FAQ of Community Media: A case study

Understandably, for people who don’t know the community media sector exists at all, it can often be difficult to get their head around exactly what community media is, and how such organisations operate.  And even after being in existence now for 9 years working as a company, (Firstborn Studios – formerly known as Firstborn Creatives), it still isn’t always easy answering these queries in a concise way.

Here are some frequently asked questions, perceptions and misconceptions about community media in relation to Firstborn that I will explore below.  If you have any others please feel free to add them in your comments.  Sorry that it will also sound like an advert for Firstborn.  Hopefully it is also informative about the activities of a tiny aspect of this community media sector.  Lots of other organisations are out there also doing amazing work in this field.  The following views are mine only and don’t necessarily reflect all the views at Firstborn.  (Maybe they do, but I can’t speak for them!)

Q: Isn’t community media just another name for community radio?

A: No it isn’t.  Community Radio is a large part of the sector, but not the only part.  We are not a community radio station, and we are not a community television station either.  We work primarily in video but also interactive, animation, graphics, photograpy and other visual digital media, working in a participatorary way with groups of partcipants, young and elders.

Q: But if you’re not a community television station, how does your work get seen?

A: Various ways.  We mostly produce work for certain audiences, such as care workers, educators, etc.  So rather than making films for the sake of making it, we would ensire that the end product is being used in some way afterwards, in addition to the process being a positive experience for those taking part.  We sometimes distribute DVDs free in different places as moving image magazines.  We also arrange screening events and specific spaces where work is being used, discussed, used in conferences, informing policy to MPs, whatever and wherever it will inject a different ‘voice’ into the ear of the audiences.  We do very little work now that is about making films for films sake.  For us the media in not the message.  The medium is the process and the message is the end result.  Both elements are important and vital to a rich participatorary creative experience.

A: Is all you do train people how to use cameras and how to edit.

Q: No, not at all.  Take a look at some of the educational work we have done.  10% technical training + 90% intellectual engagement = 100% new skills and transferable experience.  We do believe that there are very real cross-curricular gains to be had by taking part in participatorary media projects in the short, medium and long term for participants involved.  Not only if they wanted to work in the media industry, but even if they want to do something completely different with their lives.  Community media is about 90% community and 10% media.  The full educational gains are there in spades, deeper than only mere training.


Q: What is it that makes you different than a “normal” production company?

A: Tricky question.  We do produce direct commissioned work that is not working in a ‘workshopped’ participatorary way with individuals, but we still make sure that the only work we take on has social interest of some kind.  We won’t do work that is plainly corporate with no social/community gain, or abour issues that we feel are contrary to the wishes of the communities that we serve.  It would be easier to show you rather than try to describe it in words.


Q: Isn’t all community media work about bad quality sound and dodgy camera work?

A: Thankfully those days are now long gone!  Just look at the quality of any of these videos for proof of that.  Whether it’s working with a group of primary school children on a video project, or producing a documentary for television broadcast, we feel high production values are key to everyone involved being proud of their achievements and gaining value in the wider world.  Very often community media products that have bad quality audio and picture get politely patronised by the audiences, who allow the bad quality due to it being made by a bunch of cute kids.  I think everyone and anyone who has working in community media & arts will have been guilty of that at some point in their career I’m sure!  Well we are really striving for a parity of quality in process, product and meaning, to ensure the experience has value from a 360 degree angle, and not only if you are the grandparents of the young producer involved.

Q: Do you only work with young people?

A: Even though a lot of our work has been with young people, especially the participatorary workshop projects we have done, we don’t work exclusively with young people.  For example we also work with senior citizens groups, museums & heritage sector and also the health & well being sector.  Here’s some examples of the latter.


Q: Aren’t all community media people anarchists and want to smash the state and see all mainstream media institutions like the BBC closed down?

A: No not at all.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  We see we play a valid role in creating and encouraging platforms for different ‘voices’ that are not aired on/in mainstream media, but we see our role as a compliment to mass media, and also a compliment to mainstream education.  Not anti either of them.  An alternative to them in certain instances – (e.g. to hear a different opinion in the media, and a different way of learning outside the classroom), but we work closely with mainstream media and formal education institutions and we always will.  We see them as vital co-players in building an equal civil society, and acknowledge they have their role to play, within certain constraints and limitations, and we have ours.  The anarchist side of community media is just one element of this sector, but like community radio, there are many many different aspects that not everyone working in it draws on.  The anarchist radical media agenda of wanting a more democratic media and a fairer society are values that a lot of us working in less overtly political areas of community media also share, but we just choose to do our work in different ways with different motivations and agendas on our sleeves.  A more free and open acces mass media would be great for all, but I don’t personally applaud the closing down of all these newspapers that are falling victim to the free online news culture and blog revolution.  Mass media has its uses also.  (This is too much to get into here.  Maybe some other time!)

Q: Uhm..I’ve got a few more questions but I’d better stop here as otherwise you’ll be going on all day!!!

A: Yes, that’s a good idea.  Good chatting with you.  Get your people to call my people and we’ll do lunch.  Mwah! Mwah!

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