Supporting Conversations About Community Media Making

During the lockdown, it became apparent that bringing people together to learn from one another’s community media practice would be useful to do over the internet. I started hosting the Community Media Maker’s Zoom drop-ins, so I could be part of a regular circle of discussion with other advocates and practitioners of community media, and could help with some practical and organisation development challenges.

We’ve been meeting each week on a Tuesday evening, and we’ve had some excellent conversations, both about the principles of community media and community reporting, and the practices of putting content together, figuring out how to organise the content we create, and how to help, assist and inspire the volunteers we are working with.

I always like getting down to the task-level of community media, because I can easily get caught up in the wider concerns and principles of social change. When we are faced with the challenges of globalisation, climate crisis, rising inequality and polarisation, it’s easy to call for the overthrow of the global ideological order, but I like coming back to the practical implications of building capacity from the grassroots up.

The Zoom drop-ins allow us to focus on what works and what doesn’t work when we are supporting community media makers in practice. We talk about how taking a community development approach works in local and place-based settings, and how we can use our media to contribute to the civic and community discussions that we want to foster and inspire people to take part in.

We’ve discussed how community media only travels at the speed of trust, and how it is different from social media because it has accountability at the heart of its ethos and operational principles. We’ve talked about how we can ensure that editorial decisions are accountable and what kinds of complaints processes we need to incorporate, such as the IMPRESS code for independent media and news.

Our conversations have taken place in the context of community reporting, which we’ve identified as different from journalism. We’ve considered how sometimes the focus on professionalised journalism can be counter-productive when it comes to building a community media platform, because it seems out of reach to most people. Being a community reporter, though, is something that most people can do, especially if they keep the stories they tell relevant to the place where they live, and the community of people that they share it with.

Each week, our conversations have been a good mix of experience and discovery. Every time we engage in solving a problem, we are learning something new, and taking what we have learnt and applying it in a different context. Hopefully in a way that is relevant and practical.

 I was listening to a podcast this week, and the speaker described this process as the difference between ‘training’ and ‘explaining’, and I think that captures the two parts of what the drop-ins are about. We’ve got the opportunity to do a little bit of training, while also having the space to do some explaining.

I’ve learnt over the years that it’s essential with community media to not just train people to be proficient in pressing some buttons, or speaking or writing in a particular way, but to help people understand the process of community-focussed communications, so they can adapt it and change it for themselves.

I’ve also been inspired by the community development approach of Russell Todd, who runs the Community Development Podcast, and Peter Westoby, who runs a podcast about community development. Russell’s focus on social capital, and Peter’s focus on dialogue and deliberation in community development practices are great ways to think about how we can use media as part of our community building approaches.

To join us and be part of the conversation about community media making, sign-up via Patreon, then I’ll send out the links to the sessions, as well as any bonus material that we create and share. These sessions aren’t a meeting, we have a topic to give us an idea of what to discuss, but there is no agenda, and we don’t record or make notes of the sessions. We just have a good chat about our work and what challenges we’ve been overcoming in our practice.

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