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#DigitalAngus – Citizen Journalism and the Commonwealth Games

Last Saturday, I awoke at a time where most of Glasgow was going to sleep (5am!) to catch the first train to Dundee to meet my lift to Forfar for the Digital Angus conference being organised by Third Sector Lab and Angus Council around the themes of social media for community engagement.

As Angus was one of our areas where we were missing a cluster application for the Digital Commonwealth Schools’ programme, this was also an opportunity to come up and actually speak to people face to face to try and see if we could find a set of schools who would be up for joining the process.

Although the Commonwealth Games are based in Glasgow this year, there are also sporting events happening across Scotland; for instance the diving is in Edinburgh at the Commonwealth pool and the shooting is in Carnoustie (which is part of Angus) and has a lot of activity planned for around Games time – from sporting, volunteering, baton relay and educational perspective. Following on from my talk at Digital Agile CLD in Stirling earlier in the week, the fact that Angus was going to be teaming with events and activity on the run up to and during the Commonwealth Games, this would be a great opportunity to catalyse on the power of major events to encourage people to try citizen journalism or digital storytelling for the first time.

Just to change the direction of this post slightly – when I started to write it this morning, I got a tweet from Andy Dickinson about my previous blog post and we had a wee chat about the differences between citizen journalism and digital storytelling in this event context – so I pulled in a few of the tweets below as they got me thinking as I finish editing this post.


Anyway, these tweets plus writing about #digitalangus got me thinking more about the distinctions between citizen journalism (so how we defined Citizen Relay as a project, how we recruited and the type of training that we offered prior to the torch relay) and Digital Storytelling – something is used frequently that can cover quite a lot but we’ve had to nail down quite quickly in terms of producing materials, resources and recruiting volunteers for the project – Blogging, Video, Audio and Social Media as the 4 technical areas, with thematic areas and the ability to embed a community of practice within the process.

The notion of moving from formally training people to become a ‘citizen journalist’ to capture and report on what you see and/or already understand to be -so a major event is great for this as there is a lot of activity and people to capture – to actually developing a course of learning that will provide a set of skills where somebody can not only report on and be a citizen journalist during a particularly that can be used critically and ask questions about things beyond the major event itself – it is a catalyst for signing up and getting involved but what and how they learn will differ in the sense that it should last longer than the major event itself & encourage them to join a ever evolving and growing community of practice online. Building capacity in this way is an attempt to help people connect digitally using a context beyond instrumental function of say, changing to welfare system or using library computers to make a CV.

Anyway, I got a little distracted there – and it is getting late.

My session was a very quick introduction to the Digital Commonwealth project, what we have done so far and what we intend to do into the next 6 months (way!). I then did some simple introduction to making audio and video on your smartphone, focussing on some of the learning we’ve had with working with the Media Trust’s Local 360 project, Citizen’s Eye and  my own involvement with the Wester Hailes Digital Sentinel.

I even got my lovely lift Alison to volunteer to be an interviewee :-)

I managed to stay for the rest of the event, which was great – there is a Storify from the day here and there is an excellent blog post from the final speaker Kenny McDonald that summarises the day. My slides are available here.

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Presentation: Digital Storytelling & Major Events at Digitally Agile CLD Working Group

Last week I was invited by Martin Dewar from Youthlink Scotland to deliver the opening presentation at the Digitally Agile working group who were developing a set of standards for considering social media and digital literacies in a community learning development (CLD) setting in Scotland.

