|One of our citizen journalists live blogging from Bristol's City Hall during the announcements of the local election results in May 2013.|
The motivation for Watershed's 'News from Elsewhere' programme of Citizen Journalism projects, devised and led by David Goldblatt, is to introduce the concept of citizen journalism to young people and provide them with the skills and techniques to use this readily available tool for the expression of ideas and opinions on topics that are of interest to and have relevance for the participants.
Combining radio with social media has great potential to add dimensions to each format - the content of radio programmes can be augmented with images on a blog, Twitter can both feed and respond to studio discussion topics, and promote blog posts while Facebook's capacity to extend the community of listeners into new audiences has much scope. For this reason, when a funding opportunity emerged from the University of Bristol, Watershed partnered with Ujima to explore this potential on the first Bristol Mayorwatch project in November and the current iteration.
Our participants - and Bristol - are fortunate in having an organisation like Ujima that alongside its regular broadcasting is genuinely committed to encouraging the city's younger residents to explore relevant local issues and provides them with a platform to reach thousands of listeners.
Watershed, the University of Bristol, Ujima Radio
Neither Ujima nor Watershed receive permanent funding for this kind of work so it can only be done with financial support on a project basis, in this case with funding from the University of Bristol's widening participation unit. One aim of the Bristol Mayorwatch courses has been to reach communities not always associated with the University in a bid to re-present this long established academic institution as a resource that is not exclusive and can be used by many people.
As evaluation interviews with some of our participants have revealed, their introduction to the (thoroughly amenable) academics in Social Policy and Sociology have made a real impact and seeded the idea that attending a course at the University is a viable route, especially since learning that there are bursaries available for some to help with costs. The participants are likely to continue their involvement with radio, potentially as presenters so we hope their positive experience will filter through to their future listeners.
Social media and programme research
Our visit to the University with the participants also helped to reinforce the value of Twitter as both a communication tool and as a source of news and information on specific topic areas. The Social Policy team members we met are regular tweeters who followed our @Bristolmayorwatch account which was then also followed by other academics in different parts of the country as well as by some of the local councillors we met during the elections. Using hashtags to search for topics relevant to the radio shows' themes of transport and local democracy gave access to additional material offering different perspectives to more frequently used or formal sources of information.
Balancing social media and radio
It was interesting to observe that on this course Twitter was the most widely used tool in our Social Media tool-box. As reported in an earlier post the withdrawal from service of our preferred blogging platform of the last two years, Posterous, just before the course began unfortunately meant that the new Bristol Mayorwatch blog wasn't introduced until after the start of the course, the News from Elsewhere Facebook page was set up concurrently.
Although both blog and Facebook were easy to post to (using phones - some participants used their own, we provided others - computers or tablets) they were used less than we had hoped. The nature of radio production requires intensive preparation, especially for beginners, and this combined with the late appearance of the blog meant the emphasis shifted more towards radio.
The admirable aspirations for the radio programmes were perhaps over-ambitious for the scale of the project - the number of sessions originally scheduled (six) doubled in order for the participants to attain the level of skill and competence felt appropriate to deliver a live programme. A further session or additional practice would have been beneficial but there is a limit to how much extra time both trainees and trainers are willing or able to dedicate. The outcome was nevertheless an excellent example of what can be achieved in a compressed time period and did appear to have significantly boosted the confidence of the young presenters.
Sustaining social media platforms
Within the last three weeks of the project both the blog and Facebook were taken up more seriously (in addition to the use of Twitter) particularly by two of the contributors . The blog proved a useful space to host a more in-depth interview by one of the CJs that was too long for inclusion in the radio programmes. Another of the participants spoke enthusiastically about continuing to contribute to all these social media platforms after the end of this course.
A new course with similar themes is currently being offered by Ujima but with different partners and funders. This prompts some interesting questions (a subject for a future post or discussion perhaps), both practical and conceptual, about 'ownership' of social media, user voice and audience and the administration and management of these resources. From the point of view of the participants there is concern about the sustainability of these platforms and the impact that their closure, or possible denial of access once a course is completed, might have on the learners who have just begun to engage with the process.
Lessons for the future
If Watershed works on any future citizen journalism projects that combine social media with radio, we'd be looking to exploit the potential for their integration more fully. Prior to the course a shared exploration of how the two strands can complement each other would add to the foundation for structuring a workshop or course. Arriving at a clear and realistic idea of achievable outcomes at the planning stage would help in the allocation of sufficient time for the social media element within the course sessions while improved consultation during the course on any changes to the schedule could help maintain a balance between the two. These modifications would require additional time at the planning stage which would need to factored into funding applications.