Community-Focussed Communication in the UK – Who Is Studying Impact and Social Gain?

I’ve been trying to pull together a list of researchers in the UK who are examining community media and the impact that forms of community-focussed communication are having specifically in UK communities. I’m keen to understand what the methodologies and research techniques they use to evaluate the benefit of community media in the form of social gain and social value. Likewise, I’m particularly interested in live studies, that are dedicated to having ‘boots-on-the-ground in UK towns, cities and local communities.

It’s reasonable to keep in mind that a historical analysis can shed light on our present circumstances because, as Marshall McLuhan reminds us, we are driving forward looking at the rearview mirror. However, I’m interested in what the emergent academic story is, and what new models of media are now regarded as a suitable topic of investigation that goes beyond the established models of audience reception theory, mass media theories, and linear expectations of social organisation.

My concern is to look at what the decentralised media landscape is like, and what forms of media are being used by people in practice. This means using mixed and transdisciplinary models, that adapt investigatory models from the social sciences, but are also open to textual analysis because community media is something that people do through participation.

I’m also greatly concerned about finding collaborative researchers who are emersed in the complexities of metamodern rethinking, which can provide an empirical, psychological and philosophical framework for the sensemaking that people do in their social groups and communities. Community media, for me at least, is a mode of social sensemaking that invokes active participation from the people involved, which goes beyond the industrialised and systematised conceptual models of media that many are used to.

Community media studies therefore involves a high degree of media-literacies, a good dose of social-action and social justice challenges, and an ability to look at technological systems within a framework of distributed sense-making that goes on auto-poetically outside of institutions and traditional media organisations. If there are people who are challenging these conceptions through artistic and creative practice, even better.

Social Gain Media: Ofcom recognises the principles of social gain when licensing Community Radio stations. These principles are set out in each station’s ‘key commitments’ and are specific to each station. The statutory framework for awarding a community radio licence and the obligations to be met by licensees are set out in the Community Radio Order 2004. The commitments to provide social gain and opportunities for training and education are mandatory social gain requirements set out in the relevant legislation. The Licensee must ensure that the provisions of the code approved by Ofcom for regulating the provision of premium rate services are met. Community radio is primarily for the good of members of the public or of a particular community and to deliver social gain.

Social Value Media: The UK Social Value Act, which came into force on 31 January 2013, requires public authorities to consider how they can secure wider social, economic, and environmental benefits when commissioning public services. The Act requires public authorities to have regard to economic, social, and environmental well-being in connection with public services contracts. The Act applies to all public sector organisations and their suppliers. The Act requires public bodies to consider how what they are proposing to buy might improve economic, social, and environmental well-being. The Act aims to embed social value in procurement processes.

Below is a list of people and the centres they belong to that I have found so far, and apologies to all those people that I have not included, but this is what my initial ChatGPT search has indicated. Just to note that I’ve not included news and journalism specifically in my search. There is a crossover between community media and news, which many journalists are now recognising. The importance of social value and social gain as a testable proposition is being explored by PINF in it’s recently established project to examine the broader functioning of communities in relation to health reporting and news, rather than as a distinct and separate part of the communications system.

Clearly, there are gaps, and we need to understand where we are, what the divisions between different methods tell us, and how we might move forward in the future. I’m somewhat concerned that the pressure of international market-driven higher-education in the UK is leading to an unequal focus on global issues. It seems to me that we do not have enough attention being given to the struggles many are facing here in the UK. I’m not against understanding what others are facing elsewhere, but it’s concerning that many universities, despite being located closely to UK centres of ‘super-diversity’, have little knowledge of what is going on in these places. I want to know if there is a shared affinity between researchers and the people with the examined lived-experience across all parts of society in the UK.

Here are the questions I prompted for ChatGPT:

  1. “Can you provide a list of leading researchers specializing in the field of community media at top UK universities?”
  2. “What are some notable research projects or publications recently conducted in the UK regarding community media?”
  3. “Which academic departments or research centres at UK universities are known for specializing in community media studies?”
  4. “Are there any specific studies or projects focusing on aspects of community media such as community radio, local television, or community-based digital platforms in the UK?”
  5. “Can you search academic databases or research networks that specialize in media studies for researchers and projects related to community media in the UK?”

Here’s a summary of what ChatGPT was able to locate:

In terms of community media studies in the UK, there are several notable universities and individuals contributing to the field:

Goldsmiths University, London
The Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths University offers an array of programmes. Positioned “at the heart of the communications professions and media industries,” the department provides undergraduate, master’s, and PhD programs, as well as postgraduate certificates and diplomas in fields like digital media theory, film and screen studies, media and communications, and promotional media.

i.Natalie Fenton is a Professor of Media and Communications at Goldsmiths University in the Department of Media, Communications and Cultural Studies. Her research focuses on the role of the media in shaping identities and democracies, particularly how media and technology power can be reformed for socially progressive ends. She is engaged in debates on media justice, social and economic democracy, and social equality. Her work underscores the need for radical reform of concentrated media and tech power and a re-imagination of what a democratic politics might mean in a digital age​.

