Jun 282017
 

The horror of the Grenfell Tower fire has highlighted for us all the issue of social marginalisation and voice poverty. If you need evidence of how divided communities in this country are, the proof is staring at us in the form of the smouldering shell of a tower block that was once home to hundreds of families who had settled in London in the hope of building a better life.

But if people living in the richest borough in London are not being heard or understood, how many other people and communities up and down the United Kingdom are likewise not getting heard?

The shock of what has just taken place in London should be a worry for us all. Not just for what it says about fire regulation and social policy, but for what it says about communities that have important issues to talk about, and who want to contribute to the ongoing debates about what makes us stronger.

After years of vilification and whipped-up hatred by politicians and newspapers, often to suit narrow political or business interests, it has taken a disaster of this magnitude to see through the deception that being poor isn’t, and never has been, a free-ride.

The stark fact has come to the fore, that people and communities across the United Kingdom are seemingly powerless to act against entrenched local authority bureaucracy, especially when it is entwined with deregulated and unaccountable commercial business interests.

Having been excluded from national debates, vilified for their social differences, or worse, disregarded as legitimate citizens, the anger that is being expressed on the streets of Kensington and Chelsea is understandable. If you push down on people for long enough, eventually they will push back.

This means that the challenge of living together in harmony, in integrated communities, for the mutual benefit of all, is back on the agenda as the defining worry of our age. However, after almost a decade of austerity, the absence of practical support for shared social cooperation, which promotes understanding and mutual engagement, has meant that our communities are more divided and more disenchanted.

None of this is helped by the centralised, concentrated and narrow model of media regulation that we have in the UK, which is clearly not fit for the purpose of community self-representation. The market-based model of local media is letting us down.

Everywhere there has been a hollowing-out of local representation. Local newspapers are put together from press-releases in distant towns. Local radio stations regurgitate nostalgic chat and play-listed music that is a comfort blanket for some, but an irrelevance for many.

Social media is the disrupting influence in this process, as social media platforms are able to demonstrate a proliferation of voices, issues, creativity, obduracy, concern, and anger. Social media has given a platform for many different alternative voices to come forward, though this is a process that can work both ways.

The expression of consternation and indignation that is being voiced, however, is as likely to come from the right – with those who want to exclude marginalised communities and demonise them – as much as it comes from those on the left, who want to embrace and celebrate social differences.

The alternative to a trusted and responsive media, we are so often told, is to share our own news and ideas on social media. But this has also highlighted that many of our traditional media outlets, newspapers and broadcasters, have too much in common, and are chasing the same narrow expectations of shareholder value and profit.

The concentration of ownership of British media, in the hands of fewer and fewer multinational corporations, that are all chasing the same advertising revenues, means that audiences are only ever considered in ways that are constricted, homogenous and static, all to please their sponsors.

It’s frustrating then, that community media is seldom acknowledged as a practical and sustainable alternative to mainstream media. Especially as community media is well placed as a community movement that embraces diversity, self-expression and shared cultural understanding.

Had community media been able to provide a space for voices blocked by the mainstream media and political parties, then the simmering resentment that resulted in the Brexit vote might have found an outlet. Instead, the mainstream media where preoccupied by a wave of jingoistic nationalism that failed to pick-up on the experience of many people living in the left-behind communities who have not shared in the new prosperity offered to only a few by the free market.

Community media in the United Kingdom, however, is desperately underfunded and actively marginalised by speculative commercial interests. If young people and others are turning to extremism as they search for radical answers, because they can feel that they are part of something, then we need to invest in alternatives media spaces that cuts-off extremism and renews our sense of community as an active and enriching set of social practices.

In Germany, the Federal Agency for Civic Education gets federal funding in order to promote understanding of political issues, intensify awareness of democratic cultures, and promotes the political process as something that all citizens can participate in.

Clearly, work needs to be done so that communities are able to share information in responsible ways, be media literate, and learn to question what they are told. But it is only by investing in community-led solutions, that offer people a chance to learn about each other, founded on the ability to participate in the life of their neighbourhood, its civic life, that we are able to renew and strengthen our sense of community.

Community media is a movement of people who want to see change through locally empowered and self-determined voices that are accountable through local participation in media of all kinds. Community media is a movement of people who think globally, but act locally. Community media is a movement that calls for all parties aspiring to government to invest in social and civic spaces that they can cherish.

Community media is about recognising and supporting the right to speak out, about giving back control of media to local communities. Allowing communities to hold their representatives and administrators to account. Investing in support for high quality, grassroots journalism. Including young people in the democratic process. Valuing all voices, from all backgrounds and abilities. Demystify media and the structures built around it. Changing the broadcasting regulations to support wider debate is now essential.

