Tag Archives: newsnet

Update from the Media Trust’s Newsnet

The other day I wrote briefly about developments in the hyperlocal field, with news of the Institute of Community Reporters and Saturday’s Talk About Local conference. I checked in at the Media Trust’s Newsnet, and enquired about latest development in their project, which I’ve written lots about in the past. It is a communication flagship of the Big Lottery Fund People Powered Change programme.

The always-helpful marketing director  Gavin Sheppard provided a very full update, which I’m delighted to quote here:

Hi David, interesting piece – totally agree with Gary’s views about the difference between citizen journalism and community reporting, and actually supports our view, I think, that it’s not as much what it’s called that matters as what people are doing and why it matters to them.

We’ve been focusing more on community reporting and community media and as you know will be supporting innovation in these areas with some inspiring voices grant awards via the newsnet forums.

We’ve also been appointing more beacon projects, some of whom we’re working with intensively to help amplify what they’re doing locally and all of whom are great reference points for anyone interested in how this kind of thing is manifested in different communities.

We’ve launched a programme to support beacon projects with equipment and have been providing bespoke training and mentoring locally (Adam has a blog of some of the people he’s worked with). We’ve continued to increase the number of newsnet members, who are starting to use the online resources to develop their own local projects.

We’ve increased the number of UK360 community news shows to one per week and have had a great response from the 60 communities who have featured in the show as well as from viewers (“Having taken the time and effort to produce a short film that we believe is a cut above the usual community production, we looked around for other outlets that might help us to get our message across and were surprised to discover UK360 – a series with high production values that was already broadcasting on Freeview”) and even the Daily Mail (who say “This thoroughly worthwhile weekly magazine brings community stories to life”).

We’re also broadcasting London360, which is focused on untold community stories in the capital and is made by a team of volunteer young journalists, as well as a wealth of other community content through Community Channel online and on TV (Here’s the TV schedule), including our new Arts360 strand which aims to engage young people in arts and cultural reporting.
Community Newswire, which we provide in partnership with The Press Association, is up to full capacity and has already distributed more than 4,000 community and charity stories into the mainstream local, regional and national media around the UK. We’re going to start geo-tagging that content and making the feed more widely available also.

We’ve launched Local360 in beta at communitychannel.org, which currently contains stories from newswire, UK360 and London360, but which will start to include community reporter content from around the country uploaded via newsnet. This feed is being made available to other platforms and we plan to make it available to anyone who wants it, either for their own consumption or for publication on their own local sites etc.

We’re working with Will Perrin and his teams to further develop the newsnet resources and find our next round of beacon projects, and are supporting this weekend’s unconference. We are also working with Jacqui and her team at the Community Media Association to provide more outlets for their great content and with NESTA as a partner in their Destination Local project as well as a number of partner projects, such as the Village SOS events, at which we’re providing community media workshops.

Next steps for us are to get the Local360 content feed working well and finding new outlets for it, perhaps working with partner organisations to surface the content in innovative new ways, increasing the number of beacon projects and providing more support to them as well as highlighting them as an inspiration to other communities who may want to pursue community media, and supporting other organisations with resources, content and outlets to amplify their work and bring it to new audiences and increase their reach and impact locally.

With Newsnet focussed on links to mainstream media and TV output, as well as supporting beacon projects; accredited training from PVM, and Talk About Local’s growing network and hands-on support for sites, there’s a rich of complementary activities in the hyperlocal field.

GlobalNet21 hub to boost Newsnet coverage

The Media Trust’s Newsnet is following up its commitment to feature a wider range of community media, on a number of fronts. Earlier stories here.

There’s an offer of five awards of £500 for “inspiring stories from across the UK of how community media, citizen journalism and community reporting have contributed to positive change in local communities”. A couple of interesting pitches are in the forum already.

In addition there’s a great demonstration of the potential of community media by Newsnet staffer Adam Perry:

I made a short video this weekend with Kirkbymoorside supporters of Safe and Sound Homes, a York-based charity that I volunteer for that works to prevent youth homelessness.  Supporters were holding a sleepout to raise funds and you can see the resulting video about their experiences here.  As well as the video my son, who has an interest in photography took the photos, and the weekend became a good example of using all the free tools we could find to get the message out to the community and to SASH’s supporters across North Yorkshire; Clare Usher from SASH put together a summary using Storify which you can see here.
During the course of the weekend I also had the good fortune to meet Kirkbymoorside resident and newsnet member Gareth Jenkins who runs The Kirkbymoorside Town Blog, and is setting up blogs for Helmsley and Pickering as well.  We didn’t get much of a chance to chat as the work for the sleepout took up most of the time, but I’m looking forward to catching up with Gareth very soon to find out more about the work he’s doing in these communities and the challenges of building an audience.

