Dorset Eye: From the Passion to the Cradle
| Jason Cridland |
If you have viewed Unheard Voices: Youth, the “Riots” and the Media then you may have been struck with the perennial problem with the mainstream media: it speaks to us but not for us or with us. Local and national newspapers; TV; radio; magazines… all clichéd top down hierarchical control that like our voting system gives us a little whisper every so often but pays little or no attention.
As Edward Said said of Michel Foucault’s poststructuralist critique of the mainstream narrative ‘it showed how over long periods of time the rules became epistemological enforcers of what people thought, lived and spoke”. This has been of significant concern to my partner Deborah and I for a long while but we have not found ourselves in a position to do anything about it. We have four children ranging from 21 to 3 and I was a full time lecturer in Sociology, Politics and Philosophy. However when it was announced in May 2011 that our department was being shut in August 2012 the position obviously changed. Now was the time for us to grab or let go. From that moment we discussed and flushed ideas starting with an intention of setting up a local citizen reporting newspaper and then having explored the costs and flaws in this plan we decided to turn to the web. We were though influenced in no little measure by advice we received to check out Citizen’s Eye a website based in Leicestershire and attached to the Leicester Mercury.
The idea of news being reported by those who make it and the content by those who desire it always seemed to us to be the logical model. However, liberal democracy protocol is too often determined by a particular logic that requires the efforts of the mainstream media to obscure. Thus we always understood that by creating a citizen reporting hub we were doing more than merely setting up a website. We were undermining, albeit partially, the state and the status quo.
The cost of coordinating a website is usually a lot less than the cost of coordinating a newspaper. However there is still a cost. Unless it is a just a hobby which was never the intention then it has to pay for itself and the family (…more of this later). Not being a web design wizard we needed someone who was and they cost. In our case approximately £4000. We could have played it cheap but we would have had to pay later. Thus with my redundancy money (half of my job role was made redundant in the summer of 2011) we financed the creation of this venture. Risky, yes, but we are counting on others supporting us along the way!
So, in October 2011, we sat down with a web designer and detailed the content. The design had to be responsive and flexible but it also had to reflect the county it is based in: Dorset. A rural county with a small number of conurbations with one side a coastline and the rest adjoining Devon, Somerset, Wiltshire, and Hampshire. Although a politically conservative county it is also the home to some renowned liberals and left wingers. The main news outlets are the Dorset Echo and an increasing number of bloggers and community newspapers and websites. The sales of the Dorset Echo are on the wane but as it is owned by an American corporation it has the power and the clout to survive at least in the short to medium term. However, the future is online and there is no point in pretending otherwise. Acting as a community hub, the intention for Dorset Eye is to be much more than an online presence though. Where it is required to lead it will lead, and where it is required to support it will do all that it can to do so and where it is only expected to adhere to objectivity, well it will do just that. Bill Moyers writing in The Nation summed up our approach as well as anyone when he said:
‘Democracy works when people claim it as their own…Although our interests as citizens vary, each one is an artery to the heart that pumps life through the body politic, and each is important to the health of democracy. (Jan 22 2007)
Important decisions do have to be made though. Unless we can find some generous sponsors we are going to have to offer a service that will remunerate the hub because our aim is to be self sufficient. This does not mean, however, that the community should not support us financially. For it to be the hub we hope it will be then this community has to be intrinsic to its flowering and flourishing. We recognise, though, that in the short term and within this time of neoliberal meatball surgery that taking risks on a model that is more tranquilised than roused by the pursuit of profit is less probable. We do not want to be merely a service, we want to be but one contributor within a thriving community of people, ideas and actions.
So what now? Spreading the word across the county, the country and beyond is the next step. Sharing ideas, attracting contributors, informing and reassuring the local population, tweaking the initial site, populating the hub, attracting financial support… Getting out there sort of sums it up. Anyone who wants to be a part – contact DorsetEye. We look forward to meeting you as I hope you do us.
Jason Cridland is the Joint Coordinating Editor of Dorset Eye, a citizen-led media hub in Dorset that is due to be launched in late Spring. He is also a part time lecturer in a further education college and editor of the website The Ultimate Shambles.