Access to community media should be seen as a right, and not dismissed as a hobby or plaything. But community media can only contribute to the building of a better society if people have time to volunteer, and the resources to discuss, debate and question issues that are relevant to them.

By offering widespread community media opportunities everywhere, and for all people, it will be possible to reach people who are held at the margins, especially those who other media do not understand or cannot represent. Community media is about promoting access for everyone, regardless of age, gender, race, ability, income or any other factor.

This means maintaining the core principles of community radio, which means that there is an alternative media movement that is not run by the state, that is not for profit, which is locally owned and accountable, and which can lead the way in bringing about deeper social change. As media technologies change, such as community television, or small-scale digital radio, we have to ensure that communities have priority over narrow commercial interests.

Funding for community media has to be increased substantially. Ofcom presently gives £400,00 each year to support community radio in the UK, but the BBC spends ten times that on taxis each year. We need to establish flexible and dedicated funds for all types of community media projects, channels and groups, that support reasonable and fair payments for the services community media provide, through training programmes and the promotion of community development campaigns.

Investing in education and learning opportunities through and with community media means recognising community media’s contribution to our civic and social life. Celebrating and valuing the achievements of the community media movement in a way that cherishes the positive impact we can all have on the wellbeing of individuals and communities, is essential.

By working closely with government and community focussed partners it is possible to embed and secure new opportunities for community media participation. Being included in all important conversations about regulation, legislation and resource planning is essential.

Principally, this is about promoting the development and use of existing and emerging media platforms for sharing the creative work of communities. This is not just about mirroring the way that mainstream media works, but instead, it’s about how we understand and support the artistic and creative value of community media, in which we are able to provide physical and virtual spaces for communities to take creative risk and find their voice.

Those of us in the community media movement know there is a different way, and that ordinary people can collaborate, work together on independent platforms, that are owned and run by local communities. Community media has been quietly growing in the background across the United Kingdom, using alternative business models that are not driven solely by advertising, but that embrace the work and the vitality of social enterprises, that increase access, thereby earning money from training, running inclusive membership schemes, and much more.

Community media has been desperately underfunded. The community media movement has to fight for the meagre resources that it’s got. However, community media tells us something about the way forward. That the ownership of media needs to be with everyone and not just a few. People need to tell their own stories, recognising that our differences and our diversity are our strengths.

May 082017
 
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After missing last weeks episode of the Round the Counter podcast because I was ill, this week we are back with a bang, or should that be a rant. This week Dave Weight, Ben Archer and Rob Watson spent most of our time talking about the dysfunction of British politics. We got so engrossed that we even forgot to play any music. We’ll rectify that next week.

Apr 242017
 
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In today’s Round the Counter Podcast, with Ben Archer, Dave Weight and myself, we chatted about the General Election, music that suits the moods of troubled political times, and Ben’s recent visit to Vienna. Plus we had music from Simple Minds, Gang of Four, Superfood, Television and Idols.

Apr 172017
 
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This weeks podcast is a little different, Dave Weight and I aren’t in the office, but in my living room instead. We have a report from when we went to the Format Festival in Derby, the Big Gold Dream on the BBC iPlayer about Scottish Punk and New Wave. We’ve got music from Fire Engines, Scars and Blia Barguild with Teho Teardo.

Apr 102017
 
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Tonight’s podcast brings Dave Weight and Rob Watson back after a week away. Chatting about designer Neville Brody, debunking fake news at Snopes, and music from LCD Sound System, Torn Sail, Curtis Mayfield, Jake Houlsby and Mario Batkovic.

 

Mar 272017
 
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Tonight’s Round the Counter podcast, number thirty, with Dave Weight and myself. We chatted about stuff we’ve watched and read recently, as well as playing some interesting music.

Mar 202017
 
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Tonight’s Round the Counter Podcast was with Dave Weight and Rob Watson. We chatted about the new Sleaford Mods film, Fika coffee culture and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Some great music from Human League, Suzzie Quatro.

Mar 132017
 
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Tonight’s Round the Counter podcast was with Ben Archer, David Weight, and myself, Rob Watson. We chatted about anxiety management, sofa movies, acoustic spaces for contemplation and photography.

Mar 092017
 

It’s getting close to the end of the lecture series for my social media and my community media modules. It’s been a fascinating process to work through this year, as I’ve made some changes to the approach that I’ve brought to the learning opportunities. I’ve shifted from a ‘teaching’ style approach, to a ‘mentoring’ style. The main difference is that I’ve been using more reflexive and developmental approaches that emphasis self-directed learning and engagement, which give learners the opportunity to discover and explore new ideas and opportunities for social media practice.

