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Keeping perspective on social media. Oblong, All Saints and the CofE

I have been working with Oblong Leeds, a community development charity for some years now and we are at last getting round to re-working the organisation’s website. I’m also helping to develop the on-line presence of All Saints church in Ilkley and am part of a forum to discuss the on-line activities of the new CofE diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. I have resolved to be a bit more diligent in capturing my thoughts here, flimsy as they sometimes are.

I’m getting involved in these activities because I feel that communities must communicate, there are voices that need to be heard and stories that really must be told.

I’m not a web designer or an expert in social media, though I have worked for the BBC and more recently for ITV as the manager responsible for a news website. I can say that I am passionate about telling stories. Stories about who we are and the places we live should not be left to the professional journalists alone; talented as they may be there is only so much they can do. The world is so much bigger.

The big sparkling new diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales, whatever you think of the decision, throws up an opportunity for fresh thinking, particularly in the area of communications. We are not talking about a clean slate because there is much that is good, but the disruption of re-organisation gets people thinking and talking – and talking is certainly what we should be doing. If we want to encourage conversation then Yorkshire is a great place to do it – blunt, diverse and passionate communities of every persuasion and experience.

The incisive question I am working with right now is as follows: How can we equip communities to tell their stories connecting them to each other and with the wider world?

As All Saints Ilkley puts it we are “finding connections with God” and in the process we are finding connections with each other (or is it the other way round?). As I find myself repeating, communications and relationships are absolutely dependent on one another.

At its most profound, communication wouldn’t require technology or language, we would just know. However our relationships are highly dependent on language and technology and if we are to put relationships with each other and God at the highest level then grapple with language and technology we must.

The on-line world of websites and social media is often dismissed by some people as an irritation and a waste of time. I would urge anyone to look at how radically the process of maintaining relationships has changed in recent years. There are extraordinary opportunities for people to open conversations with strangers and experience different worlds. Websites, social media, photography, video if an end in themselves would be a waste of time, but there is real evidence that the creative expression these tools enable is bringing people together with amazing significance. Social media in some parts of the world is literally revolutionary. Shared visual media is extending the reach of communication to those who struggle with words. Power is shifting.

When we’re setting up our social media channels and websites I think it is essential to keep an eye on these higher opportunities for bringing communities together, telling important stories, giving marginalised people a voice, seeing the the world as it really is.

For me, participation is the key which is why I hate the concept of the web-master or the notion that there are ‘experts’ in social media. Intuitive use of these tools should be the aim but I accept that we need people to encourage and share good practice.

Even today at Oblong Leeds we’ve been doing our quarterly planning and on-line communication is playing a big part. We are driving for outcomes in education & skills, employment, raised aspirations, expanded world view, community cohesion – so what activities can we implement? It could be those activities which connect people together, give us a strong sense of identity and self worth, pull people together around a common purpose.

Websites and social media can’t change anything. I cant change anything. I do believe websites and social media may improve the possibility of change just so long as we don’t lose sight of the big goals which can be reached by shared conversations and relationship building.

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Cutting the costs of ITV regional news. Perhaps more accessible?

itv calendar newsI’m very interested to see how the professional media world is merging with consumer level media. Calendar News, part of the ITV news network, is using online tools that are accessible to everyone.

 

The ITV online news channel is basically a blog populated by videos hosted not by ITV but using Vimeo. Vimeo is a free video orientated social media channel a bit like Youtube.

I’m not sure what this does for the brand image of ITV as a big player, but it may be seen as a means of making the service feel more accessible and “ordinary”. I don’t have a problem with this especially if the journalism stands out as being excellent. ITV‘s great strength in Yorkshire is its approachability in my view.

The great news is that for any aspiring journalists, you can create a news website which follows this model and uses these very tools. The next step, I imagine, is to encourage the participation of citizen journalists in ITV’s news coverage – a step we began to take when my team established ITV Local Yorkshire a few years back but proved too expensive at the time.

Another interesting aspect is that if you have a Vimeo account you can get statistics about how many people have viewed the videos and for how long – introducing a daring competitive element.

Calendar News website

Calendar News Vimeo channel

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How should large media organisations handle their blogs?

Twenty years ago that headline might have been misunderstood! 

Interesting article in the Guardian about the use of blogs by large companies.  It challenged me to think about how badly this blog is put together.  

Shouldn't be random bursts of information from here or there but be focused around a specific and simple idea.  Blog readers are looking for insiders who's expertese can't be found anrywhere else.  Readers want a named writer who they can trust. They are looking for an angle.

First person accounts – casual, intimate stories
Named and trusted writer
Insiders view
A concept
An angle

The thing missed out of the article is around the accessibility of the writer to respond to comments and clarify any misunderstandings. Company blogs are perhaps seen as marketing tools rather than a means of honing the grasp of the issues.  Comments without clarification carry risks – so how far are companies prepared to engage with the discussion that ensues?

Read the article here

 

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Televising the revolution

A bit about the Media Team plans (one or two people have asked). Next week I'm kicking off a video focused team at Our Lady of Victories School in Keighley.

Schoolx

Many schools have radio stations and a few even do TV shows. OLV school already has a successful radio station which is brilliant.

Some projects, and those in higher education as well, seem to be modelled on very old production formats. Even the term TV has a lot of old fashioned baggage. So I hope the children will use the tools in a free and imaginative way – not just produce a show that looks like BBC regional news which has been around for half a century.

Thankfully I detect there is a loosening of old style media skills teaching. I don't know where it will go but I hope the media team next week will come up with some real innovations about how to organise, film, edit, present. Looking at all the potential platforms and audiences.

The plan is to achieve the following:

  • Employ and develop a full range of creative skills within a complete team, not just the obvious technical bits like cameras.
  • Allow the team to innovate and change for the better how media is made – doing it their way.
  • Produce a high quality product.
  • Have a real purpose for the product – e.g. enhancing communication between parents and school.

I am sure we are getting to a point where children already have a place in the media environment – without needing to be employed by it. So this would be no simulation.

We are aiming to do a termly show at OLV school and will be setting this up next week. I'll let you know how it goes.

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Why do school media departments buy poor video camcorders?

I've been helping three schools in the Leeds area record interviews for a Leeds Council project.  The schools have enthusiastic and able ICT teachers and the children are engaged with the project.  Among the interviewees are some high profile political figures including Peter Hain MP. The process of researching, preparing and conducting these intyerviews is a superb learning experience.

One of the schools is even equipped with nine Final Cut edit workstations so you'd think that they were well placed to capitalise on this opportunity.  But there's just one problem – there's been little or no investment in decent video cameras that can capture sound via an external microphone.

So if you are a school wanting to go out and conduct video interviews can I recommend a video camera with an external microphone input and a microphone on a long lead.  Google these suggestions:

Sony XR550V Hard Disk Drive camcorder

JVC Memory Camcorder GZ-HM1SEK

Canon LEGRIA FS200

For higher end semi-professional, The Sony HVE AE1 is probably too expensive.

Microphones Audio Technica   The high quality boundary mic is an interesting option for table interviews.