Making media in transition

This Tuesday, July 3 Transition Tooting are hosting a grassroots media video training session. Patrick Chalmers, one of the organisers, sets the scene

The politicians and journalists of Western democracies are getting it in the neck right now. Two groups that claim to act in the broader public interest are patently failing to do so, leaving their publics angry and frustrated.

This problem isn’t country specific – the same is true wherever you look around the world at elected governments and their attendant mass media. The British version features successive administrations, left, right or centre, pushing through money-friendly agendas that ignore what voters might want. Little in the related media cover makes clear how narrow interests have hijacked our political processes and locked us into policies aimed at the impossibility of endless economic growth.

Much as poor-quality politics and journalism might frustrate us, we can’t ignore their effects. We can do better than rant at their records and our own powerlessness. One way is to make our own media, focusing on what people are doing despite the political logjams and what other politics might be possible.

What seems obvious to me in 2012 certainly didn’t 20 years ago. Then I thought politicians responded to the reason, facts and figures of well-constructed journalism. It was around the time of the climate-change comedy Stark, Ben Elton’s tale of how the world failed to respond to the threat. The book made me push all the harder for a job in journalism, something I managed by getting hired as Reuters EU environment correspondent. It was a great place, so I thought, from which to join a climate-change debate leading towards effective political solutions.

I covered climate talks in Brussels and global ones in Berlin and Kyoto. The latter’s compromise was, at least, a hopeful start. The reality of the years since, through Copenhagen in 2009, has been plain ugly. The competing demands of science and politics have torn the process apart.

Writing today, after years of research into the failures of our democracies and journalism, I see political accountability deficits stretching way beyond climate change. They were evident in the second Iraq war, the global financial crisis and growing in wealth inequalities around the world.

Peak oil, the second pillar of the Transition challenge, faces this same dual failure. Despite growing piles of evidence there is minimal political action or conventional media attention.

Transitioners’ challenge is how to respond, starting with the media part of the problem. Why media first? If we don’t learn about and understand these issues, how can we dream up workable solutions?

Plenty of transitioners are busy at that already. Their blogs, pictures, video and audio materials give vibrant life to the monthly newsletters put out on the Transition Network news feed. This year’s In Transition 2.0 combines their stories in an inspiring feature-length documentary. Doing the same on an ongoing basis, knitting together the many small-scale responses, could provide a truly powerful motor for change. The result could be a global network of reporters focused on how people are transforming their communities into havens of resilience.

Helping the process gain strength is the challenge. It is something I have been testing since 2005 in southwest France, where I moved on leaving Reuters. This backwoods hosts long-term locals, incomers from elsewhere in France and foreigners such as myself.

My explorations include the hosting of monthly documentary screenings. These free events begin with shared food and end in debate. People learn new things together, escaping their solitary TV screens for a bigger, shared one. We’ve made a few short films ourselves and run a free video training for those wanting to learn.

The future promises an occasional TV channel, broadcast once a month and on the internet, something like Hay-on-Wye’s Hay on TV. I can see how trainings can be made much easier having volunteered regularly for the London-based video activist group visionOntv. Their reporting templates show how to use smartphones to make short films for rapid broadcast.

Another route is to use audio, with podcasts or community radio programmes, such as the weekly Transition Show in Stroud.

The possibilities are vast – the promise of better politics and media is real – it’s time to get going.

A “Taster” smartphone video training by visionOntv trainers, hosted by London’s Transition Town Tooting, will take place at 7-9pm on Tuesday July 3. Venue: Mushkil Aasaan, 222 Upper Tooting Rd, SW17. Suggested donations £10. For further info contact Belinda at

 PATRICK CHALMERS is a 45-year-old Scotsman who has lived in rural southwest France with his family since 2005. He worked for Reuters for 11 years, taking postings in London and  Kuala Lumpur, before leaving to write Fraudcast News. his first book.

Image: tagcloud by Hamish Campbell from visionONtv blog

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