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Community collaboration

Empowering disabled and older people through citizen journalism

The project

Researchers and students at BU have been training volunteers and members of Access Dorset to become citizen journalists and get their voices heard. Mainstream media rarely focuses on the voices of marginalised groups, which can make it difficult for them to voice their opinions, shape public debate or influence decisions that affect them. Access Dorset, a local user-led organisation, wanted to challenge this status quo and support disabled people and older people to express themselves and further their inclusion in society.

After learning about Dr Einar Thorsen’s research into citizen journalism, they approached him to learn more and find out how they could collaborate. BU colleagues Dr Ann Luce and Dr Daniel Jackson were included in the team for their expertise on news reporting of mental health issues and media representation of disabled peoples respectively. Initial discussions with Access Dorset resulted in a five-week training course, led by BU researchers and students, which trained Access Dorset’s volunteers and members in the basic principles of citizen journalism. Participants learned how to make films, express themselves and take action on issues that matter them. This unique blend of research-based workshops, working with the community and student involvement underpins BU’s fusion strategy, which is at the heart of our work.

Some of the resulting films have gone on to form the central part of local campaigns to improve accessibility in Bournemouth and Poole, share vital information about support services for carers and promote local para-sports teams. Thanks to the skills learned in the workshops led by BU researchers and students, local disabled people and older people have been able to highlight issues important to them, which otherwise would have remained unknown. Even more importantly, they have been able to influence change as a result of their new found skills.

The academic

Dr Einar Thorsen

“For us, putting research into practice by working with the community and teaching students is what being an academic is all about,” Einar explains.

“We drew on our collective research and professional experience to create bespoke workshops that enabled Access Dorset’s volunteers to create their own films about issues that matter to them."

It’s been really rewarding to see that several have gone on to use their films as the basis of local campaigns.”

The student

Nicholas Williams, BA (Hons) Multimedia Journalism student

Nicholas supported the delivery of workshops after being asked to get involved by Dr Ann Luce, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism.

“I was really pleased to be asked to get involved in teaching the workshops as they focused on creating, producing and editing videos, which is something I have a particular interest in. I felt like a real asset to BU,” he says.

“Throughout the workshops I provided support for Ann, occasionally did some teaching myself and supported students by giving them technical assistance, such as how to use particular cameras or helping them to improve their editing skills.

“I really enjoyed being part of the project as it opened my eyes to a community that, as a young person, I don’t often come into contact with. It was great to be able to teach people new skills and learn from a different generation to my own,” Nicholas explains.

Not only that, it improved my self-belief, and confirmed to me that video production was something that I wanted to pursue as a career. Working with Access Dorset helped me to improve my communication skills and editing skills, which is experience I really valued as it’s helped me to pursue a career in video production.”

Nicholas continues: “The project built on my passion for producing video content and being able to pass on my skills to another generation was a really beneficial experience. It's something I'd recommend to anyone.”

The impact

Jonathan Waddington-Jones, Chief Executive of Access Dorset

“The idea for developing along the lines of Access Dorset TV and citizen journalism came out of some informal discussions I had with staff in the Access Dorset office during November 2012,” Jonathan explains.

“We were fed up with media stereotypes of disabled people as either ‘victims’, ‘heroes’ or ‘scroungers’ and wanted to challenge this. We wanted to find a way of giving a voice to our members too, as we felt that while our website was useful, it was mostly a way of passing on information rather than engaging.”

“I used to look at the BBC News website homepage and I liked the short videos, the mix of pithy and serious news in small video bites. I joked about us setting up our own TV channel and then started looking at citizen journalism," he reveals.

"We thought we could provide a voice, peer support, advice and information produced for and by disabled people, older people and carers through the medium of video and citizen journalism.”

“We contacted Bournemouth University who I knew from my research (Google!) had a strong interest in citizen journalism and I was very fortunate to discover Dr Einar Thorsen, Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Communication and a well-known author on the subject of citizen journalism. Einar and his colleagues were keen to be involved and ended up delivering a citizen journalism course to 12 Access Dorset members.

“They were a diverse group of people of different ages and backgrounds, with different impairments and different interests," Jonathan continues. "They nonetheless developed a unified sense of purpose as a group, as each pursued their particular interests, some immersing themselves in editing, others pursuing stories of personal interest. Some wanted to make overtly political or campaigning films while others worked on films that were more about sharing information.”

He adds that the work has had a significant impact:

Since the workshops have taken place we have gone on to make approximately 200 short films which have had over 22,000 views and 45,000 minutes of watch time. Six of the original cohort of trainee citizen journalists remain involved and have formed a Film Making Club that meets weekly to practice skills and pursue topics."

“We now employ a full-time skilled film technician and as well as our citizen journalism we now produce films commissioned mostly by social care and health organisations. Our unique selling point for our film commissions is an authentic ‘real feel’ that puts people at the forefront.”

“Our original citizen journalists have gone on to train a second cohort – a group of adults with learning disabilities. This saw a significant increase in the confidence of those who took part. The citizen journalists have also held film-making workshops with a group of young disabled people.”