Monday 16 April 2012

All the latest - Transition Themes Week #13 - Communications

Welcome to our Transition Themes Week #13, where we will be looking at all the latest news and developments in Transition Norwich.

We start, as usual, in the communications dept, where alongside this and other blogs, your busy ed has been starting up a national Transition newspaper. Several of us are designing a preview edition we hope to publish in May, both for everyone's feedback and to find some investment. Can print media be a social enterprise? Can we sustain ourselves in tricky times? The thinking behind this venture is that though on-line comms is brilliant, quick and relatively easy (and cheap) to do, print goes to places that no website can. You have to deliberately search for a blog, but a paper you can come across by surprise. And so its appeal will be broad enough to go beyond Transition circles.

Sustainable Bungay's newsletter, for example, which comes out every quarter, goes into the local cafes, library, theatre, shops and waiting rooms. Anyone can pick it up and see what kinds of projects we are engaged in, what Transition is about. Even if people don't come to events they know that in their town there are projects looking at grey water systems, sowing a wild meadow for bees, organising summer cycle rides, garden share, give and take days etc. There's a whole culture happening out there. Like a rhythm that's giving the beat for a new song.

It's harder to produce print for sure. Our Spring SB newsletter was edited by Mark, with skill-share behind-the-scenes from me. You would not have wanted to come round our house last week for all the swearing going on. Getting copy and pictures to fit and look good is the main technical hurdle you face. But the greatest challenge is commissioning copy that works objectively, from writers who can listen to others, ask questions, report back. Your story has to work "cold", out of the warm and friendly context of a blog. Anyone has to be able to pick it up and "get it". It also has to reflect back to other Transitioners the life and soul of the enterprise. On a blog like This Low Carbon Life I can write from the subjective "I" or inclusive "we" position. In a paper you have to write from a different perspective, more as a witness, observer and interviewer.

In the Transition Free Press we have an additional challenge in that everyone engaged in the paper so far is in a different initiative: Mike Grenville (production) and Tamzin Pinkerton (food) in Forest Row, Alexis Rowell (News) in Belsize Park, London, Trucie Henderson (designer) en route back to England from Australia and Jay Tompt (business advisor) in Totnes. Equally our Transition stringers are far and wide, from Erik Curren (Transition Voice) in Virginia, to Filipa Pimentel (International Hubs) at the moment in Brussels. But this is also the strength of Transition, being able to bring together a wide range of subjects and maintain coherence in a time when everything feels as if it is fragmenting and losing the plot.

This requires a whole different approach, what some people call Social Reporting, writing in the field, on-side. In the old-style journalism years you could get on a train (or a plane) to find the story. Part of its lure and edge came from the fact you were entering unknown territory. In the new media the dynamic is different, you are deliberately finding common ground. For our preview issue of TFP our main interview is with Shaun Chamberlin (see above) author of The Transition Timeline, which he and I conducted over Skype. We had only met briefly twice before, but we were able to talk at great length, because many of the subjects we discussed we had written about, talked about, thought about ourselves. So the conversation was a meeting point between two people, one talking the other listening, rather than a two-sided adversial encounter.

So this is the strength of the paper: the Press can provide a showcase to reflect that common ground between Transitioners and our fellows in other low-carbon, progressive, cultural movements and organisations. It is our hope that it will communicate the strength of diversity and co-operation in a time of increasingly unstable and unsustainable monoculture.

big story, small story

At our last bloggers meeting we watched In Transition 2.0. I'd been asked to write a review of the film for the new on-line magazine STIR and wanted to watch it in good company! One of the main things that struck me about the film was how many of the 17 initiatives filmed showed how they had responded to crisis. The nuclear disaster in Japan, the economic downturn in Pittsburgh and Portugal, the earthquakes in New Zealand. How, when push comes to shove, all the work Transition groups have been doing quietly over the years suddenly comes into its own.

In the paper we hope to bring this sense of urgency and our ability to look at reality into focus, and show what resilience looks like on the ground - people coming up with innovative projects, working together, creating something that wasn't there before. We'll be looking at the hard stuff (fracking) as well as the joyful (baking bread). We plan to feature all the big downshift news from alternative energy to the gift economy, as well as some of the smaller practical stories - medicine gardens and off-grid celebrations - plus comments, reports and reviews of the latest books and documentaries. Oh, and football. Watch out for that one on the back page!

None of this would have happened without this small home-grown blog. Because the seeds of creating a new alternative Transition media started here in October 2009. Many of the people who helped shape it are still on it and after two and a half years we still publish every day (except most Sundays). The key to media - like all projects - is consistency. Keeping to that all-important deadline! Ideas and visions are easy, manifestation and maintaining mometum are work. You can write a star blog in a moment of inspiration, but can you write one every week, on a Monday morning at 6am before you go to work? That's hard going for most of our bloggers, who are writing in their spare time. But not, as it turns out, if the rewards we get for doing it are strong enough. If you feel you are part of something that matters.

So introducing the week here is John, Chris, Elena, Jon, Mark, Lucy and Jo, reporting and reflecting on what is happening outside in the fields (Norwich FarmShare/Community Bees), in our kitchens (Low Carbon Cookbook), in the city centre (Energy Lookouts!), in the workshop (Bicycle Links), in the allotment and unseen on the roads (ToadWatch).

Watch this space!

Photos: Shaun Chamberlin reading the news; Dan McTiernan at the HandMade Bakery; Transition Amoreiras workshop on working with horses, Portugal; fracking tail pond, USA; Tierney of Norwich FarmShare (copyright Tony Buckingham, all rights reserved)

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