Media Literacy and the Power of Institutions

10 days ago I went to the Houses of Parliament with my comrades Emma Agusita and Cathy Poole, for a seminar discussing Media Literacy, hosted Danny Alexander MP and the Associate Parliamentary Media Literacy Group. After introductions by Danny, Ian Hargreaves (Dir of Ofcom & Researcher at Cardiff Uni), and Peter Packer (Strategy Adviser to UK Film Council and UK Media Literacy Task Force), there followed presentations from young people involved in news production media projects with the BBC (School Report) and Channel 4 (Breaking the News).

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The Houses of Parliament, yesterday.

Both projects and presentations were impressive, and demonstrated to the audience the great things that can happen when professional practitioners work with young people, and visa versa.

BBC’s ‘School Report’ involved 11-14 year olds from 120 schools to produce video reports about stories from their local areas and issues that effect their worldviews. This project was linked with Hackney’s City Learning Centre and Vivi Lachs, (who I first came across in 2002 at a FutureLab conference at the Watershed in Bristol named ‘Contagious Creativity’. I was immediately inspired by her back then and was pleased to see her still on the front line of media literacy education). The children talked about the video reports they produced, which ranged from Muslim children discussing their responses to feeling ‘British’, a report on the ‘true picture of Hackney’ (in response to a C4 programme naming the area the worst place to live), and the abolition of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. They also interviewed Tony Blair and had 2 days support time with BBC journalists. Helen Shreeve from BBC said their aim was for this experience to be had by EVERY 11-14 year old at least once in every school across the country.

Channel 4’s ‘Breaking the News’, as described by it’s co-ordinator Adam Gee, involved 14-16 year olds from schools and community organisations to attend C4 news briefings to get a true behind-the-scenes insight, and they came up with alternative ways of producing news stories. They also set up parallel news rooms in various schools and set up an online editor which allowed the young people to edit stories in their own way. One of the big impacts of this project was the way it made the C4 producers such as Martin Fewell, (deputy editor of Channel 4 News) think differently about their audiences, and take them out of the comfort zone of always reporting certain stories in a certain way. (Time will tell as to how this will change on screen.)

In the Q&A session with the young people, the most common responses to the question, “what impact have these projects had on you?” were;

1) Self-confidence
2) Wanting to be a journalist
3) Ability to have own voice heard

Both BBC and C4 are rolling out their projects to be taken up by schools and other groups across the country, or actually anywhere in the world as the resources are web based.

There is no doubt that these were fantastic projects, though watching the presentations I had a strange sense of de ja vu, as they (especially BBC’s School Report) was identical to our (Firstborn Creatives’) 2003 – present project Channel Zer0. (Or to see the website for Channel Zer0 in text only version rather than Flash, click here) What I saw in these presentations in Parliament was Channel Zer0 again, though on a much grander and gigantic scale. Please know that with these comments I’m not being a jealous playa hata as I’m applauding them on their achievements. It was slightly strange for me though as I saw before me how an institution such as the BBC could (seemingly) effortlessly mobilise in 4 months a project that we have been trying to really galvanise over 4 years. Same with the Channel 4 project which was also quite similar.

channel zer0

And here in lies the opportunity for a more sustainable future for both BBC’s and Channel 4’s projects, that I fear hasn’t really been grasped as yet.

Both are relying on teachers, youth workers, etc, to visit & download their online resources and replicate the projects year after year. The BBC talked about this years schools becoming mentors for the news schools. Whilst knowing the BBC I’m sure they could make this happen, but really teachers are far too busy and already swamped by initiatives for a huge number of them to take it upon themselves to deliver an online media literacy project.

Here BBC & C4 are missing the opportunity to commission community media companies across the country to take these initiatives forward in the subsequent years after this initial pilot. Helen Shreeve quite rightly said they wouldn’t be able to give the same access tob BBC journalists, etc as they did this year, but contracting smaller media companies to take this work forward would allow access to media expertise. Here it might sound like I’m touting for work for Firstborn Creatives, which I very well might be, but much bigger than that is the unique opportunity for the big institutions such as BBC & C4 work strategically with the smaller community media companies to deliver an annual project that would have national impact, and a model globally on what is achievable in the name of media literacy.

To be fair both Adam and Helen did suggest they could link with community video outfits, but the emphasis and resources definitely were steering in the direction of their online resources. For starters, they are A LOT cheaper than getting funding to commission a load of community media organisations. Finance is obviously a huge issue here. But so is the opportunity. I’ll work my hardest to at least getting it discussed at a deeper, logistical level.

Watch this space.

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One thought on “Media Literacy and the Power of Institutions

  1. Shawn’s post is relevant to a project I am currently working on in Sydney, Australia, which is still in formative stages. I began with the audacious title `Active Media Literacy Project’ and began scanning the literature for possible tools young people could use to analyse aspects of the media, with a view to making public statements on media issues (making news about the news). However, as I have moved into the field and talked to young people I have started to think that it may be a mistake concentrating on the mass media alone. Young people are emersed in media which helps them project their interests, develop ideas and consolidate group identity through msn, blogs, texting. So now I am thinking that as this is the media that is within the realistic reach of `every child in Uk’ that it might be best to start here – or at least include it somehow. The idea of media literacy must surely be the development of a mass critical literacy, so engaging with work in contexts where young people currently enjoy autonomy seems a good idea. I am thinking one point of overlap might be recent press coverage of cyber bullying. Any sources, press files on this appreciated.

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