Making case for Quakers to reach for their phone cameras

Showing by doing - Patrick Chalmers filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming's Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

Showing by doing – Patrick Chalmers is filmed by Judy Kirby in a video report featuring Compassion in World Farming’s Philip Lymbery (l). Photo by Alistair Heslop.

I’ve been working with UK Quaker organisations over the last couple of years, first as a journalist writing article series for the weekly magazine The Friend and latterly in various initiatives aimed at encouraging Quakers to speak their work to the world as citizen journalists.

I like spending time with Quakers – those I’ve encountered so far combine an engagement and energy for taking action to improve our society with a rootedness in their daily faith and practice. Though not a Quaker myself, I find this combination of activism and faith very inspiring. It somehow cuts a path between what seems like apathy on the part of many people with regard to the state of our political systems and the anger, judgment and aggression to which many activists can be prone, myself included. I understand why people might be either apathetic or angry, both at once even, yet I personally can’t accept not trying to do something about the state of things.

It is in that spirit that I joined forces with Quaker journalist Judy Kirby, ex-editor of The Friend and a life-long reporter, to pitch a funding proposal to the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, more specifically their Power and Accountability strand.

Our idea was, in fact it remains, to train Quakers as citizen journalists focused on improving both our media and the quality of our governance structures. For me, as I explain in Fraudcast News – How Bad Journalism Supports Our Bogus Democracies, there’s no point in doing one without the other.

Though we failed to get any JRCT money, I think basically we pitched for too much as an unproven start-up project, we have done some useful work in preparing the application and road-testing our ideas. We will build on these during the coming months on a more ad hoc basis, as funds allow.

Our latest example of road-testing was in London earlier this month, where Judy and I took part in the Quakers and Business 2014 Annual Conference. The theme was Food – there’s a story behind everything we eat, making it particularly suited to talking about the benefits of Quakers taking to citizen journalism.

Below is the 15-minute talk that I gave as an event speaker. I basically argued that yes, there are many food stories we can tell as citizen journalists but what we also need to understand are the chronic failures of our political systems to respond to those stories.

In addition to talking, Judy and I were also determined to demonstrate our arguments by doing.

That entailed shooting a series of sample videos, on the eve of the conference and on the day itself, to showcase the potential of using a smartphone video camera to shoot no-edit video reports for web broadcast. Had that been our sole mission for the event, what follows would be a more comprehensive video series than the four shown below. These are still a good sample of what’s possible.

We did a couple of videos featuring speakers John Turner*, a smale-scale Lincolnshire beef farmer and co-funder of The Pasture-Fed Livestock Association, and Philip Lymbery, chief executive of Compassion in World Farming. These are the more conventional reports you might expect from an event such as this – allowing event non-attenders to get a flavour of proceedings.

In addition to these, Judy did her first publicly aired video interview – she, like me, having spent most of her career in print. It featured event participant Terry Hobday as the interviewee after she volunteered to tell her food story, one relating to researching the effects of poor nutrition on childhood behaviour and development. Terry then promptly accepted my challenge to take the microphone herself, conducting a debut interview with another volunteer storyteller John White having had only the most rudimentary training on how to do it. I was hugely impressed with the result – pure chutzpah!

The video series showed what is possible with nothing more than a smartphone, an attached microphone and some basic training in the shots template devised by those cunning types at visionOntv – Hamish Campbell and Richard Hering. Having spent decades of heartache trying to get activists to find their voices on camera, this duo have hit on a templates series for people to learn some very serviceable basics themselves.

Judy and I, during the coming months, are aiming to take this technique to Quaker groups around the UK. We’ve one event already booked for April – with the Quakers and Business group. We think it’s a potentially powerful tool to use as part of wider citizen-journalist efforts to promote positive-but-radical social change from the grassroots up.

Give me a shout via @PatrickChalmers if you think we can do something together.

* Correction made on November 27, 2014, John Turner’s surname was corrected from “Hunter”

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Filed under democracy, journalism, video activism

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