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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.

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.

There is no Big Society Big Plan – and that's no bad thing

All reporting – even the making-sense, joining-up, helping-out social reporting type – should have some element of disclosure to keep it interesting. So here’s a secret about Big Society, on which I have written a lot recently. Remember, it was the cornerstone of the Conservative election manifesto, has been re-launched several times by David Cameron, and figures in the programmes of government departments. But …
There is no Big Society Big Plan, and no-one is in charge.
Unfortunately, in the journalistic sense, it’s not much of story. For that you need a “how shocking” quote in the second paragraph, and someone to blame in the third.
The fact that Big Society is somewhat under-organised may be surprising to those experienced in the ways of the previous administration, where programmes were driven, targetted, promoted, logo-ed and of course funded. But in current circumstances having a nonorg nonprogramme is no bad thing. I’ll quote you a RSA pamphlet later to prove it. read more »

There is no Big Society Big Plan – and that's no bad thing

All reporting – even the making-sense, joining-up, helping-out social reporting type – should have some element of disclosure to keep it interesting. So here’s a secret about Big Society, on which I have written a lot recently. Remember, it was the cornerstone of the Conservative election manifesto, has been re-launched several times by David Cameron, and figures in the programmes of government departments. But …
There is no Big Society Big Plan, and no-one is in charge.
Unfortunately, in the journalistic sense, it’s not much of story. For that you need a “how shocking” quote in the second paragraph, and someone to blame in the third.
The fact that Big Society is somewhat under-organised may be surprising to those experienced in the ways of the previous administration, where programmes were driven, targetted, promoted, logo-ed and of course funded. But in current circumstances having a nonorg nonprogramme is no bad thing. I’ll quote you a RSA pamphlet later to prove it. read more »

There is no Big Society Big Plan – and that's no bad thing

All reporting – even the making-sense, joining-up, helping-out social reporting type – should have some element of disclosure to keep it interesting. So here’s a secret about Big Society, on which I have written a lot recently. Remember, it was the cornerstone of the Conservative election manifesto, has been re-launched several times by David Cameron, and figures in the programmes of government departments. But …
There is no Big Society Big Plan, and no-one is in charge.
Unfortunately, in the journalistic sense, it’s not much of story. For that you need a “how shocking” quote in the second paragraph, and someone to blame in the third.
The fact that Big Society is somewhat under-organised may be surprising to those experienced in the ways of the previous administration, where programmes were driven, targetted, promoted, logo-ed and of course funded. But in current circumstances having a nonorg nonprogramme is no bad thing. I’ll quote you a RSA pamphlet later to prove it. read more »

Shine 09 photo collection

Playing the Social Collaboration Game

On Saturday at SHINE09 about 40 people spent a couple of hours playing the Social Collaboration Game …  mixing regeneration challenges, social media tools and a splash of Social Innovation Camp. The session generated a lot of buzz as groups pitched entrepreurial ideas for tackling social, environmental and economic problems in a fictitious borough not unlike east London.

We started with Jess Tyrrell of Germination playing council leader, and explaining how they hoped social entrepreneurs would come up with some innovative project ideas. Cliff Prior of Unltd was a very convincing Civil Society Minister in a new Tory Government of 2010 promoting localism and a shift from big central funds to social enterprise. William Perrin gave an spirited account of how the KingsCrossEnvironment blog has successfully acted as a campaigning focus for the area – and how the 4ip-funded Talk About Local project will spread the model country-wide.

Everyone then milled about to form groups and come up with project ideas, which they took to Jess and Cliff for initial approval. If they got the nod, they were give a set of cards representing technology tools and other methods for project development, and offered mentoring from Amy Sample Ward and Andy Gibson.

The cards each had an image, description and budget points of 1,2 or 3 representing cost or difficulty. Groups had to choose cards totalling 10 points and pitch back to Jess and Cliff ideas that would fit into their earlier briefing. Download the cards here or view below on Scribd.

Cards for Social Collaboration Game at Shine09 Cards for Social Collaboration Game at Shine09 socialreporter

Cliff livened things up by announcing a new local empowerment fund created from repaid MPs expenses, and there was a serious risk it would gather credibility on Twitter where people was rating the game as scarily true to life … if confusing. About which more later.

Most of the projects were around engaging with young people, including helping them find and develop more opportunities in neighbourhoods where gang territorialism restricted movement and activities.

We had Mark Kelly of socialenterprise.tv, and Ravinol Chambers of  Be Inspired Films, capturing what was happening. Here’s his terrific account of how we played.

Thanks to Richard McKeever of Community Links for help with the background scenario, and to friends at Communities and Local Government in flagging up details of existing funding currently available from Futurebuilders, the Grassroots programme and other sources: details at Office of the Third Sector. There’s also a £7.5 million Empowerment Fund, and a £70 million Communitybuilders programme. All info about voluntary and community sector funding at governmentfunding.org.uk. I think there’s real scope for developing the game in a way that would tie more directly into these and other sources of funding, and so provide a “for real” ways of planning how to bring social tech into the mix.

The game was developed from early work with Drew Mackie – examples here at usefulgames – and also from discussions with Jess, Amy and Andy. I put the final format together, and now have plenty of ideas about how it could be improved. Drew flew down from Scotland the night before, and was on hand during the day to guide the play where possible … but we could have done with more time for preparation. Drew is the real games and simulation expert.

Here’s how we planned the game, how it worked in practice on the day, together with our reflections. The main points were much clearer briefing and instructions; developing a short version of the scenario; explaining the role of social technology; change the bidding process. We also suffered from the acoustics of The Hub where we played the game, making it a bit difficult to tell groups what was happening and what to do next.  Download here or view below on Scribd.

