citizen journalists, covering the Olympic torch relay in Scotland) and is at the heart of Digital Commonwealth (the Big Lottery funded project I’m coordinating at UWS), which will be recruiting and training people to tell their stories as a creative response to the Commonwealth Games in 2014 – the bigger the event, the more opportunity to connect people locally (or in our case, nationally and internationally) using the same catalyst of activity (Glasgow 2014 across Scotland – Baton relay particularly) – the skills developed to cover these larger events can then be used to tell stories closer to home.
When we say “cutting edge of mundane” (a phrase I borrow from John Coster), we mean that the story of the canal swans having cygnets, or a local member of the community finding a canary can be much more enjoyable to read than yet another report of a stabbing or criticism about a particular group of people that the mainstream media seem to enjoy picking on.
4)Face to face is key, it makes the digital better
5)Many hands make light work, do what you enjoy and it feels less like work
A question I was often asked was about the process of using volunteers and ensuring that the project can be managed and administered within the community itself. The fact that a project of this scale does require a lot of coordination, recruiting volunteers, finding stories and developing a database of contacts – it does need core funding to be able to do this. It exists outside of any particular organisation, with the hope it becomes its own entity in the future – but with that will come challenges down the line, governance, growth and ownership will come into play. In terms of community media training, if you are working with volunteers who want to learn more about digital storytelling or producing community media for their area, discover what their passion is and let them run with it.
Everyone will have a role in shaping the future of their community media outlet, and not all need to be the citizen journalist – some people are good at finding and telling stories, others are loaded with local knowledge and history – more so, as the web because easier to access and use, you will discover a local tech champion who can help with website input or design, or others who are running local web based campaigns using hashtags and the interaction between the on and offline environment. The important learning is to support people to do the things they love, to feel that they are as much as important part of the project as those who already have the skills to write articles or build websites. Many hands, light work.
So that’s it, my time with the Sentinel is over. Following the official launch in October, It makes me smile, that there is now an active and fledgling community news website that the Wester Hailes community can now see and call the Digital Sentinel.
From idea, dream or desire being discussed at working group meetings to tangible thing that you can access, see and interact with, and now with local, on-the-ground support, I look forward to following the project from a distance and being able to connect it to other community media projects through the Digital Commonwealth intitative.
P.S. I spoke about this a few weeks ago the Neighbourhood Watch’s Community e-ngagement event at the Crowne Plaza. Below is a video of my talk and a short interview post-talk where I manically and red-faced give some tips on the use of citizen journalism for community engagement. Enjoy!