I posted a rather provocative piece in Newsnet forums following my post on this blog about the apparently narrow focus on citizen journalism … and I’m glad to welcome new developments, and a promise there from Alex Delany of improvements to the Newsnet site.

An even more interesting development could be the linkage with Globanet21, being launched on March 28 at an event at Channel 4.

Francis Sealey, Christina Wiltshire and supporters have built Globalnet 21 to a membership of 3,800 through a mixture of events and webinars and other activities. I took part in a webinar the other day on Strengthening Civil Society through social media, and was very impressed with both organisation and contributions. The March 28 event intro says:

Ensuring people have a voice in the public square of debate and discussion is vital in any democracy. We try to enable this through our meetings, webinars and podcasts.

We are now taking this one step further.The Media Trust has now invited us to become a Beacon Hub for their lottery funded Citizen Journalist project. This will link us to a Single Publishing Interface to enable those stories that members want to distribute more widely to be published to media partners (BBC, ITV, local and national press.) They will also be available on our own Blog Podcasting Channel and through the Media Trust.

At this meeting we will learn what it means to be a Beacon Hub and how our members can get their stories into the public domain whether they be blogs, photojournalism or podcasts. Not only will we find out about Beacon Hubs and the work of the Media Trust but also we will discuss Blogging and how this is an important tool of citizen journalism and Photojournalism and our plans for an Exhibition of this in May.


We bring a special dimension to the work the Media Trust does by offering material through our members who are interested in the big issues of the present century, want to discuss them, give stories and case studies to illustrate them and create a socially responsible society that holds those who take decisions to account.

If Globalnet21 can encourage network members to post, it should provide a rich source of content for Newsnet.

Meanwhile, over at the RSA, we are discussing how digital champions and reporters can animate online networks for the 27,000-strong Fellowship. Maybe there will be a chance to share experience.


More rebranding of citizen media as “journalism”. Sigh

The Guardian voluntary sector network has an interesting provocative piece headlined How citizen journalism is setting the local agenda which goes on to say:

Hyper-local news, websites and blogs are inextricably linked to cohesion and engagement within communities.

Adding in a caption:

Many local bloggers and writers may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists, but they are telling their story and connecting local people.

The first point is supported by the Networked Neighbourhoods research by Hugh Flouch and Kevin Harris, though not cited in the piece.

Mandeep Hothi, also writing recently for the Guardian, has a nuanced view – as I’m sure do Kevin and Hugh – about the role of social media in communities. Mandeep wrote:

Our experience suggests that social media is not the shortcut to higher participation that we all hoped it might be. On the websites and social networks we helped residents set up, the numbers of people who are engaging in conversation with each other is quite small. It varies amongst sites, but the highest is around 10% of network members.

If you read both studies, they show how complex is the role of new media in the local communication ecosystem, that’s made up of many informal and formal relationships, enhanced or disrupted by the effort of newspapers, radio, TV, blogs, websites, Twitter etc

… which is why I bridled got cross about the Guardian piece’s second point, which implies that local online writers and bloggers should be branded (whether they like it or not) as citizen journalists. Some may like the label, other may feel that “journalist” is not currently a term that engenders a lot of trust among citizens, however unfair that may be to the majority that do an honest job.

The Guardian piece is written by Gavin Sheppard, marketing director at the Media Trust, who are running Newsnet, supported by the Big Lottery Fund as part of People Powered Change. I’ve written lots before about Newsnet and its role in networking civil society, including an early challenge on How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change?

After citing the excellent work of the Preston blog in a campaign, Gavin writes:

The Poynter Street residents, like many communities across the country, may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists, but they are telling their local story, connecting with others and harnessing support for local people. They are reflecting many of the qualities of citizen journalism. This dedication to the local community deserves to be nurtured and supported and can benefit from learning, connecting and sharing with others.

