Media

Standing on giants’ shoulders

Both journalism and history are often at their most compelling for us when they touch our lives personally.

So, amid bone-dry coverage of interest rates or inflation rates, most of us find our eyes jumping to the section about how any change will affect what’s laughably still sometimes described as our disposable income; or when harrowing footage from the Syrian war makes us hold our children a little closer.

It can be the same with old stories of our trade, or the inspiring lives and work of some of the early giants of our profession upon whose shoulders we stand.

One of those giants is Barrhead-born Helen MacFarlane, the reporter, commentator, translator and activist who became a leading figure in the Chartist movement during the mid-19th century.

After her fiery years of engagement in the working class democratic movement around Manchester and Lancashire in the 1840s and early 1850s – writing for the Red Republican and completing the first translation into English of The Communist Manifesto  – she ‘retired’ into the relative obscurity of marriage to the local vicar in a small village near Nantwich, in Cheshire, where she died in 1860 at the age of 41.

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Grave of Helen MacFarlane, St Michael’s churchyard, Baddiley. July 2016

Before I began work in Manchester earlier this year, I’d never heard of Helen Macfarlane, although I had heard of the Chartists – for the first time, many years ago in secondary school history classes. Back then, we were mostly taught about how the Charter had been a challenge to the Whig and Tory orthodoxy of the day (cue a chorus of adolescent yawns!).

I do remember passing references to the Northern Star newspaper, and its editor Feargus O’Connor.

However, I don’t remember hearing quite so much in the classroom about how Chartism was a working class movement for democracy that engaged hundreds of thousands of people from Scotland’s Central Belt, through Cumbria and Lancashire, across the south and east of England, right to the gates of Westminster and the mass rallies, such as in Kennington Park – which many years later became the gathering point for one of the feeder marches on the day of the great 1990 Anti-Poll Tax demonstration.

Nor was there that much either in school about William Cuffay, the black activist and organiser who was convicted of involvement in a bombing plot (mostly on the strength of what even the trial judge thought was questionable testimony from a police supergrass) and transported to the prison colonies of Tasmania.

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Image of William Cuffay at The People’s History Museum, Manchester. Visit the #PHM on Twitter @PHMMcr

Nor even about my near-namesake, Peter Murray McDouall, another of the Chartist organisers – by all accounts one of the movement’s most passionate and eloquent public speakers – who also made numerous appearances in court for his pains.

But arriving in Manchester and being asked to devise some lectures about the history of journalism, the Northern Star seemed like a good place to start.

So, the last couple of months have taken me to Helen MacFarlane’s graveside, to the location a couple of miles from where I now live of a Chartist “riot” outside the old Town Hall of Little Bolton (memorial plaque, above), and to the commanding, bleak, windswept summit of Blackstone Edge, where thirty thousand people gathered for a Chartist rally on the hillside in 1846.

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Sign at the top of Blackstone Edge marking 1846 Chartist rally. (Image: Vince Hunt)

It has also taken me – and some colleagues, along with several dozen of our new journalism students at Manchester Metropolitan University – to the People’s History Museum, which has one of the most exhaustive archives in the country of Chartist newspapers, pamphlets, letters and printed flyers – as well as what is probably the first ever photograph of a political rally ever taken in the UK, that historic gathering of up to 25,000 people in Kennington Park.

You can watch our interview with PHM archivist Darren Treadwell here:

Back in those dusty history classes I don’t remember we were ever taught that much about the pioneering, campaigning journalism that accompanied the movement and grew out of the social and economic upheavals, poverty and suffering of those years – “Hunger and hatred: these were the forces that made Chartism a mass movement of the British working class,” writes GDH Cole (Chartist Portraits. Published by Macmillan, 1941).

However, many of those journalists – Helen MacFarlane, James Bronterre O’Brien, Anne Knight, or Henry Hetherington of the Poor Man’s Guardian – would all surely recognise how their passion and commitment lives on today in the work of some of our best writers and social commentators: from Paul Mason to Laurie Penny and Owen Jones, from Common Space or the Bristol Cable, to Article 19 and NovaraMedia.

This is history that touches us today, informs us, and enriches us all.

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Craigmillar’s Chronicle Online

Training for the Chronicle Online will take place at The White House in Craigmillar

Training for the Chronicle Online will take place at The White House in Craigmillar

After months of planning, Scotland’s capital should see the first community news website of its kind being launched in the city in the autumn, serving Craigmillar and the surrounding area in the south of Edinburgh.

The post-#IndyRef flourish in new media has seen the creation of a number of politically-oriented websites, as well as the ground-breaking, crowd-funded investigative journalism website The Ferret. However, none of these so far has had the resources – or inclination – to cover local issues, politics or personalities.

The ChronicleOnLine will seek to change that.

