#MediaScot – a focus for new community media

Leading figures from across Scotland’s new media sector are gathering at an Edinburgh school today (Friday 22 April) in a unique opportunity to learn from each other about how they can take more control over local news gathering and media production for their benefit of communities across the country.

The “Media in Scotland’s Communities” conference is taking place at Castlebrae Community High School in Craigmillar, organised by the charity Media Trust, where I have been working since late 2013, and the University of the West of Scotland.

The event brings together dozens of media activists, writers and publishers, journalists and academics as well as young film makers and students from Scotland and the UK to begin to map the future for new community-based media in the country.

The event marks the final stages of Media Trust’s 3-year flagship programme, Do Something Brilliant, which has been funded by the Big Lottery Fund, and which has delivered dozens of specialist training workshops to charities, social enterprises and small businesses in every region of Scotland since the project began in 2013.

I have had the unique privilege of travelling from Orkney and Lewis, to Ayrshire and the Borders either to run one of numerous training sessions or to film editions of the Community Channel programmes which I’ve produced, with the help of some outstanding young presenters and reporters, such as Farah Bradford and Ted Simpson (pictured, below).

Farah + Ted

Farah Bradford and Ted Simpson presented the March 2016 edition of the Community Channel’s Do Something Brilliant programme from Craigmillar.

However, we chose to locate this event in Craigmillar because this part of Edinburgh has been the focus of a key element of my work in the last year, assisting in setting up the area’s new hyperlocal news website, the Chronicle Online.

A key opening contribution to the day will come from Kathryn Geels, whose extensive study of the current state, and future of hyperlocals across the UK, Destination Local has just been completed.

Participants at the conference will be running masterclasses and technical workshops in how to produce sophisticated media materials on smartphones, opportunities for crowdfunding new media in Scotland, and the role of education in helping communities take control of media and news in their own areas.

Myself and the other co-organisers, Jennifer Jones and David McGillivrary from UWS, believe the event will help set the national agenda for the future of community media – and new media more widely – both in Scotland and the UK.

As well as the technical workshops, film screenings and panel discussions, there will be a number of stalls provided by partner organisations such as the Thistle Foundation and Digital Sentinel.

The University of the West of Scotland’s mobile campus will be based at the school for the day and will be both an editing space for the journalism students and young film-makers taking part as well as the intake point for contributions from wider flung hyperlocal websites, such as The Bristol Cable.


Castlebrae Community High School headteacher, Norma Prentice

Our enormous thanks go to both the staff and students at Castlebrae for their generosity in agreeing to host the event, despite having also to accommodate students from the local primary school which has been evacuated because of the Edinburgh city-wide schools PFI reconstruction work.


What’s actually wrong with the Scottish media?

Why does it always rain ast demos? Me with NUJ colleagues on anti-austerity protest. Birmingham, October 2010

Why does it always rain at demos? Me (left) with NUJ colleagues on anti-austerity protest, last time around. Birmingham, October 2010

Which should bother us most:

a BBC news executive is shifted sideways (very belatedly) after repeated accusations of bullying and a staff threat to strike if he wasn’t moved?

a perception that the BBC is institutionally biased against Scottish independence and its (especially on-line) supporters?

or the thought that traditional TV audiences are literally dying off and changing viewing habits sufficiently to trigger seismic cuts to public service broadcasting.

There’s an intense and at times highly divisive bebate going on in Scotland right now over control of the media.

But there’s an equally intense debate going on across the UK over ownership of the media and access – and it is one which has been at the heart of a struggle for generations over who controls the media, and over what the newspaper proprietors, ministers, broadcasting moguls and web owners say.

For people like me, it is a massive concern that the views of trade unions and people at work are systematically under-reported in the mainstream media, and especially by our national broadcaster.

We know the story: company CEOs and market analysts get largely uncritical airtime while union reps on picket lines or besuited general secretaries can only expect hostile, frequently ill-informed, questioning and barracking on the same programmes because the trains, ferries or underground aren’t running.

It has always seemed to me not just unfair, but a travesty of any genuine notion of public service news provision.

And it’s not just me, by the way. A more detailed academic study of the issue by the Cardiff School of Jounalism came to similar conclusions.

