Angela Clark looks at the success of an innovative grassroots community magazine which is providing a template for citizen journalism throughout Europe
A community magazine is helping restore pride and inspire change in an area which usually makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
The Clydesider promotes all that is positive about the Clydeside communities of West Dunbartonshire, providing a platform for local residents to share inspirational stories and showcase creative talents.
At a time when local papers are struggling to survive, the quarterly print publication seems to be bucking the trend with Clydesider’s good news ethos connecting people and news in a very different way.
Clydesider’s founder and editor, Amanda Eleftheriades-Sherry, explained why she decided to offer her community a new take on local news.
She said: “I worked as a journalist for seven years on the local paper in Dumbarton and noticed the positive stories were usually buried at the back of the paper. Meanwhile local news was becoming more sensationalised – it was all about murders and stabbings, but this only showed one aspect of the area.”
After leaving the paper in 2003 she put together a business plan for a community magazine but at the time was unable to secure funding to get it up and running.
Instead she started working with several local charities and gained a better understanding of how people become stigmatised by the media – either portrayed as a statistic and a problem or just totally ignored.
She said: “There is no denying that West Dunbartonshire has more than its fair share of problems but one thing I learned from working with a local alcohol support service, is that positive change happens and it usually happens when you focus on a person’s assets rather than their problems.
“So I thought, why not produce a publication that works on that principle – let’s celebrate what is great about West Dunbartonshire.
“I had met so many people with all kinds of talents and interesting stories who never had the opportunity to share them because there was nowhere telling these stories.”
Amanda reached out to the local community and old friends from her time as a reporter and managed to get enough people on board interested in being part of a community publication focusing on positive stories. Some had experience of working in the media but most did not.
“The most important quality the volunteers needed was passion for our community, that was the starting point.
“We met for over a year in my living room, trying to work out what the content would be, what the magazine would look like and how to fund it.”
Eventually they secured start-up funding from Firstport and West Dunbartonshire Council’s Social Enterprise Challenge Fund. This covered the print and design costs of the first issue and rental costs of a room for them to work from two days a week. The volunteers worked tirelessly producing issue one and then distributing 10,000 copies to shops, cafes and community venues across West Dunbartonshire.
“It was a really exciting time, seeing it all come together,” Amanda remembers.
Charlie Sherry, one of the volunteers, managed to get an interview with Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh who was doing a book signing in the area.
Amanda said: “Charlie didn’t interview Irvine Welsh about his book he got him talking about the importance of creativity and how to encourage it in areas like West Dunbartonshire. It was good to have his photo on the front cover of our first issue because it was someone recognisable and it encouraged people to pick up the magazine and find out what we are all about.”
Now most people in West Dunbartonshire know what Clydesider is and seem to enjoy reading it as the 10,000 copies go quickly when dropped off to over 200 outlets in the area.
Volunteers continue to play a crucial role in the organisation’s success, contributing not only to editorial content and distribution but also helping with everything from DIY tasks in the office to home-baking and entertainment at their community events.
For volunteers contributing to the magazine, the organisation offers a range of training including citizen journalism, photography and film-making, with workshops on social media planned later in the year.
As they have grown they have also been able to employ people on both a part-time and freelance basis with most of the posts being filled by former volunteers. Amanda added: “Most organisations wouldn’t survive without their investors and shareholders, but as a social enterprise we don’t have any of those.
"For us, the lifeblood of Clydesider is our volunteers – we wouldn’t be here without them.
“All of our volunteers come from the local community so they hear stories that journalists based up in Glasgow might miss. They also have quite unique styles which, when mixed with some poetry, photography and the occasional short story, makes the magazine stand out.”
Clydesider is also trying out different ways to provide people with information and encourage them to share their stories and ideas.
Three-year funding from the National Lottery Community Fund is allowing them to run Creative Café days which use creative workshops to engage people in the story-telling process.
And most recently they organised three local Walkin Talkin events. These involved guided walks through the local history led by local experts. At the end of each walk there was a discussion about the potential of the area’s heritage with comments recorded for use in an article in the next issue of the magazine. They also ended up with a list of people who wanted to get involved to promote and protect their history.
And it is not just the people of West Dunbartonshire who like the way Clydesider is engaging their community in telling its own news. At the end of 2018 it was one of just eight media organisations from across Europe selected to take part in the European Journalism Centre’s accelerator programme.
This award has helped the organisation’s sustainability providing them with one-year funding plus mentoring and learning opportunities from experts across the globe. In June Amanda was asked to deliver a workshop about Clydesider’s use of creativity at the accelerator’s first international conference in Berlin which was attended by over 140 journalists from across Europe and further afield.
She said: “We are learning about solution-focused and constructive journalism which fits well with Clydesider’s ethos. So now, as well as promoting the positive in West Dunbartonshire we are also sharing ideas and information on how we can all help make constructive changes to deal with some of the negative issues the area faces.
“It was a real privilege to be part of the conference in Berlin and, as a result, our local MSP Gil Paterson put a motion forward at the Scottish Parliament recognising Clydesider’s achievements.
“So it’s been a bit of a rollercoaster of a year already – plus we’re organising a community conference later in the year as part of Challenge Poverty week – so there’s definitely never a dull moment at Clydesider.”
Relationships have changed with media organisations and their audiences and many are disappearing or trying to find models of working to survive. The Clydesider has managed to successfully achieve this by bringing the focus back to the local community and putting people before profit.