My challenge is on two fronts. First, that while mainstream journalism is essential for democracy, challenging powerful institutions, bravely reporting from wars and disasters … and keeping us amused … the news values of conflict, crisis, celebrity aren’t necessarily helpful to collaboration and community building, which is important in civic life. Thanks to Nick Booth of Podnosh for highlighting this a few years back.

So while it is hugely important that some bloggers, like those in Preston, take on – and sometimes improve on – the reducing role of local papers in running campaigns and holding councils to account, “journalism” is only a part of the community media that we need.

Some bloggers and users of social media in local communities want to call themselves citizen journalists, and hopefully take on the best aspects of journalism in being inquisitive on behalf of others, and “speaking truth to power”. Fine …. but to what code do they operate in the way that they report? And are they just a loud voice in the community … the equivalent of those who can dominate public meetings? Some are hugely ethical, collaborative, supportive of others … some less so. As journalists they don’t necessarily “connect local people”: that’s more of a role for community organisers and builders.

We need a discussion around citizen journalism in parallel with that about mainstream journalism. We know mainstream journalism has to be, in part, about making money for the proprietors, balanced with a societal role. What are the equivalent tensions in citizen journalism?

At the same time, the majority of those using social media in an enormous variety of ways for social impact do not choose to call themselves “journalists”. I explored this wide use of social technology with co-authors Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson in the NESTA-funded publication Social by Social a couple of years ago.

So my second point is that trying to brand citizen media as citizen journalists is unhelpful. If people “may not recognise themselves as citizen journalists” it’s not for the Media Trust to say that they are.

I think that Newsnet – which is funded £1.89 million by those of us who buy lottery tickets – could both play an important role in this discussion, and help amplify the work of those using community media. Adam Perry is indeed blogging about that on Newsnet.

If Newsnet is going to stick to supporting “journalism” then we need some other ways to connect and amplify the use of social media for local social good … as I rambled on about here: The challenge of networking civil society.

Although Newsnet was funded by BIG last year, and “launched”  five weeks ago, it has yet to carry any news: their “single publishing interface” is still promised (see comments). The site is currently simple a set of blogs and forums within the Media Trust site (see discussion).

So yes, let’s applaud the best of citizen journalism, but not put easy branding above some very complex substance.

Disclosure: I worked for Big Lottery Fund last year exploring their role as more than a funder.

Note to self: there’s another potential client gone. That’s the problem with being a social reporter … the critical journalist in me keeps breaking out.

The challenge of networking civil society

Summary: local activists and volunteers need to share their achievements and experience in hard times. The publicly-funded sites for this have some limitations, and  smaller sites, mainly run by volunteers, don’t have the resources to grow. Is there scope for more joining up, rather than further top-down solutions?

Government policies of localism and cuts to the voluntary sector are pushing citizens and community groups to do more for themselves on the ground, and find their own ways of learning from each other nationally. A couple of recent events prompted me to review what is available online.

The first event was an invite to chat informally to a new team in the government department of Communities and Local Government about the role of social reporting in helping sharing. It was very encouraging to meet a young team full of enthusiasm and enquiry, who describe their remit like this:

The neighbourhood engagement team are working to open up the conversation on neighbourhoods policy to a greater range of people: sharing enthusiasm, tapping into a wider pool of ideas and examples and exploring how government can best support those who want to have greater control and influence in their area. Workshops and online platforms will empower those active in the community to continue the conversation across professional silos, supporting each other to innovate in local arenas with less central government direction.

The second event was a webinar, organised by Globalnet21, on whether social networking can “help create a network of mutual independence that strengthens the countless groups that are the social glue of our civil society”.

That nudged me to prepare the slides that I posted earlier, based on work I did last year with Big Lottery Fund, as well as the blogging I’ve done here about social reporting. I’ve linked a lot in this piece so you can find starting points for your own research, and draw your own conclusions.

I started looking at what platforms are being developed to help people share – about which more later. However, as you’ll see from the slides, I was also emphasising that sharing is about networks, not one-stop-information-shops, and it is people who make that work. It takes people who have some digital literacy skills, with the support of facilitators. An excellent post by Tim Davies says it very well and is worth quoting at length:

When we look at a successful example of online collaboration the most obvious visible element of it is often the platform being used: whether it’s a Facebook group, or a custom-built intranet. Projects to support online learning, knowledge sharing or dialogue can quickly get bogged down in developing feature-lists for the platform they think they need – articulating grand architectural visions of a platform which will bring disparate conversations together, and which will resolve information-sharing bottlenecks in an organisation or network. But when you look closer at any successful online collaboration, you will see that it’s not the platform, but the people, that make it work.

