On the amateur status of a citizen journalist

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.

2 thoughts on “On the amateur status of a citizen journalist

  1. Hi Gerry,

    I have watched a fair few of the streams and I believe this area has importance. You are doing a grand job and I will try to give some constructive feedback around your request.

    What is it?
    It is a relatively new media, and is an ‘alternative’ to disseminating information from everything that has came before and what people have experienced over many decades.

    Is it comparable to traditional media?
    It is not in direct competition to printed or mainstream broadcast media, therefore, I don’t think there is logic in having similar ambition to their business models or indeed make comparisons.

    What is the market?
    Digital journalism is obviously a rapidly growing phenomenon. It seems obvious that when considering the decline in printed media coupled with the growing skepticism of broadcast media (but increasing amount of channels with alternative views) that online media itself will become part of the mainstream.

    What is the potential?
    There is the potential to grow the operation in different ways, such as:
    • Do what you do now but do it more i.e. more people that can cover more events
    • More diverse subject matter to cover other areas of general interest
    • Investigative journalism
    • Base the content in away from indielive and have a more of a brand
    • Partner with a news site like scottishstatesman or modernscotsman

    What should our ambition be?
    Entirely up to you guys where your ambition lies of course. My opinion is we should take the Sturgeon lead of ‘no glass ceiling’.

    Conclusion
    There is no link between mainstream and professionalism. I want to get my own opinion out there, like many other frustrated indie supporters. I work full-time, have a family and have only so much time to dedicate to the cause I believe in. I absolutely rely on the effort others put in to run the news sites where I can post a blog, to broadcast incredibly poignant events that others I would not see and that will be preserved for posterity/education/reference.

    There are many thousands in a similar position as me. We need people to put the effort in that we can’t. The only way this can be properly done is for x amount of people with the right skills to dedicate themselves full-time to the cause, possibly and probably supplemented with a growing squad of part-timers. This requires a completely professional approach and a business strategy. Just because you are doing something you believe in, does not mean you should not be paid. In fact the opposite is completely true.

    Alternative media does not have to be synonymous with small. Do not be concerned about preserving a niche audience, we have trust in you and you should have faith in yourselves. Go for it, to be all you can be and grow the whole operation. Let your anger and frustration be your driving force, we will support you and many others will too.

    Cheers,

    Craig Sheridan (@craigthepict)

  2. Top class work, Gerry & Co. Was cookin in the kitchen, so didn’t have time to fiddle with gizmos, but I caught chunks of Bernadette McAlliskey/Tariq Ali Speeches as they were happening, feed at times erratic, but enough to hear what high quality speeches these were. Personally I’m a bigger fan of mpe podcasts, that you can just down load to your phone in one ‘gulp’ & then play back through earphones on the bus/train etc. Keep up great work, will try & helpv if I can get time

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