Media Trust has been asked to play a part in training new bloggers and reporters on the community news website – from newsgathering techniques and the ethics of social media to video production and podcasting.

It is clear that there is not just a glaring need for more local news online across Scotland and the UK, but a massive appetite in areas like Craigmillar as well as enormous enthusiasm within the community to take part in the project.

Funding for the training has come from the local authority via the Portobello and Craigmillar Neighbourhood Partnership and we hope to bring together local bloggers, students with an interest in media, journalism and coding, designers and game developers, as well as community activists and archivists – all of whom, we are certain, will bring a huge range of expertise, experience and energy to the website.

A series of workshops, held at Castlebrae High School and a local community hub, The White House, has already mapped scores of possible opening stories, news sources and issues which could feature on the site in its first weeks. It is likely some of those involved in these start-up workshops will continue to develop the website through a proposed community editorial board.

As part of the training, Media Trust will again be working with Jennifer Jones from the University of the West of Scotland, applying many of the lessons and techniques in community journalism which we developed as part of our work all across Scotland during the 2013/2014 Digital Commonwealth project. There will be a wealth of local knowledge and practical expertise in community journalism from Phyllis Stephen, founding editor of The Edinburgh Reporter website as well as support from the designer and illustrator, Sonya Hallet.

Organisers of the project, which include social enterprises in Craigmillar, community activists, schools and the local library, hope the site will go online at the end of October.

The first of the training sessions is scheduled for 02 October.

Mumia needs urgent medical treatment

Honorary NUJ member, Mumia Abu Jamal has spent more than 30 years in jail - much of the time in solitary confinement

Honorary NUJ member, Mumia Abu Jamal has spent more than 30 years in jail – much of the time in solitary confinement. Image via Mumia’s official Facebook page.

Supporters around the world of the jailed African American journalist Mumia Abu Jamal are extremely alarmed to hear that, more than two months after being admitted to hospital because of complications related to his diabetes condition, his family says he is being denied access by state authorities to the medical treatment he urgently needs.

At the time he was admitted (30 March) to an intensive care unit at a clinic near the Pennsylvania prison where he is being held, he was in diabetic shock. The emergency came just a few weeks after blood tests conducted within the prison which his family say should have revealed he was suffering from diabetes.

A report on his medical condition from earlier this month indicates that he remains extremely ill, has lost a lot of weight and is using a wheelchair because of swelling in his feet and legs.

Some supporters say his current treatment amounts to “medial execution through neglect and malpractice” and they want the PA Department of Corrections to allow independent specialists to treat Mumia’s diabetes and severe eczema.

Mumia Abu Jamal was the first person to be granted honorary membership of the union and we are proud to be able to call him a colleague.

It is our view that Mumia is the victim of one of the most notorious miscarriages of justice arising from the civil rights stuggles of the 20th Century.

We in the NUJ firmly believe the criminal justice system has blighted the life of a man who was clearly targeted because of his work as a campaigning journalist, exposing corruption and racism.

To deprive him now of the medical attention he so desperately needs is a further and unnecessary act of cruelty and inhumanity.

The NUJ has joined other trade unions as well as Mumia’s family and friends calling on the Pennsylvania state Governor Tom Wolf to intervene to allow daily visits to him by Mumia Abu Jamal’s family and to permit Mr Jamal’s choice of medical specialists to treat him.

We are also urging the Governor to take steps to allow him to be released and to put an end to this monumental miscarriage of justice.

Mumia Abu Jamal has consistently denied the allegation that he killed a white officer, and despite a lengthy campaign to obtain a fair trial, his appeals have been consistently refused.

During three decades on death row he has faced the stress of twice being given execution dates – sentences that were later halted following worldwide campaigning for his cause, which also led the authorities in 2011 to commute his sentence to life in prison without parole.

There is a petition on Change.org calling for Governor Wolf and the head of the Pennsylvania prisons department, John Wetzel, to allow Mumia’s own doctors to visit him and prescribe treatment for his long-term illness.

Navigating consent

Media Trust filmed a training session on consent run by the Rape and Abuse Support group in Aberdeen

Media Trust filmed a recent training session on consent run by the Rape and Abuse Support group in Aberdeen

Recent research by the National Union of Students has found that almost one-in-ten women have said “no” to sex but have been ignored.

It comes amid a vital debate over the issue of sexual consent, triggered by the new guidelines issued last week to police and prosecutors by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Alison Saunders.

The guidelines will require investigating officers to ask alleged rapists whether they claim their victim had consented to sex and if so, how they knew she had given consent.

Filming at a recent training session for students in Aberdeen organised by the Rape and Abuse Support group put the guidance into sharp perspective for me.

The RAS student ambassador Tashana Khan said: “Unfortunately a lot of students around the UK and here in Aberdeen have reported that they have been victims of things like sexual harassment, ranging from street harassment and cat-calling, inappropriate touching in clubs all the way to serious forms of sexual assault.