So, years of seeing trade union, anti-austerity, anti-war, or anti-racism campaigns being under-represented on TV or radio meant I was not surpised (disappointed, yes, but not surprised) that people in the #IndyRef campaign concluded the mainstream media were biased against them.

But is that the most urgent problem right now?

This week, the broadcasting regulator Ofcom released one of its most detailed examinations for years of the state of the sector.

The timing of the report is critical.

The BBC director general Tony Hall this week announced 1000 job cuts at the Corporation because of a £150m shortfall in licence fee funding.

That in turn has triggered fears that this could just be a precursor for yet another jobs cull at the BBC as a result of the renegotiation of the Licence Fee and the wider BBC Charter Review.

It its report, Ofcom found that “[Public Service Broadcasting] PSB channels spent just under £440m less in real terms in 2014 than in 2008” (p 13. 3.1).

It goes on: “Scotland [is] one of the main beneficiaries of the shift in production out of London and the only Nation to see an increase in spend on nations programming, up by 14% since 2008. Nevertheless, higher proportions of audiences here (21%) feel negatively portrayed, compared to respondents in most other areas of the UK.” (3.52.3)

BBC funding figures are notoriously opaque and are always challenged by those in Scotland’s creative sector, but the contrast between the BBC’s financial case and Ofcom’s conclusions about negative portrayal is still pretty stark.

But the most worrying numbers are not part of the Ofcom report. Instead they are being hinted at ahead of next week’s budget: that the BBC will have to take on the £600m cost of paying the licence fee of everyone over 75; and a further £200m if the government rules it is no longer a criminal offence for other households to evade the licence fee.

Remember, the BBC’s licence fee income is around £3.7bn a year.

The Chancellor is sharpening his axe and the all-male, all-white, mainly Conservative Culture Media and Sport select committee of MPs seems pretty unlikely to stay his hand.

And all this is before we even begin to look at the problems facing the press in Scotland, from the “challenging” state of finances at the parent company of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, to some of the long-term plans being tested out by the US owners of The Herald/Evening Times titles, or alarm over the threat to their revenues and coverage from Google, Facebook and the BBC expressed by the owner of The Scotsman and a stable of local papers around Scotland and the UK.

However, there is good reason for hope that we can challenge this. Or at least some of it.

It is good news that the Scottish Parliament and the government here will finally have a say over the future of the BBC as part of the Charter Renewal negotiations.

But there is another way of taking on these threats from ministers, editors and proprietors.

First, for instance, many months – actually, years, when you count them up – of relentless and dignified argument by NUJ reps at BBC Scotland resulted in the former head of news and current affairs being moved on. He’s been moved on to the office dealing with the BBC’s case for Charter Renewal – which doesn’t inspire staff with a ton of confidence, but they tell me it has already made an enormous difference to morale and output on the newsroom floor.

Another NUJ campaign to prevent a veteran trade union rep from being made redundant at a local newspaper in South Yorkshire led to his sacking threat being withdrawn.

A campaign of industrial action last month at a string of local newspapers across London managed – remarkably – to secure the support of the Mayor, Boris Johnson and a significant number of his fellow Conservative MPs, resulting in talks to withdraw the editorial cuts threat.

I am not surprised that very little of this ground-up, workplace campaigning has been reported by the mainstream media. These are trade unionists, after all.

Nor am I that surprised that Ofcom’s very detailed breakdown of viewing figures and ages, or examinination of Facebook metrics by Ashley Highfield, the Johnson Press boss, isn’t going to light a fire for those working to build a new media landscape in Scotland based on public disenchantment with the post #IndyRef BBC.

But if those leading the debate over the future of the Scottish media after the Referendum ignore this stuff, they risk leading this flowering, new politically-minded media in Scotland into a cul-de-sac where the opinions, skills and careers of the sub-editors, designers, producers, coders or videographers don’t matter.

And that’s not much of a public service, either.

So, it’s time for people to stick up for public service journalism and news – and it’s time to stick up for the BBC.

Get involved – or you’ll get left behind

16 and 17 year olds will vote for the first time in a UK election in 2016

16 and 17 year olds will vote for the first time in a UK election in 2016

Remember all the talk back in September about how politics in Scotland had changed forever?

