Unchained Media Scotland have formed in response to the growing need for real voices in Scotland to be heard and understood. We are a collective of autonomous contributors who bring in stories from all areas of Scottish life including politics, history, culture and music. We are Scotland positive and look for the best in what is happening in our nation.
What is alternative media?
Alternative media is the alternative to corporate or mainstream media which is funded in the main by advertisers who use the medium as a carefully managed display window for their corporate image. The alternative media are funded directly by those who consume and endorse the content of the output.
How did you get the company started?
For 4 years I was a contributor to an alternative media project based on livestreaming public events related to the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. That project had begun as an idea of how to expand the audience of a public meeting which had been arranged for a Glasgow community and was addressing issues which were not being discussed sufficiently if at all by the mainstream. The idea was use a simple iPad and a livestreaming service was employed to allow those who couldn’t attend not only to be present online but also to engage in real time with the meeting by putting questions from home to the panel in the hall. Over time a collective of contributors built this project into an organisation that stands strong and provides livestreaming of all major Scottish independence related public events which range from talks, meetings, demonstrations and gatherings to live interviews and updates.
Whilst working with this organisation I had identified the strengths of livestreaming which in the main are that it can be far less laborious and requires no editing work and also it carries an inherent honesty coming again from its unedited nature. Livestreaming though is weak after the fact and if a stream is not viewed in real time it doesn’t make the impact that the energy put into capturing it deserves and so I had identified that an effective alternative media project needs to understand when to use livestream and when to use pre recorded and edited video. Through some discussion and meetings it was decided that those of us who felt more in tune with creating content and working with video would regroup and focus on this.
For me teamwork is very important but teams come in various forms and need to be given the correct dynamic balance in order to function most effectively. The UMS team allows that every member is autonomous and commands their own domain whilst having equal access to the central resources. Each team member comes in with skills and vision which they wish to work with and uses the resources made available to them in order to organise and follow through with their projects. Each team member is described as a ‘contributor’ as this most accurately describes their role in the team.
To begin with I decided that all contributors should have a suite of tools available to them. There are many free apps available, many of which are of a professional business standard but offer a basic free to use version. Slack and Trello are project management tools which allow users to plan their workflow but also allow the project manager to follow the progress of the contributors. Expensify is an expenses report generator that creates an expense report by photographing your receipts producing a PDF which allows us to be as open and transparent about how we use our money as possible. These are the two key tools that allow our contributors to set up their project and work away on it independently without the need for any central support. Google Drive is a repository where all branded media files, the handbook and a great deal of royalty free music etc is accessible by any member of the team. This allows for the standardisation of content which should use the same watermark, end slide, theme music, colour pallette, text font etc.
One of the biggest stumbling blocks for contributors going out and creating content is the expense that entails. I wanted a system that allowed for a contributor to claim ‘reasonable expenses’ in order to get a job done. An example may be going into the city centre of Glasgow and speaking to the public. This may involve bus or train fares or may involve car parking. As a venture like that takes a few hours of street work I believe it is reasonable that a contributor takes a lunch in a cafe where they can be seated and put their equipment down safely. Other expenses may include the hire of a room to control the space for an interview and possibly hosting a guest for lunch. Realistically, the majority of jobs will incur expenses of around £20 - £30 but up to £100 is available for one completed piece of media. The principle I worked out is that if our organisation has £350 in the bank from a paid job then we can produce 10 pieces of high quality media each averaging around £35 in expenses as an example.
On top of working for cash to keep the funds topped up we are open to regular monthly donations and sustainable with only a relatively small amount. The figure I worked to is £200 which is literally ten donors who put in £20 a month. The model works like this. At the beginning of each month, we see what we have in the bank. Let’s say we have £200. Each of our contributors proposes what they wish to produce that month and the editors approve let’s say the two best. Each of those two will have up to £100 available to them should they require it. By the middle of the month, both those contributors have put in for £30 and £20 respectively leaving us with £150. The editors then approve the remaining proposals as they see fit and potentially we have eight videos produced in that month which is two high quality pieces of content per week. This equates to consistent, high quality output that makes an impact.
What is your organisation's aim?
For our contributors, UMS is not about fast news, being first or pushing a constant output. It is about doing our best work. The work that contributors produce is considered and planned beforehand and the benefit to the wider community understood.
Our editorial process involves all work being pre approved before publishing by the editors to ensure it is in line with our editorial position, ethic and quality standard.