People need opportunities, capabilities and supportive institutional cultures to make the most of the Internet for collaboration. The capabilities needed range from technical skills (and, on corporate networks, the permission) to install and use programs like Skype, to Internet literacies for creating hyper-links and sharing documents, and the social and media literacy to participate in horizontal conversations across different media.

But even skills and capabilities of the participants are not enough to make online collaboration work: there also needs to be a culture of sharing, recognising that the Internet changes the very logic of organisational structures, and means individuals need to be trusted and empowered to collaborate and communicate across organisational and national boundaries in pursuit of common goals.

Online collaboration also needs facilitation: from animateurs who can build community and keep conversations flowing, to technology stewards who can help individuals and groups to find the right ad-hoc tools for the sorts of sharing they are engaged in at that particular time. Online facilitators also need to work to ensure dialogues are inclusive – and to build bridges between online and offline dialogue. In my experience facilitating an online community of youth workers in the UK, or supporting social reporting at the Internet Governance Forum, the biggest barriers to online collaboration have been people’s lack of confidence in expressing themselves online, or easily-address technical skill shortages for uploading and embedding video, or following a conversation on Twitter.

Building the capacity of people and institutions, and changing cultures, so that online collaboration can work is far trickier than building a platform. But, it’s the only way to support truly inclusive dialogue and knowledge-sharing. Plus, when we focus on skills and capabilities, we don’t limit the sorts of purposes they can be put to. A platform has a specific focus and a limited scope: sharing skills lays the foundation for people to participate in a far wider range of online opportunities in the future.

The challenge of supporting sharing and local innovation was picked up last year by the Big Lottery Fund (BIG) under its banner of People Powered Change, with investments of £5.76 million in a range of programmes including Your Square Mile and the Media Trust’s Newsnet, as I first wrote about here, and followed up later. I then worked with BIG for a few months exploring, with John Popham, how they might be more than a funder. Posts here.

As part of that work I put together a Netvibes dashboard taking feeds from the main community and voluntary sector sites.

I’m a little circumspect in what follows, because BIG is a client, and I know the people involved in Newsnet and Your Square Mile, and admire what they are trying to achieve.

Here’s Linda Quinn of BIG,  Gavin Sheppard on Newsnet,  Paul Twivy of Your Square Mile, in interviews last year.

The bad news is that at present it is almost impossible to find out what is going on, where to get help, how to to connect. As I aimed to show in this slide from the webinar (pdf download), there’s a big gap between local networking and national, with many unconnected initiatives in between.

I know it is early days, but as well as the CLG neighbourhoods team work, further announcements are due soon from BIG about People Powered Change (see below), so it is a good time to review progress so far, and how to build on or complement those investments. We have the elements of a rich knowledge ecosystem if we can join them up.

Your Square Mile (£830,000) has a powerful vision of what people may need locally, and a site that does a smart job of aggregating useful data and advising people about local services and the part they may play. There is currently no networking, but that may be a feature of next stage development. Baroness Newlove, Government’s Champion for Active Safer Communities, favours the site as the hub for community activists, as I reported earlier.

In addition Newsnet (£1.89 million)  has a vision of local hubs to connect a network of citizen journalists. Their site has some limitations, but there is interesting discussion and some good examples of hubs, with ways to upload and network news promised later.

In my view something like Newsnet has great potential if it can blend the dynamic of community reporting with citizens finding their own voices to tell their own stories. However this will take time, and on current plans Newsnet site will be archived in two years, when BIG funding ends. We can’t reckon it will be a long-term element in the mix (however, see update below).

Meanwhile a range of unfunded online communities like Our Society, ABCDEurope, and NatCan are doing well in each attracting hundreds of members and a wide range of discussion and resources. Networks like Transition TownsFiery Spirits and i-volunteer show what is possible with some modest investment in platform, and far more facilitation. Tim Davies facilitates Youth Work Online here.

(Disclosure: I’m one of the group running Our Society).

Mandeep Hothi, writing for Guardian Voluntary Sector Network, reports on the results of some other BIG-funded work supported by DCLG’s Empowerment Fund, confirming again that investment in social media and technology is not in itself the answer. It is people who connect. Social media can amplify and assist … but we need to understand the fine grain of how that works as a blend of face-to-face, SMS, email, forums, Facebook and other methods.

