This is a bit of a taking-stock post, brought on by a few live-stream related events this weekend. They are my personal thoughts about what Independence Live is and what it might become. I would value comments on the role of Independence Live in the new Scottish media, especially from regular viewers of our broadcasts.
We at Independence Live are actually busier now with live-streaming than we were during the referendum campaign. The group is getting bigger and we are all committed to continue broadcasting the type of political, social and cultural events, which the mainstream media are unlikely to cover. We want to improve the quality of what we do. We want more people to know about us and watch our live-streams. We want more people to get involved as citizen journalists.
Independence Live has run, so far, as a low-overhead operation. The bulk of the equipment used is supplied by the members themselves. We do this in our spare time and we never charge for our live-streaming services. Coordinating the group has become a full-time job for our founding member, Kevin, who draws a very small salary. Crowd-funding and voluntary viewer subscriptions cover this and any other unavoidable overheads: primarily the livestream.com subscription and our mobile broadband data plans.
Today we saw thousands from the YES movement gather in Glasgow at two huge events: the Radical Independence Campaign conference and Nicola Sturgeon’s final “road-show” appearance on her national tour. Both events were live-streamed. The former by a team of volunteer Independence Live citizen journalists and the latter by a commercial company, hired by the SNP. I watched at home as a viewer rather than a delegate or part of the team at the RIC Conference.
As he wrapped up the opening session of the RIC Conference, Jonathon Shafi mentioned the importance of conducting the conference and all Radical Independence Campaign activities in a professional manner. It got me thinking about the nature of amateur versus professional status in the context of what we do at Independence Live. Essentially we are amateurs (we don’t get paid), though we strive to conduct our live broadcasts in a professional (competent, skilful or assured) manner.
We have an ongoing internal debate about the best way forward for sustaining the group and achieving our aims and it strikes me now that this boils down to a discussion about retaining our amateur status versus embarking on the road to professional status. In this case, I’m meaning the other definition of professional: engaged in a specified activity as one’s main paid occupation rather than as an amateur. The road to there is paved with the quest for substantial funding, revenue generation, better equipment and ultimately job creation. More about those later.
Tomorrow night I will be live-streaming an event hosted by the Leith Walk SNP branch, where Lesley Riddoch is on the bill to share her thoughts on the media during the referendum and whether an alternative media is possible.
I would argue that an alternative media is already here, but I suppose the question is whether the media adventures, which blossomed during the referendum and in its aftermath, will survive as sustainable ventures. Of particular interest are the following entities, which are only now making their first steps into the world:
These new media operations have ambitions to quickly become part of the mainstream media landscape in Scotland. They appear to be realistically costed enterprises and I wish them every success. I reckon there is space and a need for all of them.
But should Independence Live have similar ambitions? Personally, I don’t think so. We are an alternative media operation, but one, which I think should not aspire to directly compete with the mainstream media. We are doing something new and different. We demonstrate that it is relatively simple for citizens to use accessible technology to shine a light on what is happening in their community. We are no different to the citizens who organise and attend the events we broadcast. These broadcasts will attract quite a niche audience and rarely, if ever, a mass audience, but the content is highly valued by that niche audience. Retaining our amateur status will, in my opinion, preserve our position in that delicate dynamic.
The goals of better equipment, access to funding and job creation are of course laudable, but require an enormous amount of time and energy – approaching full-time commitment from a few people. As far as I know none of the group are in that position, but as an amateur I am happy to focus my spare time and energy on continued live-streaming and encouraging more citizen journalists.
There are hitherto neglected endeavours, which need our attention, such as presenting workshops on live-streaming to encourage other citizen journalists and doing straight-forward PR to increase awareness about what we do. In terms of sustainability, I think the voluntary viewer subscription model coupled with our existing low-overhead operation is a realistic approach.