The talk argued that we should look to major events as something beyond the sport, culture and tourism opportunities and instead use them as paradigmatic  benchmark for how (mobile/digital) technology evolves and how community settings can be catalyzed for looking at alternative reporting, narratives and storytelling. It discussed some of the key learning from Citizen Relay in 2012 as a pilot for delivering a national citizen journalism initiative around a major event and moves towards the activity we have planned for the Digital Commonwealth project across the schools, community media and creative voices programmes towards the 6 week (much longer than a 7 day) baton relay across Scotland.
Thanks to the support of the rest of the project team (David, Alison and Gayle) this was also a good opportunity to talk about some of the great projects that have already been submitted and agreed on, a real move from a project that we have been pitching to actual reality that we are going to have schools on Eigg, Muck, Rum and Canna researching into other Commonwealth islands and exploring the challenges of training for sporting contests on small islands or producing an online radio documentary about the John Muir trail in Kirkintilloch.
With a particular focus on discussing and critiquing the draft set of National Standards in this area of digital, the event provided the  opportunity to explore how we deliver resources, training and follow up around the 4 areas of digital storytelling that we are looking at (blogging, video, audio and social media), as well as how we motive and accredit these forms of learning through strategies such as Mozilla’s Webmaker and Open Badges.
I got to stay for the rest of the event where we got to discuss the 10 proposed standards (which include practice, policy, inclusion, literacy, evaluation, professional development, co-production, investment, ethics, resources ) in depth, looking at language, approach and how they might sit within our own practice, how they might suit future changes and what might be missing from the descriptions. It was useful from both a perspective of somebody who is part of a team producing educational resources (a handbook of digital storytelling if you may) but also to get an idea where the sector would *like* to head, that across different organisations and authority areas that we suffer from similar challenges (IT governing access for instance!) and what we could do collectively to try and influence change in this area.
For more information about the consultation, the CLD Standards people have pulled together a Storify of the content produced on the #DACLD hashtag
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What I need to write about during January 2014

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.

Anyway…

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.

#LegallyHigh

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.

Phew.

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.

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Leaving the Sentinel: 5 things I have learned about faciliatating community-led media

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

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Using a Samsung Galaxy Tab for digital storytelling

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.

If you are wanting to get out there and begin to tell stories, you are better to ask people to reach into your pocket and see what you have. A larger screened, app-based smartphone is slowly but surely becoming the default mobile phone that is available for those purchasing a new device. Similarly, tablet purchase and use are becoming more and more accessible with an apparent 1000% increase in sales at Christmas last year.
The trick is to tap into what you have got, before you start a shopping list of desirable kit. Reflect on the fact that access to broadband and/or wifi, digital literacy demands and cost of  the technology will also come into play, so it is advised to work with devices and scenarios that people can understand and are already embedded within – and support your volunteers to get confident in that – before dazzling with more expensive and more experienced kit. A pen and piece of paper is enough to get you started.
All that is happening is shifting the perception of the consumption to the production of online media, something that many do not realise they are already doing when they take a photo, write a status update or create a short video for the web – as a user of a social media platform, you are a content creator.

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.

Sentinel reporters at the Wester Hailes Fun Run in July

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.

The irony now is that an event that a whole type of community would come out to support, lacks coverage and support from existing media sources. Individuals may take pictures to share with friends, others might tweet that they are attending – but in terms of a coherent story, many local events and personal experiences are generally ignored by over-stretched local media who have a specific agenda to fill.
This is where a community media news outfit can come in, setting up a space to share and collect stories, interviews with participants and special guests and of course capturing the winners of the event as they cross the finish line.

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

A community news agency should not just provide a ‘taken for granted’ news service for the community but instead find ways to encourage people who have news to report on themselves rather than reporting for them – the only way that it can be truly sustainable is to spread the skills beyond a core set of ‘reporters’.
I’ve recently wrote a blog post for the Digital Commonwealth site on the benefits of a “Community Media Cafe” for bringing people together to co-produce the news gathering, training and networking experiences. It is often a complaint that it is very difficult to know about what other people are doing in your local area or similar field, a coordinated drop-in or regular time to come together to chat and listen to others who you may be able to help or be able to help you. Face to face time is a precious resource, but also the backbone to a locally produced digital resource.
Those moments where you can give people the space and structure to share information face to face are worth a million direct mail newsletters. What I learnt over the years working with Citizen’s Eye around the London 2012 Olympics is that the most important thing about community media is people, not the content itself – a website itself cannot communicate the richness of seeing people learn and begin to produce the media that represents their community, not having those stories told for them.