Another of the People Powered Change partners, NESTA, are just beginning a big programme of research and development in the field of hyperlocal communications. Interest from the BBC may help catalyse a network of hyperlocal activists in London.

So … we know that just investing in technology isn’t the answer, and that instead it would help to improve and support the digital literacy of activists. We know there are a number of programmes that could join up to achieve this: I’ve only highlighted a few.

But who is going to help bring it together? Big Lottery Fund is a strong supporter of the idea of asset based community development: making the most of the resources that you have in any neighbourhood, rather than just looking at the problems and putting in more funds. Could BIG apply that philosophy to networking for civil society?

After the workshop we ran with BIG in December, Linda Quinn wrote:

We’ll then spend some time working our thoughts into an overall strategy that will inform a paper to our Committee in March. My sense is that much of what we discussed is about how we engage, how we share and how we collaborate. Some of this I think we can test out in pilots, some of it requires us to think how we might change our internal processes but all of it requires that we carry on the conversation with those who have helped us so far and hopefully will remain constructive critical friends and supporters in the future.

In drafting this post, I started at this point to write that Power Powered Change phase two, when announced, may be more about investment in people than in technology platforms, and that it might be developed in part by bringing together the various initiatives I’ve mentioned, and others, to co-design something  for the future.

However, I don’t know if that will be the case – and on reflection I don’t know that we need to wait on BIG … however welcome their support would be.

I then wondered whether there was more scope for joining up the smaller sites I mentioned – even if only by sharing newsletter items and some feeds, and having a shared signposting system of who is doing what where: a more accessible version of the Netvibes dashboard I developed.

Ideally this network of networks should be animated by some social reporting … helping people make sense of the civil society ecosystem, and joining up conversation. It would be the online equivalent of local community building, in this instance designed to make the most of the knowledge assets that we have.

What do you think? Is there a problem for activists trying to get information and advice, and connect with others? If so, should we follow Baroness Newlove’s suggestions, and focus on the development of one site, like Your Square Mile? Or should we try and build a knowledge ecoystem of smaller sites, and of civil society organisations better able to network online? (By we, I’m thinking of those who manage online communities or other civil society sites).

The NESTA hyperlocal research and development programme is very timely. Maybe we need something similar at national level.

Update: if you are interested in the big picture, Steve Dale has some deeply-researched slides and notes on The Future of social media and social networks

Update 2: I dropped a query about Media Trust plans into Newsnet discussions, and Gavin Sheppard responded:

“Whilst the BIG funding is for another two years, we’re committed to supporting the platform beyond that date. Obviously further development will depending on what funding is available to us, but I see no reason why the community can’t continue to grow beyond 2014″.

Media Trust launches Newsnet site and network

The Media Trust have launched their site for Newsnet, which aims to be “a UK-wide hub of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers, providing them with the tools and skills to get more from their local news, as well as learning from the experiences of others.

“The aim is to improve the quality and reach of these stories, through increased sharing amongst communities and distribution to mainstream media outlets, including Community Channel’s UK360 magazine show, which will broadcast some of the best community news stories”. read more »

Media Trust offers some answers on Newsnet

Earlier this week the Media Trust announced some new developments in its £1.89 million Newsnet programme, and Civil Society Governance reported:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

This caused some upset with others in the community reporting field – as I reported here, with some of the backstory. The upset was partly about the claim to be first, and partly a feeling that the Media Trust should be doing more to collaborate with existing networks. Gavin Sheppard, Marketing Director at the Trust and Community, came back with a long comment, and the offer of an interview.

read more »

Ask the Media Trust about Newsnet

My previous post about the Media Trust’s Newsnet raised some issue about the extent to which they are willing to partner with other organisations in the field.
It brought some comments, including one from Gavin Sheppard at the Trust, copied below, who also offered an interview.

I wondered how we could do one before Christmas, since I’ve just left London for the hols. Could the Trust shoot some video, if I and others came up with the questions? No problem, said the in-house filmmaker Adam Perry … usually in Leeds, but currently in London.

So here’s some starters, mainly gathered from conversations with others … and reflecting their concerns. Do add your own as a comment or tweeted @media_trust

* The Trust is very good at partnering with major media interests and sponsors – could that now extend to other community reporter organisations and networks?
* You are offering to partner with local reporting sites – but does that mainly mean promoting their content?
* Local sites are struggling to survive. Are there any deals you can broker that will help with sustainability?
* Would you join in a workshop to develop some joint approaches?