Less than five months on and with fewer than 100 days to the next Westminster election, how’s it really looking?

One one side, widespread public scepticism and a wave of community protest have played a large part in the Scottish government’s decision this week to call a moratorium on fracking.

On the other, the swings and roundabouts of the Smith Commission mean that young Scots will become the first under-18s to vote in the Holyrood general election next year, but still won’t get near a ballot box in May 2015.

However, there’s palpable impatience to have a say among 16 and 17 year olds who are just as informed, inquisitive and engaged as their parents or elder brothers and sisters about the future of Scotland as a whole as well as their own communities.

Jack Baker – a student at Woodmill High School in Dunfermline – said: “The world is changing.

“So everyone – no matter how young you are, no matter how old you are – you have to be involved with the change, or I think you’ll get left behind.”

For the latest edition of Brilliant Scotland – to be broadcast from this Sunday (1 February) on the Community Channel – we went to meet students at Woodmill High because one of them, Erin Rooney had made a film last year encouraging young people to register to vote – and to examine the issues carefully in the run-up to the September #IndyRef.

“People need to get informed,” she says now, looking ahead to that historic Holyrood election in 2016, which will see 16 and 17 year olds cast a vote for the first time ever in a general election anywhere in the UK.

“They definitely need to look and see what they want, and not just go for it when it comes to voting.”

Says fellow Woodmill student Beth O’Reilly: “I think [politicians] could sway my vote if they were more engaged in social media.”

Another, Kenneth Peffis, believes it is a mistake for politicians to take young voters for granted: “You didn’t see the politicians walking around schools [during the referendum campaign] seeing what young people are thinking or asking 16 or 17 year-olds about how they’ll vote.”

As part of the programme, I’ve been working with student and journalist Ted Simpson, from Edinburgh University. He is editor of Nomad magazine and has been my political correspondent for this and a pre-#IndyRef report on young people and politics in Scotland.

Ted says: “Politicians need to play their part in reaching out to young voters, be it through social media, regional student forums or visiting schools to talk to students about the issues that really matter to them.

“This way, young people can continue to be engaged in politics.

“And they’ll know that their vote – just like in the referendum – really can make a difference.”

Part of the Brilliant Scotland programme features drop-in Gaelic classes at the Coffee and Craic café in Glasgow

Part of the Brilliant Scotland programme features drop-in Gaelic classes at the Coffee and Craic

Engagement in social media is a thread running through much of this fourth edition of the Brilliant Scotland series, from the Facebook postings by Scottie dog shop mascot Gillebrìde at the Coffee and Craic social enterprise café in Glasgow, to the tireless blogger and dementia care campaigner, Tommy Whitelaw.

As the Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders issues new guidelines for police in England over how they investigate issues of consent in rape cases, we join a workshop on consent and prevention of sexual violence by student ambassadors for the Rape Abuse Support campaign in Aberdeen.

I’ll write a bit more about this early next week.

Elsewhere in the programme, we also spend time playing “frogs and sharks” with a daring and enthusiastic group of nursery school children learning to ride a bike as part of CTC Scotland’s fast-moving Play on Pedals project.

Brilliant Scotland will be broadcast at 9.00pm on Sunday 01 February and repeated at 07.00am on Monday 02 February and again on Saturday 07 February at 06.00am.

The programme will also be available on-demand on YouTube:

Digi film-making – a quickfire workshop for #Citizen2014

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

The current generation of smartphones is often called the Swiss Army Knife of community media – a stills camera, video camera and editing suite, audio recorder and mixer, keyboard, web portal and social media dashboard all in one package, depending on what apps the user has installed.

Of course, none of these functions can replace a high end DSLR camera, still less a recording studio and a newcomer to these apps and this kit is no substitute for an experienced photographer or sound engineer. However, community media is often about getting the very best results from budget-level equipment – and for many community activists and voluntary organisations, that will mean using what you have in your pocket: your phone.

This evening’s workshop is a quickfire, hands-on introduction to how to get the best from your smartphone for short on-line video making: a rough guide to framing shots, capturing good audio and editing.

If you are planning to be part of the #Citizen2014 community newsgathering project, we hope the workshop will be a useful introduction to on-line video and a chance to meet others in the #Citizen2014 crew. Coffee tin tripods are optional, but we will point participants to some of the on-line guides and resources which will help build and refine your skills.