We still seem to be dominated by ‘instruction’ as the main form of learning practice, especially when it comes to learning how to use media technologies and applications. This limits the focus of learning, in my experience to a ‘transactional’ approach that only recognises what people are able to undertake given the right instructions, whereas we might be serving the learners better if we can offer them opportunities to discover something about themselves in the process of learning?

This is a more open-ended approach, and it requires a less bounded and fixed view of the subject and the steps that might be involved for learners to gain mastery over that subject content. I’ve long thought of myself as a guide for learning, or a learning partner, who has a modicum of experience, but who in engaged in the same process of discovery and emergence that the less experienced learners are. This approach has its risks, in that learners can often feel that they are working in an unstructured process, however, if the process is well explained and is clearly recognisable, then learners can make the connections for themselves quite easily.

Playing Cards at the Start of Term

Last year I started off the first-year social media module by getting learners to play cards together in small groups. This had the advantage of learners being able to get to know each other, it took them away from the computer screens that they would otherwise be sitting at, and it gave them an opportunity to learn from each other’s experience. The simple process of learning to play cards is an incredibly effective way to impart knowledge and a sense of understanding of the rules of a game. Most learners pick card games up instinctively without giving it a second thought.

What I’ve tried to bring out in the module is a sense of social collaboration, so the coursework projects are designed around the idea that learners will form a social group who will undertake a social project, something that they can’t do virtually, but have to meet-up and interact with other people if it is to be successful. So there is a cake making group, a five-a-side football group, a film podcast group, a pub games group, and so on. The blogs that learners write about these activities are posted to the DIY-DMU site on the DMU Commons.

DIY-DMU Bloggs

Underpinning this activity is a layer of reflection using blogs and social media posts that learners can use to explain and identify what works in their social activities and what they have learnt. This is a process of development in which learners are expected to post content as they go along, so that they can incorporate their experiences and the comments and feedback that they are receiving from other learners on the module. As this is a social activity learners can look at each other’s blogs and are able to make improvements and changes to their style of blogging based on what they have seen that other people are writing. It’s a very social way of learning that doesn’t require a heavy-handed teacher to be pushing learners to do thing in a specific way and in line with a set of regulations.

Reflexive Blogs

As part of the process of reflection I’ve asked learners to include a reflective video blog, lasting about two minutes, in which they tell me what they have learnt. A couple of weeks ago we spent some time in the workshop looking at how these kind of video blogs work, and how they are understood by people watching them. Things like body language, eye movement and relating an extended set of thoughts emerged as fascinating things to watch out for, and to learn from. I got this idea from the videos that I’ve been making myself to introduce and summarise the topics that are being discussed in the lectures each week. This is part of the DMU Universal Design for Learning scheme, which seeks to make learning as accessible as possible for learners.

It was a revelation to me that I gained and learnt from making these videos, as it’s almost impossible to get feedback from colleagues as to the suitability of the lecture content I’m producing. We are all pressed for time, and the informal reflexive conversations that we used to hold over a cup of tea are less likely to happen. So checking-in with myself by recording these videos each week has been a great help. Hopefully learners will find the techniques of video-blogging to be equally as useful and an effective way to enhance their self-directed learning.

It’s also been interesting to experiment with different sensory-based techniques of learning, such as the Talkaoke session that we held, and the play-dough session. The dominant mode of information delivery in most learning sessions tends to be auditory and visual. What has been interesting has been the introduction of kinaesthetic, modelling, schematic and discursive forms of learning that go beyond the simple and well-tired techniques of ‘chalk-and-talk’.

At the end of the day, what I’m trying to achieve is confidence in extended thinking. This is why I’m still a fan of hand-written exams, because it’s an opportunity to engage the hand and the brain in a different kind of thought process, one that brings out a deeper form of thinking that can’t be deflected so easily by interactive media, the cut-and-paste mentality of writing, and the always-on media consumption that is encouraged these days. Sitting and contemplating is a difficult thing to do, but if we learn how to do it well, then we gain maturity and become something more authentic in the process. People who can look at a situation, evaluate it and develop an analysis, rather than just accepting it at face value.

I’ve got some ideas of how I want to develop these forms of learning practice, so I’ll keep posting blogs and videos that explain how these might work and be incorporate into the modules in the future.

Mar 082017
 

This is a brief overview of the topics that will be covered in the final lecture for TECH2503 Community Media Production.