I was fortunate in that my project was chosen this year, along with a handful of others, for funding through our parent company, Digital First Media. We have two computers for web surfing, experimentation and blogging, and another for video editing at SPARK-East, a business incubator in Ypsilanti. We also recently purchased two MacBook Pros, an iPhone and Smart TV to facilitate our work.
While the main focus of the lab is to teach technology tools and reporting skills to members of the community so they can share their voices and document the important events, traditions and news in their communities in partnership with Heritage Media, we also want to reach out to nonprofits, businesses and individuals to help them feel more comfortable using technology.
The Community Media Lab is still a work in progress. I am pleased with everything we have accomplished so far. From hosting a couple dozen workshops on everything from writing press releases and working with local media to choosing the right blogging platform, using social media and editing audio for podcasts, we’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of local educators, professionals and experts in various fields. We have livestreamed their workshops using uStream and a webcam on our Netbook, and simultaneously hosted live, interactive chats using CoverItLive to engage our online audience. We have also posted our presenters’ PowerPoints using Scribd, and promoted their workshops on our website, Facebook pages and through Twitter.
While the efforts we make associated with hosting workshops in the lab are fun and professionally rewarding, as we use new technology to connect with our audience, working one-on-one with the public is personally rewarding for me. For example, I helped a business owner set up a YouTube account so she could share product demonstration videos. She had hired a professional videographer to create the the videos, but wasn’t sure how to get them in front of an audience. I walked her through the process of setting up an account for her business on YouTube and uploading the videos. I also worked with a senior citizen, who didn’t feel comfortable with technology, to set up a Facebook account to communicate with family and friends, and an account on Craig’s List to sell a car. Both were grateful to receive individual instruction and afterward felt more comfortable using technology.
At our workshops, we’ve seen merchants interested in setting up social media accounts to market their businesses, bloggers seeking to improve their writing skills and people associated with community groups, clubs and marketing firms wanting to learn how to write the perfect press release. Journalists and students have learned about the Freedom of Information Act, how to edit video and audio, and how to improve their photography and video editing techniques. Workshops set in December will include “Blogging 101″ and “Contributing community content to your hometown newspaper.”
Last week, a freelance journalist, who feels more comfortable putting pen to paper, attended one of our workshops on blogging and decided to take the plunge. It was rewarding to see her take baby steps into the digital world and begin her journey as multimedia journalists. We set up an account on WordPress and she plans to write about social injustices. Once she gets started, I’ve encouraged her to share her work on our blog roll at Heritage.com.
There is still so much more to do, though. Our Community Media Lab isn’t widely known. I’ve had business cards created so reporters could pass them out at meetings and events, I’ve created fliers promoting our workshops, and recently I was a local “celebrity” guest at a business opening in Ypsilanti, where I was given the opportunity to promote the lab. My plan is to do more community outreach and take our lab on the road. Community Engagement Editor Erica McClain and I would like to present the Community Media Lab Roadshow, visiting chambers of commerce, senior centers, teen centers and schools across Washtenaw County, educating people about the lab and how we can help them.
Beyond promotion, I’d like to recruit students interested in writing, photography, videography, podcasting, social media and animation. The Community Media Lab can serve as a training ground for them, with their work shared on our website and some repurposed for print. If you know of any students who may be interested, please put them in touch with us through our Facebook page or have them stop by our lab at 215 W. Michigan Ave. in Ypsilanti.
In the meantime, we will continue our daily efforts in the Community Media Lab, with a journalist or editor there between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday working with individuals, experimenting with technology or reporting and editing, and hosting regular workshops free and open to the public. After all, practice makes perfect.