We are at Beyond The Finish Line on Trongate. The workshop starts at 6.00pm.

Community journalism links 2014 Commonwealth to Common Weal

#Citizen2014 will operate from Beyond The Finish Line social enterprise incubation space in Glasgow city centre

#Citizen2014 will operate from Beyond The Finish Line social enterprise space in Glasgow city centre

As hundreds of media workers from around the world converge on Glasgow ahead of the start this week of the 2014 Commonwealth Games, many will want to make sure their reporting reflects at least some of the real character of the host city and its communities, not just the sport extravaganza.

So I am thrilled to be part of a pop-up community journalism initiative in the city centre which opens its digital doors just as the Games’ opening ceremony starts.

The community media newsroom for #Citizen2014 is based at the social enterprise “incubation unit”, Beyond The Finish Line, in Glasgow’s Trongate.

#Citizen2014 itself will run for the duration of the Games, with reporters covering a range of stories from the fringes of the Games themselves but also from some of the communities and individuals around the city whose voices are seldom heard in the mainstream media.

The project is a partnership between Media Trust, the Digital Commonwealth, the social enterprise SomewhereTo_, which seeks to re-function derelict buildings and urban spaces for use by young people, Mind Waves and Beyond The Finish Line. #Citizen2014 will run a programme of daily reporting based around themes ranging from culture, regeneration and resilience to legacy and the idea of the Common Weal. We also expect to run a series of workshops and media surgeries, depending on the needs and skills of the reporters taking part.

Says Jennifer Jones of Digital Commonwealth: “We want to support people to report and alternative, community-focussed view of what’s happening in our city during the Games.

“We know there’s loads going on and people have a lot to say about it.

“We’re here to develop skills in blogging, photography and video and to share what people produce through social media. We’re really excited about it.”

Reports, images and video will be posted on throughout the three weeks of the Games. You can follow the project on Twitter @Citizen2014.

On the road and on the wire

Training in Dornoch last month with the Digital Commonwealth project

Training in Dornoch with the Digital Commonwealth project, May 2014

“Digital inclusion” is a big buzz word at the moment,” Marilyn Slavin, director of the CK UK website tells me.

She is filming an interview for the My Brilliant Moment series on Media Trust’s Community Channel and she is concerned that many of those involved in trying to make the internet and all its devices more accessible are not looking carefully enough at what’s on their websites and how it’s written.

“We’ve been doing digital inclusion since 2004 and it should be further on.

“One of the reasons that I’m doing this film, talking to this camera, is to encourage more people to get involved and make their websites accessible, because if you make it accessible for people with learning difficulties then it covers a lot of other people: people whose first language isn’t English, people who have got literacy issues.

“If you get it right for people with learning difficulties all of those other folk will be engaged with what you are trying to say and your message.”

Marlilyn Slavin (r) with Maureen McGinn, chair of Big Lottery Fund Scotland at launch of Do #Something Brilliant Scotland project. April 2014. (pic: Simon Dalziel)

Marlilyn Slavin (r) with Maureen McGinn, chair of Big Lottery Fund Scotland at launch of Do #SomethingBrilliant Scotland project. April 2014. (pic: Simon Dalziel)

Marilyn’s comments were a wake-up for me.

I had just returned to a near-normal schedule of work after a knackering, but massively rewarding, trip to Orkney and the far north of the Scottish mainland in a final round of training workshops with the Digital Commonwealth project.

Watch this space for an extended report on the road trip and the wider project in a forthcoming edition of Media Trust’s #Brilliant Scotland programme.

In the meantime, there’s a flavour of the kind of work I was doing in this mini video, filmed with Jennifer Jones in Dornoch:


The focus of much of this training work is on how to get the best pictures and sound using low budget equipment. In the case of these Digital Commonwealth workshops, that usually means smartphones and tablets – sometimes with the help of catering-size coffee tins, as we found during one training session hosted at the Orkney Library in Kirkwall (below).

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the near-legendary Kirkwall Library (Orkney, May 2014)

Filming with digital inclusion activists at the Orkney Library in Kirkwall (May 2014)

The library has near-legendary status among book people for the breadth of its social media following and especially its presence on Twitter, so it was great to get a chance to visit the place and to meet such enthusiastic and committed people.