Gavin writes:

Media Trust’s belief that citizen journalism can go some way to filling the gap left by a diminishing local media is underpinned by research we commissioned from Goldsmiths Leverhulme Research Centre last year. Whilst we believe that our project is the first to bring together diverse resources and citizen journalism platforms and connect them with the mainstream media, we are certainly not claiming to be the first to support citizen journalism. Media Trust itself has led projects that create and distribute community content for many years.

The work that People’s Voice Media and many others have been doing in this area is testament to the need and effectiveness of citizen journalism. Our approach is to work with diverse partners, we hope including People’s Voice Media community reporters, to help them connect, share and access resources. Our role isn’t to prescribe a particular approach to community reporting, by way of a formal training programme such as that offered by People’s Voice, but to facilitate debate, innovation and inspiration. We are also adding a large-scale aggregation and distribution layer, using our Community Channel online and TV platform and our media partnerships, including with Press Association, to increase the profile of the wonderful community reporting that’s going on around the UK. We have spoken with People’s Voice Media, for example, about showcasing their content and would be very happy to consider it in the future, as we would with any other community or charity organisation. Our new UK360 programme, the second episode of which was broadcast last week, is dedicated to community stories produced locally.

Our approach is entirely focused on collaboration. The first example of this is our partnership with a number of beacons around the UK, including John Coster’s Citizen’s Eye in Leicester, rightly praised as a centre of excellence in citizen journalism. And we are delighted that John has agreed to chair our own advisory board on this subject. Adam, Alex, Sean, Jocelyn,myself and others in our team are spending a great deal of time touring the UK to identify partners and collaboration opportunities – anyone who would like to contribute, or who feels we might contribute to their work, whom we’re not already speaking with, please get in touch and have a conversation.

This partnership approach has been actively encouraged by the Big Lottery Fund, and is reflective of their approach to engagement, most recently led by some terrific work by David Wilcox and co in bringing together the People Powered Change partners. They have also been rightly keen that our partnerships extend to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and over the last few months my team and I have visited all of the countries and have agreed some great partnerships.

In context of this partnership approach, we accept that our choice of phrasing as “the first” is unfortunate. Whilst we believe our approach in its entirety to be unique, we wouldn’t pretend to be the first to support citizen journalism. Quite the opposite: if Goldsmiths hadn’t identified citizen journalism as having such potential, we may never have taken this approach.

Gavin Sheppard
Marketing director, Media Trust and Community Channel

We need to talk about Media Trust Newsnet

The big backgrounder story for UK community reporting at the moment is the roll out of Newsnet by the Media Trust, with a £1.89 million investment from the Big Lottery Fund as part of People powered Change. That was controversial at the time. The latest development is that the Trust have appointed three large commercial consultancies, with Civil Society Governance reporting:

The Media Trust describes newsnet as “the UK’s first online network of community reporters, citizen journalists and local storytellers”. The online portal aims to provide local people with a platform to connect and tell their local stories, as well as find resources and share ideas. The ultimate aim is to support community cohesion at a local, regional and national level.

I hear that this has further upset some people in the field who have been developing community reporting for a few years. There’s a feeling the Trust is failing to acknowledge or work with these other potential partners, so the Civil Society news headline “Media Trust collaborates to deliver citizen journalism project” rankles just a bit.

Community and social reporter types may be keeping their heads down (if they’ve heard the news) because Media Trust could be a client/news distributor, and anyway who wants to upset Big Lottery Fund (BIG).

However, comments are taking off under the story, with a strong challenge from Gary Copitch of People’s Voice Media, who have been running community reporter programmes for over three years. He says: “I am afraid to say this is just another example of an organisation who receives Lottery funding only to duplicate existing provision”.

Community media veteran Steve Thompson has been working in this field since 1997: “Folks should always be cautious about claiming “firsts” as there is nothing new under the sun”.

I can add an archive of material and activities going to to the mid 1990s, when a group of us set up UK Communities Online.

(Incidently, I couldn’t find any other coverage of this story … and there’s nothing on the Newnet blog or a Media Trust press release. Strange.)

