engagement, community and the individual

A couple of days ago I posted on the conflict between writing what people are identified, through the crunching of online stats, as wanting in their newspapers, and writing what we – as grandly hierarchical authorial voices – believe people need to read.  I concluded in the following way:

Perhaps, in a sense, it is wrong of me to bemoan latterday newspapers’ statistical approach to writing stories.  Structures and restrictions have always faced our artists: the shock of the new, the art of the old, the genius of the wise, the resilience of the one-day-to-be-famous creators of future generations … all these issues and more may help us to understand better that whilst the moneymen and women do substantially affect our ability to do good, equally the Utopia we would desire is inevitably beyond our reach.

It may or may not be democracy to only write what people want.

But similarly, mightn’t it be a kind of fascism to only write what we think they need?

Last night, meanwhile, I finally let go – in the face of a resounding lack of interest – of a hyperlocal journalism project which has had grand virtue but zero engagement in the community where I live.

In response to this piece, a very nice man I met a few weeks ago in person very kindly tweeted this:

This post you are reading now is my short and concise reply.

Engagement is the buzz-concept of the second decade of this 21st century.  Without take-up, without a wider acceptance, utility for any virtual and/or community project does not exist.  And there is little point – in the case of the hyperlocal experiences under discussion today, for example – in my continuing another seven months, bravely plugging away as an individual who is peculiarly, maybe fruitlessly, in the outfield of irrelevant process – with what’s evidently been, at a personal level anyway, a limited capacity to engage that wider community.

In any case, from the beginning, the project was about sustainability: about re-engineering existing business models in tandem with the new hyperlocal, for the benefit of all and sundry.  And it’s here, perhaps, where my sticking-point has lain all along.  I’ve been a blogger since 2003 (maybe earlier; can’t remember for sure): part of that army of virtual ants which has clambered altruistically, collaboratively, ultimately (I’m afraid to say) grossly too, over its tiring companions and colleagues, as the years have passed by in generally unpaid and uncompensated labour.

If I am clear about anything, it’s that I don’t want such volunteer weariness to repeat itself for hyperlocal – for yet another possibly foolish and certainly unknowing generation of hopefuls.

We don’t want to make of significant journalism a permanent internship of promises, never fulfilled.

If I give up on being a one-man band, this is mainly, primarily, why.

For starters, out of a kind of déjà vu.  Out of seeing how excited individuals are exploited systemically through their own laudable belief in their communities and the future.

Also, then, because I do seriously wonder the following: in democracy, what right does any individual (like myself, I mean) have to hierarchically define what an unwilling community rejects – whether outright and explicitly or with an (un)fairly cloaked sense of ownership?

And so it is, by way of final observation, I express – in the strongest terms –  my desire to create models and dynamics of collaboration which attribute and remunerate justly.

As in our emotional lives, so in our business relationships.

Isn’t that right?  Isn’t that how – always – it should be?

heath robinsonian strategies at #hyperlocal #dokuwiki #citywiki #chesterwebsite

I’ve continued to fiddle about with languages and code.  Or maybe the one is the other; the latter is the former.

Today, I worked out how to embed video for the hyperlocal site I’ve been working on over the past week, chester.website.  You can embed a ton of different sites too.  Three examples of where I’ve added footage this afternoon:

  1. From the local council’s YouTube account, these two contrasting pages.
  2. From a vimeo.com account I created this evening, a piece of historical footage on the North West’s film premiere of “Casino Royale”.

The advantage of the latter is that the pay-for tranches are pretty reasonable, and you can choose and adapt the licences so they fit with the underlying one of the wiki.

This is important, as the main differentiating aspect of the site I’m trying to develop and sustain, with respect to other – equally hyperlocal, clearly brilliant – sites, is the sharing and remix side of things.  I’m looking to create a resource of voices which others can listen to, understand and reuse.  If it works and is understood properly, it will serve to comprehend and cement the importance of local identities, histories, realities and sensibilities in a way that – on their lonesome – number-crunching stat-infused KPIs will never really achieve.


I agree.

It’s a terribly Heath Robinsonian process.  Here I am, in full view of a possibly rather bemused public, trying out bits and bobs of tech I’m unfamiliar with – simply to see how they work.

(Then there’ll be the wondering what my “real” motivations are.  Especially in a city like Chester where people are friendly when you get to know them, but where getting to know them can be like working out the ins and outs of CSS.

