• Davis Media Access's offices
  • A video on Luminosity's YouTube channel
  • A visionOntv training template
  • An edit suite at Davis Media Access
  • A video on AbsoluteDestiny's YouTube channel
  • The visionOntv platform's menu
  • telex
    Davis Media Access's studio control room
  • Laura announcing a video on LiveJournal
  • visionOntv's YouTube channel
  • mixing board
    A mixing board in Davis Media Access's control room
  • Obsessive24 announcing a video on LiveJournal
  • One of visionOntv's Twitter feeds
  • Davis on air
    The entrance to Davis Media Access's studio
  • Laura recommending a video on her Dreamwidth journal
  • visionOntv's Facebook page
  • marin control
    Community Media Center of Marin's studio contol room
  • Here's Luck's website
  • visionOntv's Blip channel
  • mural
    Davis Media Access office's wall mural
  • Here's Luck announcing a video on tumblr
  • Merseyside Street Reporters Network's Facebook page
  • MarinWindow
    The Community Media Center of Marin's offices
  • AbsoluteDestiny announcing a video on Dreamwidth
  • Merseyside Street Reporters Network wiki page on the visionOntv platform
  • Davis camera
    A studio camera at Davis Media Access
  • Luminosity's video "Vogue"
  • Sara Newton's YouTube channel
  • Marin cameras wide
    Remote control studio cameras at the Community Media Center of Marin
  • researcher
    The reseacher (left) co-operating visionOntv's "pop-up studio" at OpenTech 2011

Merseyside Street Reporters Network

VisionOntv ran a series of video training workshops that they promoted as the “Making News Roadshow”, and I focus here on the one conducted in Liverpool in June 2011, which I attended. They described these workshops on their website as a series of free “citizen TV reporter workshops”, and Hamish explained that the principle of them was to keep the video making process as simple as possible so they could be completed and uploaded quickly, and not "just left sitting in the camera".

The Liverpool workshop was structured around three video-making "templates" developed by visionOntv. The following is a video of Hamish and Richard explaining the "one shot news report" template in Liverpool:


While the workshop concentrated on teaching the video templates, the facilitators also went around helping the participants upload their videos to the Internet, and Hamish ran a session at the end of the workshop going through this in detail, as well as explaining the functionality of the visionOntv platform, and how to link an RSS feed from the participants' YouTube accounts into it.  Hamish had set up a section within the visionOntv platform for this, where the workshop group was dubbed the “Merseyside Street Reporters Network” (MSRN).

A MSRN page within the visionOntv platform (click to enlarge)

The MSRN section within the visionOntv site also included tools for the group's members to interact with each other, such as a wiki and bulletin board. However, the MSRN Facebook group was where almost all of MSRN’s online interaction occurred. This was set up on the initiative of a visionOntv volunteer who was at the workshop. Its use was discouraged by the visionOntv core members, who wanted the group to use the tools on the visionOntv platform instead, although they were unsuccessful in this.

An excerpt from the MSRN Facebook page (click to enlarge)

Facebook was used to announce meetings, discuss upcoming events to film, and provide links to relevant websites.  Only 11 MSRN-made videos were announced on Facebook, compared to around 60 connected via RSS from YouTube to the visionOntv platform, although the core members assisted in setting up most of these feeds.  Posting to Facebook dropped off rapidly from late-January 2012, and there were only six posts in total from then until May 2012.

In addition to my general observations of MSRN and my participation with it online, I also followed the activities of two of its members, Greg Vogiatzis and Sara Newton, from our meeting at the initial workshop until the end of my fieldwork.  Greg said that the workshop was the first time he had ever made a video.  He explained that he wanted to make videos because he wanted to “document political activism by filming various marches and protests”, and to promote a local housing cooperative he was setting up.  He uploaded his videos to the Internet as he believed it was an easy way of keeping the investors in the cooperative up to date on progress.  He also wanted to use the Internet to engage with the younger members of the cooperative, teaching them to be “street reporters” too, to give them an outlet to express themselves constructively.

A video of Greg's using the "still camera template"

He uploaded his videos to YouTube (most of his videos were in fact on his son's YouTube account, which is no longer publicly accessible) because it was the simplest to use, and posted links to the MSRN Facebook group as well as his own personal Facebook account because “Facebook is a universal tool”.  He explained that he thought the group from the workshop was using Facebook in preference to the visionOntv tools because they were "a bit clunky".

Greg had very little interaction with his audience online.  He didn’t get any comments on his videos on the visionOntv site, and very few on his YouTube and Facebook accounts.  However, this did not concern him as his immediate focus was on establishing the MSRN as a group, rather than cultivating an audience.  He also saw the MSRN as primarily an offline group that used online tools to organise and maintain momentum between meetings. He was disappointed that the MSRN Facebook group didn’t take off as the group’s communication tool, and he believed this was because “Facebook users are bombarded with notifications and just switch off to stuff that isn't priority or immediately/instantly relevant”. 

For Sara, as with Greg, the visionOntv workshop was the first time she had ever made a video.  She made videos to give her view on local activist and community happenings. The following video is an interview with her at the Rebellious Media Conference in 2011 where she was running a stall for the radical bookshop she works for in Liverpool, explaining why she became a video activist, and contextualising this with her views on radical bookshops and the Internet as social spaces.

Sara at the Rebellious Media conference

She saw her activist videos as part of a "critical mass":

If somebody came across my video [on YouTube], they wouldn’t necessarily change their mind, but if they came across it in the context of lots of other people reporting similar contradictions to mainstream media, then we become something rather exciting and important.

She uploaded her videos to YouTube because it was the service she was introduced to at the workshop.  Her YouTube account was also linked via RSS to the MSRN section of the visionOntv platform at the workshop. 

One of Sara's videos filmed using her phone

However, by the time of our second interview at the end of my fieldwork, she had become uncomfortable using YouTube on ideological grounds, and was considering changing to Vimeo where she thought making a profit wasn’t “the be all and end all”. Also, her attitude towards the YouTube audience was very dismissive: “if I am judged, I don’t have to take the judgement seriously … the bands of howling deriders that often come around anything political on YouTube … you can easily dismiss [them] …”.  In general, she was not particularly interested in engaging with her audience, nor had the time to do it, and felt that her job as a video activist stopped at making and uploading the videos.

While she was a member and regular commenter on the MSRN Facebook group for the first few months of its existence, she didn’t link her videos to it because she believed it would be “preaching to the converted” and so not worth doing.  For her the MSRN Facebook page was for organising meet ups, seeing what the different members were up to, and staying in contact with them. 

Sara’s video making activity and MSRN Facebook activity dropped off almost completely a couple of months after the workshop.  She explained in our final interview that she had lost her phone not long after the workshop, which was her only video-making tool, and that she could not afford to replace it for some time.  This caused her some loss of momentum with respect to her involvement in MSRN, which meant she stopped attending meetings and visiting the MSRN Facebook page. 

Overall, the visionOntv core team considered the Liverpool workshop a success because they learnt something about the workshop and node-building process, and because it resulted in a significant number of alternative videos being added to the visionOntv platform, in spite of the fact that the MSRN did not flourish into a self-sustaining entity.