This is a summary of “how we made it happen”. The suggestions below draw from our reflections as researchers and makers and we offer them here to inspire others to make programmes that are not solely about individuals’ stories, but bring together groups to make media on community, for community, and by community. (If you have further suggestions drawn from your experience, please contact xxx to share them.)
For the group that makes the programme: We found that the value of making programmes is as much for the group as for anyone listening. It offers a chance to reflect actively about roles, purposes and the meaning of the group to its members. It can help a group move on, by setting direction for the future while acknowledging its history. It can be used on the group’s website as a promotional tool for recruiting new members or winning funding.
For listeners: We played our programmes on community radio and they are now stored on the Community Media Association’s website (link) for sharing and broadcasting in other parts of the country. This continuing life makes it important to think about relevance when editing it together. Is anything so time-sensitive that it will be out-of-date when listened to in a few months’ time? Have we made a local reference that no one outside the county will recognise? And have we explained what we are talking about so that people outside the group will be able to follow our stories?
For the partner groups involved: There was obvious interest across the groups for each other’s work. Groups wanted to learn about each other, compare outputs and hear the work of fellow-travellers in the project. In our project, this interest in others’ work was nurtured by setting up the task as a collaboration, with a blog to share progress and meetings between groups’ coordinators. We fed the sense that everyone is engaged in a programme-making task together across groups, even though in separate parts of the country (Sheffield, Birmingham and Cornwall). This gave the work more relevance to the partners than a project making programmes in isolation would have had.
Clearly, we can use the technique with groups of groups. For instance, one of our advisors suggested that it would work well for the Transition Towns movement (link) because a number of different groups with similar goals are spread across the country, dealing with different challenges but with many interests in common. By making programmes as a group of groups, everyone could hear how others are tackling issues and find new ideas.
Below are some of our tips for making a community-orientated programme:
- Write your own agendas at the start of so that you keep the sense of clarity and purpose alive in your project and maintain clarity in your group about what you are doing.
- Decide whether an audio broadcast is best for your group. It has several advantages – from a flourishing community radio scene to work with, to the ease of making podcasts, to the relative anonymity and lower embarrassment factor of speaking on radio compared with appearing on video. However, it lacks the means to show off visual materials so it is not optimal for demonstrations of visual work. The Birmingham craft makers talked eloquently about their materials and what they made and it was possible to imagine, but it was also good to see some images.
- Make sure what you are doing is clear to the listener and that you have communicated what you are doing in an interesting and informative way. We thought that the Birmingham broadcast did this very well by using ‘voice over’ and narrative. Getting other groups or individuals to listen to a ‘rough cut’ of your broadcast and give you some critical feedback can be really helpful.
- If you are working with a producer, work collaboratively, giving critical feedback yourselves. Everyone has different ideas about what this kind of radio broadcast should be like so don’t assume the professionals know best. Many producers are used to preparing work for particular radio programmes – you may know better what you need. Ensure that you retain ownership over your project and that the final broadcast is something that you feel happy with. This is something that our groups struggled with in different ways, suggesting the importance of skills exchange and development and the need for those interested to train with their local community radio stations and gain production and editing skills. The Source radio station in Cornwall (link), for instance, runs training workshops aimed at those aged sixty and above in order to increase engagement with a series of heritage broadcasts.
- One of the great things about community radio is that it can be experimental and risk-taking in ways that will never happen in mainstream media, so we would encourage you to be as experimental as you like. The Sheffield and Cornwall projects took risks with their use of sound, jump cuts, background noise, laughter, etc. Responses to this were varied. Risk-taking does not always aid clarity. It is a matter of trying to balance the two to get your ideas across while still keeping audience interest alive.
- Framing is key to maintaining clarity and it is vital to ensure that the listener is always aware of what is happening in the broadcast, who is talking and why and that the overall ideas/themes/narrative is being communicated clearly and in an engaging way. Our three broadcasts approached this in different ways and the listening groups concluded that some did it more successfully than others. We would encourage you to be creative in how you approach this issue but also to bear in mind how easy it is for the listener to get lost and confused without some clear signposts about what is going on
- Working with your group
- Be aware that your values might not be the same as those listening to your broadcast, so be sensitive to questions of religious and social diversity and multiculturalism.
- Give everyone a chance to hear the ‘rough cut’ edit together and discuss it, but also give members a chance to think about it alone to ensure that they are happy with the content and how they and the group are portrayed. We gave a two week ‘cool down’ period between playing the ‘final’ edit to the group and sending it out. After that it was broadcast to a broader public. Ensure that the group realises that, at some point, it may be difficult if not impossible to alter.
- Consider who owns the programme. Is there someone who will look after it for the group and keep it accessible to members? If someone else wants to play the programme, do they have permission to rebroadcast, edit or mash up the material or are some rights reserved by the group? More information on rights can be found at the CMA (link).
- The programme
- Introduce the group clearly, its identity, aims and the purpose of the broadcast.
- Make it clear what project the group is working on and what they are doing.
- Build up characterisation – individual stories are a great way of getting an audience interested, engaged and empathising.
- Articulate individual members’ motivations, why is the group and/or this project important to them and why are they involved – the motivations of those who volunteer their time to work on projects are particularly interesting and inspiring to others.
- Think about the stylistic aspects and how they can create a unifying theme. The Sheffield broadcast, for instance, used a song that was specially written for the project by one of the daughters involved in the group. The Cornwall broadcast used sound effects (a zip, the sound of coat hangers on a rail in a charity shop) to create links that signal shifts in time and place. The Birmingham group depended more heavily on a ‘voice over’ from the radio producer to help narrate the project.
- Think about scene-ship – how to set the scene and change scenes without losing continuity.
- Length – good advice is to give it what it is worth length-wise, but we have found that listeners start to lose interest in anything over 15 minutes. Shorter can often be sweeter! If you are working with a radio station, they may have a format that they would like you to use.
- If you want your broadcast to retain its relevance don’t include topical references or put dates in (unless they are relevant historical dates).
- Content – there will be a great deal of variation here depending on your individual projects, but all projects have their challenges and talking about how the group has met and dealt with some of these is enormously valuable to others. Talking as a group is different from talking as an individual. There is shared history and a reason for coming together that adds depth to the experiences you can share.
- Pay attention to how you conclude. We felt that the Birmingham crafting group had a particularly nice conclusion that summed up what had been communicated in the broadcast.