“So I think that’s another reason why we need to talk about these things and promote active, enthusiastic consent.”

The idea of “affirmative” or “enthusastic” consent has been part of the lexicon of campaigners against sexual violence for some time and groups such as those in Aberdeen will welcome its endorsement by one of the UK’s most senior legal officers.

According to the Crown Prosecution Service, toolkits to prosecutors will “spell out situations where a potential victim may have been unable to consent due to incapacity through drink or drugs, for example, or where consent could not reasonably be considered to have been given freely due to the unequal relationship of the parties involved. For example, if the suspect held a position of power over the potential victim – as a teacher, an employer, a doctor or a fellow gang member.”

When we filmed their training workshop for the latest edition of the #BrilliantScotland series on the Community Channel, RAS violence prevention workers also said that what should be a basic issue of assent is easily complicated by peer pressure, social mores, downright bullying or the inexperience of young students with drugs and alcohol.

RAS worker Francesca Bellei told us: “It is a very simple concept: ‘yes’ means yes and ‘no’ means no.

“But real life often presents us with situations that can seem more difficult than that to navigate.

“We also believe that there are very strong social constructions that tell us things about consent that may not be true.”

The students and the RAS facilitators went on to discuss how the law in Scotland is also changing – even though those changes are not coming quickly enough for some.

Reforms to the Scots law principles of corroboration are likely later this year.

These are partly in response to official figures which showed more than two thousand domestic abuse cases a year could not be prosecuted because of insufficient admissible evidence.

So the RAS campaigners hope their work among students and the wider public will help raise awareness of both consent and corroboration, to help put an end to blaming women for rape.

“For too long,” said Alison Saunders, “society has blamed victims for confusing the issue of consent.

“But it is not they who are confused, it is society itself and we must challenge that.

“Consent to sexual activity is not a grey area – in law it is clearly defined and must be given fully and freely.”

#BrilliantScotland 4 also reports from Fife on the hopes and concerns after last year’s #IndyRef of 16 and 17 year old school students who will become the first under-18 year olds to vote in a general election in the 2016 Scottish Parliament election.

Elsewhere in the programme, we 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 is broadcast this evening at 9.00pm on the Community Channel, again tomorrow at 07.00am and will be repeated on Saturday 7 February at 06.00am.

The programme will also be available on-demand on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/CommunityChannelTV

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:

http://www.youtube.com/user/CommunityChannelTV

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.

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.

Sounding off about podcasting – it’s radio-to-go

phone-micThe tools of this trade are changing – alarmingly fast for some, not soon enough for many.

When some of us think of DIY media, the first call is video – smartphones, compact cameras, or if you’re lucky and have the money, a DSLR. And that’s good, because pictures tell great stories.

But so do sounds.

The ground-breaking US news website, ProPublica, published a podcast this week which stopped me in my tracks – and not just because of what we regard as the liberties which the US legal system allows journalists to take on air and in print when someone has been arrested and a trial is pending.

When I began listening, I knew nothing about the case of the 1979 disappearance in New York City of 6-year old Etan Patz, still less about the (ProPublica’s reporter argues) “questionable” confession by a man with learning difficulties who has been charged with Etan’s abduction and murder.

But within moments of clicking to start the podcast, I was gripped.

This was the heart-rending story of a child abduction and now, a potential miscarriage of justice (according to campaigners), told in a simple, compelling way. No bells and whistles, just what people used to call “great radio”.

Now, there was a time when being a radio reporter required bags of (usually really expensive) kit. Getting on the air from outside a studio required heavy boxes of ISDN gear and (not “lite” at all!) satellite equipment, before you even got started on the laptops, the mics and what felt like miles of cables you had to lug around with you.

I’ve been there and done it: from the Lockerbie Trial at Camp Zeist, via Westminster and Holyrood, to election campaign roadshows and car crashes.

Been there, done it – and loved it.

But now, a smartphone, a good microphone, set of cheapo headphones and a home-soldered cable made from £5-worth of bits from Maplins or wherever (numerous other fine electronics retailers are available) seems to do the job just about as well.

If it’s bells and whistles you’re after, there are some pricey apps you can spend your money on, but there are lots of free ones that do the job, too.

During the second half of 2013, I was using this kind of kit in a really brilliant training project with secondary school students in Highland region. Now, in 2014, I’m hoping to be taking those lessons and that experience out on the road with the Digital Commonwealth project, to help set up 4 community media hubs around Scotland.

I’ve also been talking to a number of volunteer groups about how they could use minimal equipment and free software to make the kind of enhanced podcasts I was doing in my old job, which include still images, some text and active weblinks in amongst the audio reporting.

It’s proper, full-spectrum multi-media stuff. And it has the capacity to change the way you think about sound – as well as how you think about dodgy confessions made to the NYPD.

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.