But Marilyn’s comments highlighted to me that training is only one part of opening digital access to wider groups across Scotland.

Speaking at this month’s DigiScotFest2014 event in Edinburgh, Michael Fourman, chair of the Royal Society of Edinburgh’s landmark inquiry on digital participation, said “we have to start with the hardest places,” when it comes to digital inclusion.

One strong message from what I heard at the DigiScotFest was that this has to include those with all kinds of special educational needs as well as remote rural areas and Scotland’s austerity-hammered housing schemes.

For Marilyn Slavan, there has been poor progress so far on digital inclusion.

“It’s not fair.

“People with learning difficulties are customers, clients, they’re people that could attract organisations and they have got spending power, too.

“So a lot of organisations are missing out.

“People need to open their eyes and make it better, make it fairer, because at the moment it’s still not fair for people with learning difficulties.”

Media Trust’s My Brilliant Moment series is an outlet for groups or projects to speak directly to the audience about what they do, what motivates them and how they hope to make a difference to those around them.

The series is one feature of our Big Lottery Funded project Do #SomethingBrilliant, which gives charities and community groups a way of amplifying their message through programmes on the Community Channel (which has recently had more than 2m viewers a month), but also via the website, fortnightly newsletter and the Community Newswire, run by MT and the Press Association.

Groups can also send their calls to action to the Little Brilliant Things pages, which are an opportunity to encourage people to get involved in campaigning for change.

Community journalism – more than a nation of greengrocers

A social media surgery at the somewhereto_ facility in Edinburgh: former home of Companies House, now converted to performance, rehearsal, pop up office space

A social media surgery at the somewhereto_ facility in Edinburgh: former home of Companies House, now converted to performance, rehearsal, pop up office space

There has already been a lot written online (but perhaps not surprisingly, not that much in the mainstream press) about the demise of AOL’s 6-year, $300m hyperlocal project, Patch.

At its height, Patch was a network of around 900 websites across the USA, employing 1,400 people.

As the New York Times put it earlier this month, the theory was that Patch would use a single news person and a single advertising person to create a “digital maypole” in hundreds of communities at a cost of about $100,000 annually per site.

Commentators say the project was defeated by a “tyranny of small numbers” – lack of local advertising revenue to sustain the journalism.

So, does it mean the pre-teen community journalism project in the UK is already heading for an early grave?

Not if you look at this month’s joint report by the Carnegie Trust and Co-operatives UK into the future of community news, which found that despite the “pervasive pessimism” over the state of local news coverage – largely because of the profit-taking evacuation from the sector and systematic closure of scores of town centre newspaper offices by the large proprietors – there is still a strong appetite for local news. They believe that a co-operative ownership model, similar to that used on projects which have allowed local pubs, grocers and small, specialists shops to re-open, could also bring a new lease of life to local media through community buy-outs and take-overs of those newspaper offices.

How would that work in practice?

Here’s just one way of looking at it.

A new project in Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield to fund a community-based greengrocer which would supply locally grown, preferably organic, produce to the local area is hoping to raise £30,000 by next March to get the Dig-In shop up and running.

Underlying the project is the long-term aim of improving the local economy by reconnecting residents, local schools and businesses with the food they eat, as well as providing an outlet for local veg producers and challenging the dominance of the retail giants, such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

Now, one of the lessons which commentators warn we all need to learn from the Patch experiment is that no top-down model drawn up in a corporate head office is going to be of any use to a community journalist and her/his adversiting co-worker as they try to find a sustainable way of making (digital, hopefully) local news work in their own town, village, housing scheme or neighbourhood.

So, it is important to take great care in making recommendations about financial models for a new wave of community-owned media and journalism in the UK.

However, there are some hints of sources of potental funding for some community journalism operations, if they can find a way of linking themselves financially to the community not just by publishing local news, investigating local issues and providing an outlet for local voices to tell their own stories. And media training might be at the centre of it, alongside co-operative ownership.

Research last year by City University New York suggested that local news sites might find a source of revenue in training and advice to local small businesses, rather than just seeking out traditional advertising.