Social Collaboration game SHINE09 Social Collaboration game SHINE09 socialreporter

I’ll add more about the results of the game when we have some video – but meanwhile would love to hear from groups about the projects they developed, and also any reflections on how it worked as a session.

If you are in London on June 2, do join us for a shorter revised run of the game at Net Tuesday.

Photos by Daniel J Wilcox – view here as slideshow.

Update: Amy Sample Ward has more excellent ideas on how we can improve the game posted here.

Brief reflection on Shine 09

Just wanted to capture some quick reflections on the two days of Shine 09. Am sure there will be more over the next few days, + more photos and videos to be uploaded.

Overall, as one of the co-founders and organisers (SSE), I’m pretty delighted with how it went. Massive congrats and thanks to Sam, Lizzie and all at Germination for all their hard work in making the event a reality, and one that ran pretty smoothly. And all on a shoestring budget.

The four partners started the event because they felt there was a need for an accessible, affordable, practical, well-networked, dynamic event that was less about long powerpoints and plenary speeches, and more about one-to-one support and moving your business on. I really think Shine 09 delivered on that concept, and, overall, it felt like more ‘business’ was being done at the event than last year. Or, as Cliff Prior (UnLtd CEO) summarised to me, Shine 08 was about inspiration, Shine 09 was about perspiration…or about implementation. I saw a couple of SSE Fellows walking out at the end of Friday and they were listing the work they’d got, the contacts made, and the practical advice they’d received…which was very much music to my ears.

Highlights for me on the Friday were the 1:1 areas, where organisations like Lovells, Futurebuilders, UnLtd, Ashoka and ourselves got little respite from social entrepreneurs thirsty for advice and information. Some of the workshop sessions were a little more mixed, going on anecdotal feedback, but I heard positive things about the Mind MOT session and Jackie Westlake’s DCLG session(s) in particular.

On Saturday, the vibe was relaxed and enjoyable, and What If gave a load of bespoke consultancy to those who were there (and booked in). The Social Collaboration game was great, and its hypothetical MP expenses endowment fund almost became a Twitter hoax, before being stopped in its tracks. Finally, the pitching session was great, with four excellent projects, and the judging panel giving supportive and constructive feedback (though I say so myself). Martin Sherrard won the popular vote, and an UnLtd Level 1 Award, for his walled kitchen garden project.

As ever, we will learn from this year and the things that went well and that didn’t. The balance between structured and unstructured felt good this year, and the Kings Place and the Hub Kings Cross were stellar venues. The only challenge with Kings Place was the split levels (which meant it felt slightly less of “one event” together) and lack of natural light in the downstairs rooms, but it’s a great and well-resourced place to have an event. The Hub has a great vibe and, as at Kings Place, the staff and team there could not have been more helpful and accommodating.

Final big thanks to all who made it possible: Germination as I mentioned above, the funders and sponsors (Lovells, Futurebuilders, CCLA, DCLG, OTS et al), the media partners, the founding partners (especially Ben@Ashoka, Jonathan@theHub, Cliff and Nic@UnLtd), all the volunteer UnConsultants and helpers, David Wilcox for this site, and to all the social reporters and twitterers who helped make the event one that others could be involved in even from miles away.

Till next year then… ;0)

Creating friendly places for the re-emergence of mutualism

SHINE09 gave me a chance to catch up with Ben Metz, UK director of Ashoka, who I last met in December when he spoke in Lisbon, at a social innovation conference, about the emerging ecology of support for social entrepreneurs.

Since then the landscape has changed still further, and not for the better. The collapse of the capital markets makes things tough for any type of entrepreneur. On the other hand, social media enables organisations like Kiva and Zopa to raise funds in a highly distributed fashion.

This opens the way for a shift in the ownership, governance and management of enterprises with, perhaps, increasing interest in mutualism and cooperatives and more concern for values that profit. I summarise …please listen to the interview, where I ramble around and Ben is admirable clear.

We ended up talking about Twitter and similar tools encouraging sharing and a gift economy – because you are only as good as what you give. We agreed (I think) that the task for organisation with members was to create a friendly environment for hard-nosed approaches to soft/gentler living enabling people to learn to live better with each other. Some of this ties in with the discussion recently at a seminar organised by the UK Carnegie Trust, about civil society organisations, where Andy Gibson was promoting mutualism.

Ben is leaving Ashoka, but will still play a part in the social enterprise ecosystem. He’s promising a blog at benmetz.org within a week or two.

How anyone can be a social (video) reporter

One of the delights of SHINE09 for me was to find so many more people this year using video to capture some great conversations, and show the potential of social media first hand. One of those was Felix Gonzales of Youandiskills who was, in effect, creating an archive of the event as part of his mission to use video to inspire and help people share ideas. I showed Felix my use of audio recording with the Audioboo iPhone app.

Listen!

I then bumped into Angela Dove, who I had been talking to a few weeks before about use of video in her work in facilitation, and with museum, libraries and galleries. I enthused then about the use of small Flip cameras … and how they make it easy for anyone to be a social reporter. What better way to demonstrate this than than giving Angela my camera for an hour and seeing how she felt it worked? Here’s the result:

Me offering Angela the Flip video camera

Angela interviewing Harry Leckstein of Freeport records

Iris Lapinski of Zeitgeist Advisors

Johnnie Moore, facilitator

Angela reporting on her experience

I think it is fair to say that the Flip – and other similar cameras – make it really easy to carry out interviews. There’s a flip-out USB connector that makes it easy to transfer video to your computer, and upload to YouTube. There’s a bit more time involved if – as here – you want to embed the video in a blog. And even more time if you take the trouble to listen through and extract key points for the blog. I’ve skipped that bit here … but I can recommed listening to the interviews.