I have a book on that.

It remains – I’m ashamed to say – unopened.)

But that Heath Robinson approach in a media industry where, nowadays, the languages which battle for predominance are not only the mother tongues always the province of journalists but also the code, software parameters and technical syntaxes much more of the rarefied world of developers, we cannot forget the importance and the need to go ahead and continually push both linguistic envelopes – in a way which allows each to inform the other.

And so in order that developers may understand journalism better, and in order that journalists may understand what their profession could become, there has to be overlap between the two spheres.  A developer needs to do some reporting.  A journalist needs to do some coding; and if not coding, at the very least the occasional server install of this or that software script.

By now I’m pretty sure, of course, that this overlap I suggest just has to involve the strategies I’m currently struggling with.

Maybe not exactly the path I’m treading.  But certainly the conceptual tools I’m walking hand-in-glove with.

I’m a trained editor who’s never practised.  So perhaps this is an advantage in a certain respect.  I’m less respectful, inevitably, of the profession’s sacred cows.

OK, you may be right.  This may lead to all our downfalls.  Perhaps, in my case, I will end up making a lowly cheeseburger of a site, after all.

I don’t believe it’ll be the case – and, what’s more, I’ll do everything in my power to ensure it doesn’t happen.

But, in the end, whether the beef will be top notch or not, it won’t be for me to say.

In the end, the voices – who I firmly believe want an outlet – must find their own way; must decide whether to speak up or not.

And in the end, if they want to, they shall.

(letting stifled) voices (breathe)

I’ve posted a couple of articles recently over at http://error451.me/blog, on the subject of the #hyperlocal website I’m setting up with DokuWiki software.  Most of the time I’ve been spending on the techie side of things – I am, indeed, an adult child with a toy.

Most simple way of explaining it is that – for me – working out how to make such things work is like I was a kid on Christmas morning with a huge new box of Lego.

Not the Lego that came with instructions and is kind of reductionist (ie today’s Lego).  No.  Rather, the Lego where you had to invent the plans yourself.

That Lego.

That time during the 20th century.

No Star Wars, Indiana Jones or Batman tie-ins at all.

Anyhow.  To bring those of you who follow this blog and not the other up-to-date (no pressure on not following, mind!!!), here are my two most recent posts on the subject of the aforementioned #hyperlocal chester.website:

  1. http://error451.me/2015/01/31/a-hyperlocal-publishing-project-experiences-with-dokuwiki-on-chester-website/
  2. http://error451.me/2015/02/03/further-thoughts-on-hyperlocal-sites-and-dokuwiki-software/

(I thought I’d be early web there, and give you the full-on effect of old-fashioned linking!)

If you read the two posts in question, one of the issues that comes up is that of the difference between voices and opinions.

In my opinion (where not my voice …), voicing opinions tends only to harden prejudice.


That didn’t work too well.

Let’s rewind and try again.

I think that expressing opinions tends only to harden prejudice.  Whereas expressing one’s voice leads to a far better chance of a wider understanding all round.

When we hear a voice, we are more than likely going to want to listen to what’s being said.

When we hear an opinion, we stiffen immediately and put up the mental barricades in defence.

We embrace a voice.

We only ever want to contradict an opinion.

This is why I would love to set up a cooperative around an environment such as the one I’m trying little by little to build at chester.website: a cooperative which would imply a judicious – as well as a just – combination of continuous and regular learning opportunities alongside a proper and equitable business relationship.  Nothing like that in order to drive engagement, right?

An environment which allowed ordinary people to acquire the learning necessary both to communicate and do business in an evermore socially networked world.

Yes.  I know.  It’s barely fleshed out there.  It’s still at a very primitive stage.  Even the editorial side of things – I guess you’d imagine a priori as being easier than the techie stuff – is partly dependent on knowing what the techie side can allow you to do which people never did before in such communicative contexts.

Also, editorial missions and approaches always depend on the people themselves.  Not how many.  Not what ages.  Exactly the individuals in question.  So how can you decide stuff before others come onboard?  Well.  Of course you can’t.  Naturally you have to wait.  (Though, as you may have guessed, it’s not in my nature to know how to wait gracefully.)


Nothing like the social economy to drive social interactions.  A cooperative of #hyperlocal relationships, then, to let all those stifled voices breathe.

What do you think?