Thursday 6 September 2012

From Word of Mouth to Printed Press

Before, you could go to the local paper to find out about how the frijoles were doing, the jitomates, what was going on in the town market. It was first and foremost about Querétaro, reflecting the place, the people. Now you have to search hard to find anything relevant to the city. Look, all the first pages are taken up with news from elsewhere that has no relevance here... (Founder, local newspaper, Querétaro, Mexico, 1985, personal communication)*

I have remembered these words for twenty seven years, from the time I was a student in Mexico writing a dissertation on the local press in the city of Querétaro. I no longer recall the late founder's name. But what has remained clear in my mind is his frustration at seeing the newspaper change from one that did talk about how the beans and tomatoes were doing, to one full of syndicated articles from abroad with no bearing on local people and conditions in this city of 400,000 people.

'Becoming the Media' (Tool #13 in the Transition Companion) in Transition does mean we're aware of what's at play in the wider world, particularly as the global industrial system is now even more global than it was in 1985 (Querétaro today has over one million people and is host to many large corporations).

It also means that on the Transition websites, blogs, Twitter accounts and other social media we use to showcase our initiatives, we do show and talk about what we're doing 'on the ground', where we are, as Transition individuals and groups. And how we're experiencing the journey. That we make sure we talk about the beans and the tomatoes.

It also means communicating in more direct ways. And not just with online media.

(i) Talking With Your Neighbours

“I’ll definitely read this,” said Irene. “Who is Jay Tompt, though? I don’t think I’ve heard that name before.”

I had taken Irene, who lives down the lane, a note with the details of a recent piece by Jay on this blog called Postcard from the Edge of Democracy about the failure of Totnes town council and the South Hams District Council in Devon to keep ‘large corporate coffee chain’ Costa out of Totnes. The same story has repeated itself here in Southwold, Suffolk with both town and district councils.

“Jay writes on the Transition Social Reporting project,” I told her. “Check it out. It’s full of great stuff about Transition by a dozen or so regular bloggers plus guests reporting on their local initiatives and beyond. And look out for that comment by Keith Parkins on Jay’s post, too. You'll rarely find an article so clear in the mainstream media."

(ii) Last Night, Green Drinks, Sustainable Bungay

I’m sitting with sixteen other people in the Green Dragon pub in Bungay. This is the first in a new season of Green Drinks, and the theme is So What is Transition? Sustainable Bungay will be five years old in November, and so we go round the table and speak about where we are and how we see ourselves proceeding over the next few years.

We talk about our core group with its monthly meetings which happen no matter what and are open to anyone to join in with. How this has kept the momentum going and us coherent over the years, especially since as an initiative we run many projects and events, from the monthly Happy Mondays at the Community Kitchen to the twice-yearly Give and Take Days to Bungay Community Bees, Plants for Life and Sewing Sundays.

We talk about how working together on these projects over time has created an atmosphere where we want to work together on projects over time. A sense of commitment to the initiative and each other. Everybody would like to see this maintained in the future. And that the group continue to be open, flexible and organic.

We talked about the printed quarterly newsletter, and how again, we produce it come what may as a collective effort. Here is a place where anyone can read about what’s happening in the initiative, find out how to join in and contact the person looking after a particular project. It’s a bit like the core group, open and inclusive with everything you need to know in it in one place, keeping a certain coherence going.

And reaching people other media cannot reach. It’s great for those who don’t have internet access so can’t use our website. Dawn, who comes to Sewing Sundays run by Eloise, doesn’t have a computer and is a great fan of the newsletter. And although she participates in few other Sustainable Bungay activities, she goes into the town and tells all her friends about the group and the ideas behind Transition. And she loved the Transition Free Press!

(iii) Keep Talking About It

So the Transition Conference 2012 approaches (the first one I’ll have been to) and after over three years of helping to set up and maintain Transition communications in the form of blogs, websites and newsletters, I prepare to join fellow social reporters at Battersea Arts Centre at the end of next week. We shall be blogging and tweeting and reporting about our experiences there, so do stay tuned. I’ve come to thoroughly enjoy tweeting about the initiatives I'm in after swearing at first NEVER to have ANYTHING to do with something SO TACKY!!! It’s actually a great way to let others know what’s going on.

And as we celebrate the publication of the Transition Free Press and talk with people, I’ll also be remembering that print and word of mouth can refresh parts other media cannot reach.

* Frijoles: Any of the beans used in Mexican cooking (e.g. pinto or black) and grown in Mexico. Jitomates: Mexican word for tomatoes

Pic: Josiah, Iris and me working on the SB website, 2010, from The Transition Companion (Charlotte Du Cann); Sustainable Bungay Newsletter, Autumn edition, 2010 (SB); reading the Transition Free Press Preview Edition, June 2012

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