This session of the weekly BCMCR Research Seminars was a departure from the usual format of papers delivered by researchers followed by discussion, and featured instead a workshop between academic research staff and students and practitioners from several community radio stations based in the region.
We were delighted to by joined by Churh and Danny Singh Raaj FM, Dean Kavanagh from Switch Radio, Danny D from New Style FM, and Dan from Black Country Radio. Introduced by BCMCR researchers Siobhan Stevenson and Rachel-Ann Charles, both currently working towards PhDs in areas related to community media, the session sought to explore how BCMCR and BCU as a whole can help community media groups achieve sustainability.
As highlighted by Siobhan, this session represented the beginning of a discussion that could eventually lead to the creation a network mirroring the recently created ‘Hub’ that has brought together researchers and practitioners in the South of England.
Rachel-Ann told the assembled group that in studies of Community Media, sustainability is something that crops up often, and this may enable us to come up with a framework for helping community media achieve it. Her own research looks at Community Media in the Caribbean, and although there are clear geographical, social, technical and economic differences between the areas of Siobhan’s focus, the issues are the same. A broad framework, however, can only come from putting practitioners and researchers together in an attempt to look at sustainability from 3 angles: Social; Organizational; and Financial. An academic view here is that the roots of sustainability are social, and if they are strong and established then the financial and organisational elements will follow. Siobhan put this to the practitoners, and there emerged an agreement that financial sustainability is perhaps the key, as everything breaks down otherwise. Dean Kavanagh highlighted a related problem from his experience on the ground: funding, when forthcoming, is usually for things that are not related to core activities such as retaining staff and building infrastructure. Others agreed, revealing that stations often end up end up with a hybrid financial model, one that necessarily chases advertising revenue whilst attempting to retain a focus on their respective communities.
BCMCR researcher Dave Harte offered a perspective from his work with Hyperlocal Media organisations. That sector, according to Dave’s research, is ‘following the money’ in number of ways: They are organisationally fluid in that they have variously organized as charities, businesses, community organisations, and so on, depending on available routes to funding, but their activities also increasingly include also lobbying for legislative change in the sector. An example here being the challenge Hyperlocal groups have mounted to the amount of often hidden subsidy enjoyed by more established media groups, manifested in the example of local councils being obliged to advertise statutory notices in the local press. Hyperlocal groups also experience an ethical dilemma in their ad-models (for example, not seeking revenue from national chains and only carrying ads from local firms). Dave’s work is a clear example of how BCMCR research into other, or related media sectors could have potential benefits to any jointly undertaken work between BCU and the local community radio sector.
Following this open discussion, smaller groups convened to come up with some initial ideas that could be taken forward. This was productive and yielded an extensive list of potential projects and initiatives, including: work placements for BCU media students; assistance from BCMCR in terms of bid writing, impact report writing and other activities related to funding; the establishment of a ‘Network’ of community stations; and assistance from BCMCR with audience measurement techniques to aid the procurement of advertising revenue.
Further sessions are planned for the near future.