London School of Economics (LSE)
The Department of Media and Communications at LSE is globally recognised for its outstanding research and teaching. With a plethora of postgraduate programmes, including MSc degrees in media and communications and various other focuses, as well as double degree programs in global media and communications in partnership with other international universities, the department stands out. They also offer PhD programs in media and communications and data, networks and society.

Media, Communications, and Cultural Studies Association (MeCCSA)
The MeCCSA’s Local and Community Media Network currently has Rachel Matthews of Coventry University as its chair. Other contributors include Agnes Gulyas of Canterbury Christ Church University and David Baines of Newcastle University.

The MeCCSA Local and Community Media Network promotes research into local and community media in the UK, a field that’s currently undergoing a period of significant disruption and innovation due to the impact of digital technology. These structural changes have not only affected the financial basis and sustainability of local and community media and journalism platforms, but also the cultures and practices of their production and consumption.

The network has been established in response to these changes, with the aim of raising the profile of research in this field and strengthening its future trajectory. It brings together scholars examining this landscape and offers the opportunity to increase collaboration between industry and academia, as well as emerging innovators and disruptors in the field.

The network aims to facilitate knowledge exchange and is expected to include industry representatives in its events, extending into industry-owned spaces and events. It also plans to collaborate with existing organisations in this area, such as the Society of Editors, National Union of Journalists, Royal Television Society, and the Community Media Association.

Dr. Josephine Coleman
Formerly of the MeCCSA Radio Studies Network and currently managing their communications and social media, Dr. Josephine Coleman has an extensive background in community media. She has worked as a radio broadcast journalist and presenter for the BBC, and conducted a practice-based PhD in community radio content production at Birkbeck, University of London.

Dr. Lawrie Hallett
A Senior Lecturer in Radio and Journalism at the University of Bedfordshire, in the Department of Media, Art, and Design. He has been involved in a research project with the Sir Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, contributing to a report published in 2020 that looked into the representation and portrayal of black people in the UK media. Additionally, he is co-authoring a book with Sir Lenny Henry and Marcus Ryder, which is set to be published in 2023​1​.

University of Sunderland
Dr. Richard Berry and Professor Caroline Mitchell are making important contributions in the field of community media at the University of Sunderland. Dr. Berry is a Senior Lecturer in Radio and a co-author of “Podcasting: New Aural Cultures and Digital Media”. Professor Mitchell, Professor of Radio, has written a chapter in the book “Alternative Media and Politics of Resistance: A Communication Perspective.”

Alex Kocic, Napier University
Alex’s research on community radio is focused on its potential to provide or improve local news coverage. Together with three collaborators, Alex authored a chapter on that topic for a Routledge volume on community media. He has just completed a project funded by the Royal Society of Edinburgh on Scottish community radio skills assessment aimed at volunteers’ skills. As an extension of this project, Alex has undertaken a number of workshops with select community stations in Scotland on news writing for radio, including working with Jambo Radio in Glasgow and on Tuesday with Skye FM.

Jerry Padfield
Jerry is a PhD student at Falmouth University, conducting research on the use of digital media, networking technology, and open-source software to increase participation in community radio. He is particularly passionate about this area, acknowledging the benefits that community radio can bring to participants and listeners alike. Jerry recognises that certain groups are underrepresented in community radio stations due to various factors such as childcare issues, rural isolation, and health problems. His research project focuses on leveraging lo-fi, ubiquitous technology (like laptops and smartphones), networking, and open-source software to create mobile studios and the capability to stream to the main studio. He aims to collaborate with individuals and groups from these underrepresented communities to create broadcast content. In doing so, Jerry hopes to investigate whether these measures can enhance participation in community radio

The Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity
At Birmingham City University, the Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity includes several key contributors:

i. Sir Lenny Henry
A British actor, comedian, singer, television presenter, and writer, Sir Lenny Henry is a leading figure in the UK media industry. He serves as the chancellor of Birmingham City University.

ii. Professor Diane Kemp
Serving as the Director of the Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity, Diane Kemp is the Professor of Broadcast Journalism at Birmingham City University. With a rich background that includes working for the BBC, she also acts as a consultant for the Council of Europe on diversity in journalism.

iii. Marcus Ryder MBE
An award-winning producer with over 25 years of experience, Marcus Ryder is a leader in the field of media diversity. He serves as the Head of External Consultancies for the Lenny Henry Centre.

iv. Marverine Duffy
Marverine Duffy, Director of BA (Hons) Journalism courses at the Birmingham Institute of Media and English, has a media career spanning 33 years. A core member of the Lenny Henry Centre for Media Diversity Team, she has presented live on television 

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