Citizens tell alternative story of the Torch

Last week Co-operative News caught up with Citizen Relay, the people-led media project that told the alternative story of the Olympic torch on its journey around Scotland.  

Last week Co-operative News caught up with Citizen Relay, the people-led media project that told the alternative story of the Olympic torch on its journey around Scotland.

We reported on the project last month, as part of the FutureEverything conference in Manchester. This week we talked to the Production Co-ordinator of the event, Jennifer Jones.

Jennifer, a little weary from her nine day stint driving citizen journalists around Scotland, has been one of the driving forces behind a project that has consisted of around over 60 reporters, and 7,000 conversations though Youtube, Audioboo and photographs.

The aim was to tell a different story of the Olympic torch; looking at how people reacted to this huge event – whether it was excitement, criticism or even indifference.

The project has helped to break stories that have featured in the Independent, the Guardian and the Daily Mail about Corporate Torch Bearers.

The data has been used by the BBC, STV and the Scottish Government are keen to use them for community participation and empowerment projects in the future.

Jennifer, who is a self described skeptic of big events such as the Olympics, said: “It blew my mind how people engage with these events, you can always try and predict it, because you’re a researcher, but you can’t, not until you start hearing people interpret it.”

Citizen Relay has proved to be immensely popular and had over 20,000 hits since the 1 June, averaging around 3,000 visits a day which as Jennifer pointed out is more than a community radio station would get.

The project allowed a different side of the Olympics to be told and Citizen Relay began to quickly realise that it was the torchbearers in particular who wanted to tell their stories. She explained it allowed communities to tell their own story, which was “quite empowering.”

Jennifer continued: “The real highlights were thingslike pulling into villages after the Torch had passed and meeting the families of the Torch Bearers. In one place there was a lad who everyone in the community had come out to see, they were screaming about how amazing it was. I thought; ‘well I can get your point’.”

However a darker corporate side was discovered, as many companies were putting forward corporate Torch Bearers who took the place of UK citizens. 

The work of Citizen Relay has had a big impact on many of the citizen journalists who were involved in the project.

Yutsil Martinez, is an 18 year old, living in Edinburgh, who was born in Scotland but spent most of his life in Mexico. Due to passport restrictions he isn't allowed to go to university in this country, but has aspirations to become a journalist.

Due to his work with Citizen Relay he has been asked to work as a live blogger for an International Film Festival and he’s got an interview set up with Alex Salmon, to do a documentary about Scottish independence, on his iPod touch.

“Yutsil’s someone that can feel like he’s part of an institution. I couldn’t predict that kind of stuff and it’s not the kind of thing you’d write down on a proposal and go this is what we’re going to do.”

The project was criticised because there were accusations they were exploiting people. However Jennifer went onto to say that people could contribute as much as they wanted.

“We’re so used to being broadcast to, and consuming stuff, what we did was encourage people and told them not to consume stuff, but produce their history.”

She continued by saying that others had accused her of shaping the narrative, but as she explained: “How can I shape an agenda when I’m driving a bus? How can I shape an agenda of 7,000 conversations? It’s impossible.”

Has Jennifer’s opinions changed around the Olympics? She laughs: “Seeing the torch about thirty times, I guess its like Stockholm syndrome, or like Big Brother, you sort of start to appreciate your captors.”

Citizen Relay was funded by creative Scotland and is connected with the #Media2012 project.

The next event will be a Community Media week that will be held from 7 – 13 November in Leicester and Scotland.

Jennifer worked with David McGillivray on the project as well as all of the Citizen Relay contributors.

• Follow the Citizen Relay story on Twitter by following @citizenrelay

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