“As smartphones and tablets proliferate, consumers are spending more and more time online. Many small businesses, however, are not keeping pace. For a number of reasons, they are simply not taking full advantage of the numerous online marketing opportunities that are available. As a result, we see an opportunity for local sites to position themselves as “digital agencies,” not simply media companies, by offering a “suite of services” to small businesses. The desired result, of course, is that a business improves its online marketing efforts (and thereby increases sales), and that the local site develops a source of revenue beyond traditional ad sales.”

Meeting community and media activists in various places around Scotland over the last month as part of my new job with MediaTrust has shown that there is as the Carnegie Trust and Co-Operatives UK found, a strong appetite for local news.

As one community worker in Edinburgh told me: “There are lots of questions but plenty of will to make it happen.

“We just need to figure out the ‘how’”.

From the Black Isle to Pilton – putting new media in people’s hands

Jennifer Jones speaks at a Digital Commonwealth Cafe meeting, Royston Wardieburn Community Centre, Edinburgh

Jennifer Jones speaks at a Digital Commonwealth Cafe meeting, Royston Wardieburn Community Centre, Edinburgh

A group of rowdy school students in Fortrose – a small town in the Black Isle, on the Cromarty Firth – pounces on a box of handheld recorders, mics and headphones on the classroom desk in front of them.

Hardly before I know it, they are off, heading out around the school to interview teachers, members of sports teams, or even each other, their notebooks full of questions they’d prepared beforehand, thanks to a training session earlier in the week from a fellow journalist, Catherine Deveney.

Over the next half hour, I’m unpacking cables, a sound mixer, microphone stands and other bits to build a small DIY radio studio the students will be using as part of a literacy project now involving a number of schools across Highland Council – from Plockton on the northwest coast, to Kingussie on the edge of the Cairngorms and northwards across the River Spey to the Black Isle.

It is one of two inspiring pieces of work I’ve been involved with in the last week or so – the other took me to a community centre in the north of Edinburgh, where around 20 community activists had gathered to look into getting involved in a 2014 project which hopes to turn the focus of the journey of the Commonwealth Games ceremonial Queen’s Baton around from the baton itself onto the people communities it passs through on its 40-day relay around Scotland to the Glasgow stadium for the start of the games in July.

The project is designed to “change the narrative of the establishment version of the Games,” according to Jennifer Jones from the University of the West of Scotland, who is helping to organise the Digital Commonwealth initiative.

It is based on the success of the Citizen Relay reports from scores of towns and villages as the Olympic Torch caravan made its way through Scotland in 2012. Both projects attempt to make citizens and their voices the central subject, rather than the circus around the torch and baton. It is an attempt to allow the voices of Scotland’s communities to be heard above the cacophony of excited sports commentators or the politicians who will inevitably try to seize the credit for the success of the Games, and possibly even for any word records that get broken in the pool, the velodrome or on the track.

“If you can’t get your story heard by the media, why don’t you become the media yourself?” asked Jennifer, as she spoke to activists at the Royston Wardieburn centre.

“The narrative of the Commonwealth Games has been established by the mainstream media snce the very start,” she says.

“If you try to tell any alternative stories, they’ll just take you down. So our plan is to train people to report their own communities and to create a digital archive of people’s expereince during the Commonwealth Games, so that we have more than just the official account of the event.”

I have been working on the Highland schools  Literacy Hub project in one way or another for most of 2013 and it has seen my working life come almost full circle, from adult literacy teacher just after I emerged out of university in the depths of Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s, to a spell as a history teacher in southern Africa before entering journalism and now returning (for some of the time at least) to the classroom and training.

The King Edward fountain at Invergordon illuminates an oil rig in the Easter Ross repair yard.

The King Edward fountain at Invergordon illuminates an oil rig in the Easter Ross repair yard.

The project, which has taken me to schools across the region, including Invergordon, has opened my eyes not just to the lives of young people in these schools and communities, but to their eagerness – and the truly impressive scope of their ambition – to report on their lives around them when they are presented with the tools to do so.

A big part of my new job as Scottish Outreach Manager with the Media Trust is going to be geared towards getting these tools to people in these communities and helping them take their first steps towards reporting on their lives, their concerns and their hopes for themselves, in their own words.

I’m keen to make a start.