I find it particularly difficult to write about this, because like others in the field would love to work on Newsnet. I know and respect the people involved, and recent had a very cordial interview with Adam Perry, and earlier with the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In addition, I’ve spent the last few months working with BIG on how they might develop People Powered Change. John Popham and I did that by a process of open exploration on socialreporters.net, summarised here, and leading up to a very creative workshop. BIG are now reflecting on future plans, with decisions at committee next March.

The focus of the work ended up around how BIG can be more than a funder, perhaps operating in addition as a broker and convenor to help nurture the development of existing activities as well as funding new ones. At local level BIG supports the idea of Asset Based Community Development, as I reported here. With hindsight, it might have been better if this approach had extended to the big investments made under the people Powered Change banner. I reflected on the launch here: People Powered Change needs ppchange communications.

It’s always tempting to over-flatter a client, but I must say how impressed I’ve been with the way that BIG staff have given John and I a free hand in reporting, and have now started some significant internal discussions triggered by the conversations that started. There’s particular problem for a funder in opening up and taking on additional roles, because there’s usually “give us the money” in the background.

So: how to report on this story, in a way that helps move things forward positively? What’s the storylines … beyond the easy controversy angle?

  • Is the criticism just sour grapes from some community media types jealous of new people in the field? The Media Trust does have the skills and resources to do things at scale. But shouldn’t they build in the skills of those with grassroots experience?
  • Is there a danger that the focus on “news” in Newsnet will miss the opportunity to bring to the surface deeper insights about the ways that people are taking action locally – the sort of thing revealed by the recent micro-mapping research?
  • Is BIG investment of public money (that is, our lottery punts) in Newsnet leading to some unfair competition with organisations like People’s Voice Media? I would be interested to hear also from Talk About Local, who do excellent work in the field as well.
  • Should BIG give some sort of steer to their People Powered Change beneficiaries – who are listed as partners, and not just grantees?

And have I just wrecked my chances of further work with BIG, and any relationship with Media Trust? Maybe – but I don’t think you can call yourself a reporter if those jobs that verge on consultancy prevent you writing about significant issues.

I think that the solution is fairly simple … if BIG will forgive a little cheekiness on the last day of my contract. How about convening an open event in the New Year around the role of community and social reporting in People Powered Change, inviting Media Trust and other interests along … and running that as a consensus-building workshop.

The one big problem I found at the start of the work on People Powered Change is that people didn’t talk to each other enough because they were busy delivering (although I think that’s now changing). What better topic to start a new round of open conversations than with community reporting? We can’t aim to help people in local communities find their own voice, if we can’t do that among the various interests involved.

Meanwhile, comments are very welcome here, or if you spot that discussion is happening elsewhere tweet @Media_Trust @davidwilcox. The #newsnet tag seems to be mainly German rather than UK discussion. There is also a #ppchange tag.

Previously: Caroline Diehl, chief executive of Media Trust, responded to my earlier story in a comment here, explaining how they will collaborate locally and inviting people to express an interest.

Update: the Media Trust is offering to answer questions in a video interview. Add yours here.

Media Trust explains how local news hubs will work

The Big Lottery grant of £1.89 million to enable the Media Trust to develop a network of news hubs, supporting citizen journalism throughout the UK, caused a stir recently because it was awarded without competition, organisations with a track record outside London felt excluded … and in the age of localism should we have central systems or something more bespoke? Read the backstory herethe original announcement, and the latest response from BIG’s CEO Peter Wanless.

Fortunately a more positive story emerged when I was able to talk to Media Trust CEO Caroline Diehl, chairing sessions at the Third Sector Social Media Conference, and the Trust’s director of marketing and communication services Gavin Sheppard.

In the interview Gavin explains that their proposal was based on research commissioned from the Goldsmiths Leverhulme Media Research Centre, led by Professor Natalie Fenton, and published last year.  That argued for the need to support quality local reporting at a time when local papers where disappearing, and for better aggregation through news hubs of the emerging work of  citizen journalists and community reporters. read more »

How helpful is journalism for People Powered Change? Further thoughts.

What sort of community media and support for knowledge sharing, learning and innovation do we need – both locally and nationally – when the big society policy agenda expects so much more of citizen-led action?

The significance of this issue - which I touched on rather theoretically here – is now given more practical import by the Big Lottery fundingfor the Media Trust’s ambitious £1.89 million programme of news hubs for local communities, which I reported here and here. read more »