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.

Conclusions

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!


Event: Everyday Growing Cultures, Sheffield (23rd July)

I was invited by Farida to give a social media masterclass to PhD students at the University of Sheffield ahead of attending and covering the “Everyday Growing Cultures” event based her research around open data and allotments.

Below is the Storify record from the social media content generated throughout the day.

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Project: Update on Wester Hailes #digitalsentinel community reporter taster sessions

Over the last few months through my freelance community media development role at WHALE Arts in Edinburgh, I’ve been facilitating several community media ‘taster’ sessions in Wester Hailes for the development of the Digital Sentinel, a community-ran local news agency. I have been in this role with WHALE since October last year, having developed a ethical media policy and timeline for developing and understanding the potential of a replacement digital news service for the deceased Wester Hailes Sentinel which lost its funding in June 2008.

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The taster sessions followed on from an initial workshop that was delivered in February to employees and representatives of community services in the area and were promoted and hosted by three of the services who attended; the Wester Hailes Health Agency (and their time-bank initiative), Wester Hailes Library and Gate 55 (the Community Education Centre based in Sighthill).

The first set of taster sessions were completed in May and were completely open to anybody to attend, without having to RSVP and or have previous experience. They included a brief introduction to the Sentinel and the projects that lead up to the relaunch. Participants then got the chance to practice interviewing each other using audio and video tools on mobile devices and then upload them to the web. They were repeated this week (mid-June), with a focus to cover the Wester Hailes fun run (happening today, I’m writing this on the train, on my way to Wester Hailes) as the first event to have reporters in attendance. After today, they’ll be content uploaded onto the Digital Sentinel website for the first time – still very much as a practice space at the moment- and we will begin work towards covering two events on the 4th and 6th July respectably; a AHRC connected communities open day involving a barge trip from Wester Hailes to Edinburgh, incorporating a QR code social history walk and a citizen reporter presence/video box at the canal festival. It is hoped, much like #citizenrelay last year, by using existing events that we know are definitely going to happen and have a lot of activity going on, we will be able to use them as a catalyst to capture & produce local stories for the website.

What is also significant about the development of the Digital Sentinel is that we were lucky to receive funding from the Carnegie Trust “Neighbourhood News” call; not only the only project to be funded in Scotland but also the only project that is at this stage of development and delivery. This means that I will be able to continue this support work through to May 2014 and also build on the enthusiasm shown by the community at these early stages. Similarly, as we aim to have the first ‘community generated’ content on the site as of this week but we can also look towards ongoing training and development processes, such as accredited learning & the linking the site to political, social and educational agendas within the area, aiming towards operating fully as a community-led media initiative.

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It is also worth emphasising that my involvement with the sentinel is very much in my freelance employment as a development worker, with the aim to withdraw myself from the process over time and hand over the full responsibility of the Sentinel to the community that decide to take it on. I know at times this can be difficult politically as I switch my online voice from an academic interest, journalist interest and a community activist interest (due to the nature of my work & my research interest) – so I need to make this explicit in my intent. It is also a very interesting space to operate within, I am learning a lot from the process. Once the Sentinel site is running as a functioning news site, there will be space on the website to include reports on development process, mainly for evaluation & archival purposes, that will allow for posts like this to be cross-posted and stored in context of the website.

The fact we are developing a community news site from scratch is a story in itself, at a time when local news is wrapped in a narrative of decline & Wester Hailes is been shown as a community that is doing interesting things in this area. It is an exciting time and I am grateful that we have the opportunity to continue this work at a stage where it is becoming increasingly clear that the Sentinel is becoming a much-needed entities in the community.

To follow the content and on-going process of the Digital Sentinel, you can follow the #digitalsentinel hashtag on twitter, which will soon have its own Facebook and Twitter profile to join it in the coming weeks – additionally I’ve embedded a youtube playlist of some of the videos produced during the training tester sessions below.