Sep 172016
 

It’s been an interesting week overall. After getting back from the Community Media Association conference on Saturday I had a nice lazy day at home on Sunday. It’s always good to take it easy and chill out before the working week starts on Monday. As I hadn’t been able to go for a run on Saturday due to the rain in Birmingham, I went for a run around Braunstone Park and was surprised by my pace. I can’t pin it down to the beer I drank on Saturday night, but a run s a good way to get through a mild hangover.

Monday was a working day, my aim for the week was to research and write two exams. One for TECH1002 Social Media & Technology, and the other for TECH3022 Advanced Social Media production. I always try and block-book some time before term starts so that I can get my exams written. The benefit is that I don’t have to panic later in the autumn to meet the deadlines, and I then have a template and a set of notes that I can use for teaching.

An exam is a good route-map for learners reading, as it focusses attention on the specific chapters that I’ve based the questions around. I think its still really important that we use exams as a way of testing comprehension and understanding of the issues that we will be discussing in the modules. I try to pitch the exams to my students as being similar to sitting and writing a letter to a friend about something that they are interested in.

The challenge is to encourage learners to be reading the books on the reading list early on. I’ve set four main books, and the exam questions are based around all four books. Any head-start that learners can secure before the start of the year, and then get the reading done early, will give them a major advantage. And you never know that they might find them interesting as well. Follow the links above if you want to look at the reading lists. A little tip – the reading suggestions with [E] are what the exam questions are based on.

Coffee Roaster Podcast No Two

Coffee Roaster Podcast No Two

On Monday evening it was the Podcast Club at the Coffee Counter on Bowling Green Street in Leicester. I’m experimenting with a regular, weekly podcast to try and find a more social way of developing content that is interesting to discuss between a small group of people. There is no great plan or expectation about it, just a bit of informal chat and some random music. The idea is to meet each week and to talk about how it is we are social these days, especially when we have so much access to social media.

Talking of which, on Thursday I went to the latest Bike Lounge, which is a social occasion for people who are interested in all things cycling. This week the guest speaker was Mike from Bone-Shaker Magazine, who talked about how the magazine started and what topics they cover. It was really cool to hear about the Bristol vibe that gave birth to the magazine, and how it has grown into something of a publishing phenomenon.

Mike from Boneshaker at Bike Lounge

Mike from Boneshaker at Bike Lounge

Bike Lounge takes place at 96 Degrees Cafe on Braunstone Gate in Leicester. My only wish is that they are open in the evening more often, as it was really nice to sit in a cafe for the evening and just socialise. I’m looking forward to the next event that Dave Weight organises, perhaps we can record it as a podcast and share it with people wider afield as well.

On Wednesday I went to an address by the DMU Vice Chancellor, which took place in the new Art & Design building. It’s pretty impressive inside, and with a cracking view of the Queens Building, which has gained a new lease of life by being cleaned-up and opened-up. I might be looking out for a niche in the new building to sit and work rather than sitting in the office!

20160913_084254218_iosSo I got to Friday and achieved my goal of writing my exams, so I took a break on Friday evening and just watched a movie. Then this morning I’ve been into BBC Leicester to do the newspaper review. Luckily I’m an early-bird, so I went for a run at 6am and got to BBC Leicester for 8am to read the papers. Now I can relax and drink coffee because I’ve not got anything else planned for the day. Hurray!!

Jun 282016
 

The ramifications of the result of the referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union are going to reverberate for some time. Not only will the decision to leave the EU mean changes to our economy and political life, but they will also have a significant impact on the way that we think about and undertake community media in the United Kingdom as well.

As supporters of community media adjust to this new reality, it is worth sharing some thoughts about the kind of responses that community media advocates might think about. Depending on your point of view, thinking about what got us into this mess, and what might we do to work through it so we can get the best out of it?

The response of community media supporters at this time will shape the future relationships that community media sustains in times to come. We don’t have any idea at this stage how commercial and public service media will continue to be regulated in the United Kingdom, and what changes might come about as a result of the changing legal and regulatory regimes.

One thing that I hope that can be agreed is that the success of the leave campaign was due in large part to a sense of frustration and indignation at the manner in which our economy and civic life had been playing out.

It certainly became progressively harder to keep community media groups running and focussed as government cuts and austerity hit local communities, but there are other factors that are associated with the general sense of frustration. Community media has been run on a shoe-string for years now, a fact that has been pointed out to government by the Community Media Association on many occasions.

One example that typifies this sense of frustration is the rise of the zombie town, for example, in which every high-street is identical, and populated by the same chain stores and brands? These towns give little opportunity for networks of independent and local businesses to take-root and play a strong role in civic life.

I’ve thought for some time now that it is pointless travelling around the United Kingdom because the high-streets are all the same. Is this a factor in the sense of frustration? Did people become frustrated because they have been cut-off from a clear, independent sense of local identity?

Like the high-street, local media has been under considerable pressure for some time now. Newspapers have been squeezed-out because they haven’t been profitable enough. Local commercial radio stations have been squeezed out as the international conglomerates have built chains of stations around formulas, brands and centralised marketing.

Local commercial radio in the United Kingdom is homogenised, formulaic and repetitive, with little sense of local identity. Playing local travel news in between Justin Bieber tracks isn’t doing anything to foster local expression and understanding.