Our editorial line is that we are ‘Scotland Positive’ which means that we are looking to illustrate positive qualities of Scottish life and society. This is a very open statement and deliberately flexible to allow for a wide range of storytelling and commentary. We aim to cover the subjects of history, culture and music and also politics. Politics is always the main subject but we aim not to be seen as overly political. Being too political from the outset can narrow your audience. Politics is important but for the majority of people it becomes important to them when it is directly impacts on their own lives. By freeing up contributors to produce reports and commentaries on what they see around them and what they are passionate about we will speak more directly to a broad range of people. To illustrate this point, one of our contributors works with people in recovery. These people are putting their drug and alcohol issue to rest and using hip-hop as a vehicle to achieve that. Our contributor is documenting the project she runs and how the Scottish hip-hop scene supports these positive community initiatives. So, here we have a series of mini documentaries about the Scottish hip-hop scene which brings in one audience who have a passion for the music. The documentaries then delve into the more hard hitting social issues and another type of audience is brought in and the work has value for people working or studying in social work and community development etc. Thirdly, this series has turned its focus on the women involved giving it a third important aspect. It is this kind of cross pollination of viewership that makes the biggest impact.
On a political level we maintain that want what is best for Scotland and will examine the developments on a parliamentary and policy level also but take no fixed position on the constitutional questions which we believe are open for healthy debate.
We have a strong ethical stance which is essentially that we will never twist anyone’s words, take their words out of context or in any way misrepresent anyone in our work. Honesty is a core value for UMS and we have set out to built integrity into our work from the very start. All contributors agree beforehand that they will abide by this ethic.
Our quality standard is essentially that we do our best work with the time and resources we have at our disposal. It is expected that video output be in a minimum of 720p and be edited to around 10 minutes maximum. Where a piece needs more time it should be divided into parts and we also encourage a short 1 minute trailer that can help with promotion. It is very important that our work is highly social media shareable and less is always more with videos.
How do you gather contracts?
We are available for production work and we offer a basic package of a day’s filming with 2 hours of post production for £350 to any other not for profit organisation. This could be for their own promotional video or for an event. Our first paid job was for Aberdeen Independence Movement for their promotional crowdfund video. Through social media interaction and personal contacts we have a very large base of potential customers.
Do you have access to certain people for certain jobs? I.e specialists in particular fields etc.
We have 6 video editors who are the machine that drives the output. Writers, cartoonist, story teller, poet, independent reporters. One of our video editors is a veteran of the television and film industry. Not only is he very skilled in the use of cameras and editing softwares but he is also able to impart this knowledge to the rest of the team. Workshops have been organised to teach free editing software and also in the use of smartphone and gimble work. This is very new phenomenon and allows normal consumer products to behave like professional film and TV equipment. Our cartoonist is based abroad and is onhand to produce satire as requested and things he decides to send in. These are quickly branded and normally sent out by Twitter. Our story teller is a skilled tour guide who has been working for many years in the art of historical on site storytelling. Currently we are producing a series of spoken word stories based at the Cultybraggan Camp in Perthshire. Our poet is one of the finest when it comes to the delivery of Burns and we a have a small corpus of recordings which we are looking to expand upon. Of our independent reporters, each have various skills and professional backgrounds. Editor Siobhan is a qualified journalist and SUJ member who also writes with other major alternative and mainstream media.
What differs you from mainstream media?
The key difference between us and mainstream media is that we are not profit driven. As a not for profit organisation, we are free to create content as we feel inclined to on a personal level. There are no obligations on the organisation to follow every development in Scotland as it happens but rather we are able to open up and expand the understanding of areas of our own experience. We can take our time on projects as we decide. This is very important because each one of us has full time responsibilities in our lives and alternative media is an activity that we undertake primarily for our own personal satisfaction, not that of the editors. We do not chase stories. All considered content that begins with it having meaning for us.
In terms of journalism, how would you explain your work ethos and practices?
Honesty is a core value and this is how we want to be seen by the wider community. This ethic is in stark contrast to how the mainstream corporate media are perceived where their need to sensationalise to grab attention in the news agents etc takes away from the integrity of reporting. In terms of practice, each team member is considered as important as any member regardless of their output. Equal access to the suite of tools and open communication are integral here. The editors are very clear about what is happening and the group are always informed an up to date as well as being entitled to contribute opinion. We take our editorial integrity seriously and ensure that the editorial position, ethic and quality standard are maintained throughout meaning our output is consistently high impact.