#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.


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 http://www.citizen2014.net throughout the three weeks of the Games. You can follow the project on Twitter @Citizen2014.

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’”.