I know that schools, churches and other community organisations are doing hugely valuable work, and the stories of dedication and transformation are inspirational. But are those stories properly represented in the media?
Political leaders, large companies and other mega groups, reasonably or not, see the media as a platform for promoting their own interests – witness the fuss in Spain over alleged government placement of senior managers in broadcasting. In these hard economic times when advertising budgets are being crushed, PR departments are now more than ever accessing the free advertising space offered by the press and broadcasters. This works by imaginatively creating stories that will appeal to the front pages and news features. PR companies are writing the news, brands are being built on stories and stories over time shape our identity; powerful stuff.
At the BBC I worked frequently on Children in Need and I can tell you that I had many calls from large companies wanting to guarantee airtime in exchange for large donations. But now I find myself working for small media and wondering how the smaller voices can be amplified.
At Oblong Leeds we are building a Media Collective at the Woodhouse Community centre which brings together a team of volunteers, many unemployed and looking to gain new skills. The collective offers training in print, video, blogging, photography and other media orientated skills. The hope is that they can benefit themselves but also the communities they belong to. They become a resource for telling their stories from the inside, by attachment. They are not remote, dispassionate journalists but they can access people and stories that no one else can.
The other project is the School Media Club which I’m developing in partnership with teacher Dan Moorhouse. The idea here is that we teach a core set of media skills to children and then focus them in a live project. It might be a school magazine, website, presentation or an event of some sort. The hope is that communication though media activities can become part of the culture of the school and assist in giving a more transparent and positive impression of school life.
When I look at the resources being placed by big organisations in free PR and the more towards social media I wonder where this is going and whether there will be so much media noise that these smaller voices will be squeezed out?
The answer could lie in the way we as individuals choose to engage with online media. We need to be wise to these marketing strategies and choose which RSS feeds and Facebook friend we make. And if we see something we are inspired by or disagree with we must participate.