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[BLOG] A Passport to Local Stories: by Anna Lam

Anna Lam

Urban Stories crew member, Anna Lam, attempts to progress beyond the traditional “community vs mass media” battlelines.


Canberra’s tempestuous breeze greeted Shakthi and I on the morning of Saturday 14 August 2010. While it was superbly enticing to drive by Parliament and watch the slow march of suits campaign to and fro, left (wing) to right (wing), it was by the grace of Walter Burley Griffin that we were ten minutes and five traffic-free streets away from our destination.

We arrived just in time.

Shakthi and I were invited to speak at the National Radioactive Youth Media Conference, hosted by the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcaster’s Council. Aimed at young people with an interest in community media and media career pathways, it was the perfect time and space to highlight the successes of the Stories Project thus far, and more generally, our opinions of the community media landscape.

Ambitious people, with equally ambitious minds, littered the room, exalting their opinions about community leadership, the importance of self-expression, and the intricacies surrounding media democracy. In particular, journalist Saeed Saeed spoke about local media makers holding the “passport to local stories.” Political Editor Paul Bonjiorno shared his views on professionalism, the importance of ethics, and blogging in the 21st century.

As the conference kicked into full swing however, I found myself rewriting, altering and nearly obliterating my original speech. It was difficult to hear deeply simplistic binaries including the “community media verses the mass media” extrapolated as though it were an objective truth. Speakers who preached this line of reasoning appeared highly antagonistic about any form of mass media, the structures that supported them, and the dire and ultimate threat the commercial mass media presented to any form of community media. While I stretched the limits of my mind, to concede that some arguments may possibly be valid from both a political and economic perspective, I found it almost necessary to provide an alternative, perhaps even quasi-postmodern, semi-intelligible, Gen-Y, take-it-if-you-will, lens.

Put simply, I offered a competing approach in lieu of the sappy, polished speech I had in mind.

“I hope to challenge how new media makers approach their work in what is arguably a highly cynical, paranoid and complex media landscape.”

“To some extent, and of course, this will prove different over time, mass media messages are mediated by the structures and flows of local opinion.

“Unfortunately, these local opinions belong to those who can express themselves in a language, a style, and a form, that appeals and is recognised by those who set the media agenda.”

“…understand how visual and audio codes such as sound fx and so on, naturalise meaning. Only through doing so can you enable others, who may not understanding this language, to engage with the power structures that limit their ability to tell their stories, more importantly their personal stories, in the media.”

“It is not about representing people in the community, as many have discussed today. It is about finding the best way to represent the community. And it’s about being ethical, conscious and strategic while doing so.”

“Media practitioners need to be savvy. They need to create an autonomous, culturally diverse mediascape that will help them reach their social outcomes. It’s not about competing against another system which, quite clearly, has succeeded in meeting its own specified outcomes.”

While my speech was not groundbreaking, it was humbling to see it well received by many young participants at the conference. With this in mind, it will be enchanting to see how these young media filmmakers, and more generally active media makers such as the Urban Stories Crew, shape the local media. What is the future of community media in local areas such as Fairfield and Liverpool? What defines a successful, selfless, and sustainable media system?

Judging by the Crew’s ambitious fire, I remain confident that our skills, opinions and ethics, will define and advance this arguably premature landscape.

A warm thank you to the good people at the National Ethnic and Multicultural Broadcaster’s Council for treating us so kindly. It is without question that such conferences, including the National Radioactive Youth Media Conference, play a defining role in shaping and provoking the minds of young media makers.