In hoc only to the needs of advertisers the commercial radio companies have forgotten the listeners needs, and killed-off the chance that radio might be a positive and creative forum for discussion, ideas and local identity.

The BBC doesn’t come away from these events with any glory either. The narrow and condescending programming brief that is given to BBC Local Radio is fascicle and self-serving. Prone to being ‘nostalgia’ radio, BBC local stations have been prevented from fostering a local identity.

Just a change of accents from one station to the next, yet the content is mostly identical.

The BBC Local Radio music playlists are centrally managed, leading to a generic sound that is the same everywhere. No local experimentation, discovery or challenge. Just Daft Punk and Lionel Ritche on endless repeat.

BBC Local Radio should be a place of vibrant, integrated community debate and discussion. Did BBC Local Radio tap into the resentment that was expressed in the referendum, or where BBC Local Radio producers just as surprised as everyone else in the media?

It is often said, and always worth repeating, that the strength of community media is the principle that community media is about people representing themselves. Community media has a proud tradition of supporting community discussion and communication, but community media has been chronically underfunded for a long, long time.

This underfunding, and a lack of active government support, both national and local, has left many community media groups clinging on, not able to develop, grow or expand their services. Everyone I know in community media feels lucky just to have survived.

The Ofcom Broadcast Rules stifle debate and creative reposes to differences of community opinion because they have to be packaged in a ‘balanced’ approach, which for many community media groups is out of their reach given the legalistic framework and ramifications if you get it wrong.

This dereliction of duty by Ofcom to foster and support community media, would be pardonable if Ofcom actually gave some support to community media groups to meet the legal challenges of broadcasting. However, all that Ofcom offers is a PowerPoint presentation based on the complex legal documents they circulate to all broadcasters, regardless of size and status.

Community media emerged from lack of civic support as risk-averse. More often community media groups avoid any controversial topics, news or discussion. This has had a negative effect on civic discussion and compounds the democratic deficit and lack of engagement many people experience.

Four million people voted for UKIP at the last general election, and they have just one MP in parliament. Where do these voices get heard in our local communities? Why are political discussions only left to a few high-profile celebrity politicians on national, centralised stations?

Why aren’t the day-to-day issues of community life shared and expressed in community media forums?

The ideal of community media is for communities to speak to of themselves and to themselves, while also speaking with other communities. The challenge is to do this in a way that fosters understanding and tolerance through shared engagement.

This is a message that needs to be shouted from the rooftops by community media advocates, particularly as people try to make sense of the result of the referendum. We have a fantastic opportunity with community media to foster and support communities through open and challenging dialogue, as long as the framework of support is put in place by government.

The alternative is that community media advocates declare their independence and go off and do their own things, using the new social media technologies that are replacing mass media anyway.

I intend to give this matter some serious thought and I’m keen to hear what other people think about it. Is this a moment for community media to step-up and embrace the opportunity to help heal our divided communities by helping them to listen to and understand one another?

Apr 132014
 

A curious article in Today’s Sunday Telegraph by Johnathan Maitland, argued that the BBC should be butchered and broken up so that only the news division remains, and all other content production and services are put out to the private sector. According to Maitland we should “Transfer all in-house radio and TV production – bar news and current affairs – to the independent sector.” Keeping only a “skeleton staff of essential personnel.” Maitland thinks we should pay no more than £20 for this residual service, and that the private sector would be able to innovate as part of a free market in ways that the stuffy-old Beeb cant because of it’s layers of Bureaucracy.

Here’s a more radical alternative. Why not turn the BBC into a network of members co-operatives, each with a local membership based on their existing local radio station profile, that are then federated regionally and nationally. Everyone who pays their licence fee gets a voice at a local level, and the chance to elect representatives at a regional and national level.

The BBC is funded by a tax and yet there is no direct representation. There has been a whole lot of centralisation over recent years, both in the public sector and in the private sector, that has diminished the independent local identity of our counties, towns, cities and regions. The programmes and services that the BBC offers are subject to the market forces that drives global media in the same way that Amazon and Netflix are hammering home with their on-demand programming.

The sorry state of BBC Local Radio and Television, however, with it’s generic programming, limited involvement of the public and standardised marketing, means that it’s almost impossible to innovate and provide local service that people actually want, and that are distinctive in this new pluralistic and plentiful media age.

If each individual station was an autonomous members co-op, with the right to withhold part of their funding to the regional and nation networks, then they would have a lot of clout. They could involve people in their local area more directly in programmes and programme making.

The BBC could become the first national media organisation to encourage mass participation in making and producing content. The BBC could become a local media training provider for media, working with colleges and universities to give room for alternative and marginalised voices that are presently excluded at the moment.

We’d have to do away with the Ofcom Broadcasting Regulations, mind. I’m sure that would be a relief given that they are a straightjacket on democratic and civic representation. Instead we’d have to put a system in place that would allow ordinary people to challenge the powerful in their own words and without the threat of legal action or hefty fines being imposed by the censor. With all the knowledge and expertise that the BBC attracts, that shouldn’t be hard to work out how to do it responsibly and ethically though.

So, Jonathan, rather than resorting to the tired-old thinking that only the private sector and the market can sort out the BBC, lets have some genuinely radical thinking and put the decision making power in the hands of the people who pay for it – or don’t you trust them?