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Reaching People

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One of the challenges of successful community-focussed communications is how we avoid making our messages feel generic and standardised, or as if they have come from anywhere and nowhere. A much-used approach for Tweets or social media posts is to share images and memes that we’ve taken from the internet, and to repurpose them for different occasions. It’s been good to have conversations over the last week that have asked how this approach works, and what’s the alternative if it doesn’t?

At last week’s Leicester Stories community reporters club, we had a go at making some video messages and recorded a conversation. The aim was to experiment with using a phone and a selfie-stick to capture a simple video recording as we chatted. What we did was go back to one of the things that made YouTube and Instagram interesting when we first started using them – we adopted the DIY approach that put a person in a definite place at the centre of the message.

In its early days, YouTube was full of people talking at their webcams, often in their bedrooms. Vloggers became popular for sharing their thoughts and experiences online. Similarly, Instagram was full of people taking and sharing photos that were unique to each person or place. While Instagram was said to be a ‘hipster’ platform, it prized individuality and creativity, and contrasted with Facebook, which was more generic and casual.
Along the way, though, this initial use of personal creative media has been overtaken by the expectation that our videos must be polished and well produced, with expert lighting and smooth edits. Similarly, we are expected to try to style ourselves as a personality who can attract a large audience and make lots of money – well, that’s the influencers dream!

It’s become expected that we go to further extremes to capture people’s attention by being entertaining or provocative. Driving click-bait and attention has become the expected way of sharing social media updates. TikTok is great for this. It’s full of inventive and creative videos that are skillfully performed, but they don’t really allow for an extended discussion and deliberation. Nor is it a platform that is well suited to asking challenging questions or exploring issues in greater depth.

The alternative to the polished performances of video messengers, then, is to go the other way, to be a lot more DIY and authentic, as an expression of the person sharing their ideas and messages. At the heart of the community media approach is the focus on accountability. We can’t be held accountable for any posts we share if we are anonymous, which is why community media highlights the responsible contribution of each person as something unique and true to them, and the community they are part of. Social media is not supportive of cohesive communities, because it’s people who form communities, not avatars, fake accounts, personalities or influencers.
The motivation for Leicester Stories is to collect conversations and discussions that are accessible and relate to our experience of living here in Leicester, particularly as we start to move on from the Civic-19 pandemic. The aim is to use Leicester Stories as a platform where we can foster conversations about our different experiences and perspectives of daily life in Leicester. It’s through dialogue that we will find the solutions to the problems that we face.

If you are interested in discussing and thinking about how we can use media for positive social change as we Build Back Better, we’ve got three sessions this week:
Community Media Café 10am – 12pm Tuesday, Bishop Street Chapel Café, Leicester. This is our weekly drop-in café session, and a chance to chat with other people who are interested in using DIY media to support positive change in their communities. You don’t need any special skills, just come for a chat and share your experience of supporting positive social change. We’ll provide a tea or coffee to get the conversation started.
Leicester Builds Back Better Stories Pop-Up 11.30 – 2pm Wednesday, Leicester Coffee House, Granby Street. We are looking to have record chats and conversations about what it means to Build Back Better here in Leicester. Pop along if you have a point of view you want to share, or an experience that you think we can learn from. We’ll record your contribution and share it in a podcast and radio programmes as part of the conversation about what comes after the pandemic here in Leicester.

Community Reporters Club 10am – 12pm Thursday, Documentary Media Centre: this week we’ll record a round table discussion podcast about Building Back Better Means here in Leicester. Have you been working to bring about positive social change during the pandemic? Have you been keeping essential community services going? What’s worked well when it comes to telling people about them? The conversation will share insight and knowledge about where we need to go next to make better use of community-driven media to bring about positive social change? There are a limited number of places, so please Register Here.

Community Stories: We are always on the look-out for stories that we can capture and share via the Leicester Stories website. If you are a not-for-profit community group, a charity or civic society or mutual aid organisation, or a public organisation that has stories of positive social change that you want to share, please do get in contact. Catch up with the episode of Distraction Therapy that I recorded with Beth Piggott of ArtReach, about the launch of the LibertyUK Festival, which brings art trails to the city centre. It goes out as a podcast or on Leicester Community Radio Tuesdays 2pm 1449AM.

Leicester Stories is supported by funding from the Audio Content Fund, and is being developed with assistance from De Montfort University, the Documentary Media Centre and Zinthiya Trust. If you need more information about the project, and it’s aims, please do get in contact.
Best wishes
Rob