Friday, 23 December 2011

with love from the post office

During the summer and autumn of 2011 I created and edited a pioneer national blog for the Transition Network called the Social Reporting Project. I wrote this summing up after its three month pilot.  I left the project in January 2013, after reliquishing my post as editor.

This is the final post of the Social Reporting pilot - 92 posts, 11 topics, 12 bloggers, 12 guest editors, 1 working editor, 1 producer, 3 months. As I'm looking at this space that was once empty and is now filled with thousands of words and pictures there are questions that emerge: how did we begin, where are we going and what happened in between?

In the spirit of skill-share, I'd like to answer by showing some of the workings behind this pilot and what made it a success. How it produced a blog every day without fail, that was always different, always full of content and style, from a group of people, most of whom had never met each other (and still have yet to), and some who had never written a blog in their lives.

Initial conditions

It began on 18 September with everyone writing about their initiatives. It began on a windy Cumbria night with Adrienne (Lewes) lighting a fire, wth Kerry (Transition University) moving from Norwich to Glasgow, with Jay moving from San Francisco to Totnes, with Jo Homan (Finsbury Park) knocking me sideways with her ace first post.
There's so much I could tell you about what it's like being with transition. She's a bit of a party animal, great sense of humour, intense, creative, quite demanding, makes you question lots of your basic assumptions, always encouraging you to get more trained up, go deeper. For 'self development'. The main thing though was all the new friends. Being with her gave me the perfect excuse to talk to total strangers and now, when I walk through my neighbourhood, there's lots of people to say hello to. And she's always out and about, introducing people to each other, getting them to hook up on various projects. If I were to draw a map of all the people who now know each other because of transition, it would just be a big scribble.
The truth is no one loves her more than I do.
Maybe no one loved this pilot more than I did (not that it's a competition).

I loved opening the post box every day and reading everyone, as they kept to the subject in hand, veered off topic and came home. I loved all the journeys we took: the bitter, sweet, challenging, raw, the new and the well-tracked. I loved hearing about all the different communities around the UK, from the North, East, West and South. The cities and the highlands, the markets and the meetings. All our geographical textures and takes on things. I loved all our weekly topics that ranged from Economics to Inner Transition to Land Rights - the feeling that each week brought another way to look at Transition. There wasn't a day I didn't look forward to opening the post and finding what Ann (Bro Ddyfi) called the wow factor that Arts and Creativity can bring into our ordinary lives. That spark that makes us feel more than we have been brought up to believe we are. On a planet that is more than just resources and entertainment for a cold-blooded, hard-hearted Empire.

But most of all I loved, as all editors love, co-ordinating people and ideas and making a new kind of show and tell happen. And to find the initial conditions for that we have to go back to the very beginning when Ed and Gary Alexander and I sat around a table on a rainy October night in Norwich in 2010.

Some people say all relationships begin in the first 15 minutes of an encounter. Set and setting is everything. So here we are in a South Indian restaurant in downtown Magdalen Street, where Transition Norwich is just about to hold its first neighbouhood festival.

What are we discussing? I'm talking about editorial. I'm telling Ed about the WW1 poets who met in a Scottish hospital and debated their "right" response to the trenches that Pat Barker dramatised inRegeneration. It's the story of our times, I said and we have to tell it. That's what communicators do.

You bear witness, you hold together, you make sense, you cohere, you love, you celebrate, you never give up, you never stop writing, connecting, making meaning. You hold the fire.

editing the blog

Being a grassroots communications co-ordinator has a different function from acting as a top-down editor, though it uses many of those skills. For a start you're working on an equal footing, and this is a no censorship, no limits, no interference blog. You can't change copy, or tell people what to do. There is only one rule and that's keep to the deadline. To keep up the tempo requires a strong structure everyone is happy with, invitiation and a LOT of behind-the-scenes Communications - that's hundreds of group and personal emails, six months of planning, telephone calls, visits, meetings, commissions, inviting, tweets, tweaks, workshops, newsletters, tech support, 24/7 presence.

But the main function of the editor is to act as an anchor and keep the original vision intact. The brief was to act and write as social reporters, a task outlined in the first post. This is no mean feat, because as well as being true to yourself and speaking from your own experience, you have at the same time to report on behalf on your initiative. You have to be responsible for your own copy and also work as part of a crew. You have in your posts to be subjective and objective, dependable and flexible. Transition asks that you throw yourself, heart, body and soul into community projects and at the same time advises you to step back and reflect on your actions, to pay rigorous attention to detail and at the same time, think of the Bigger Picture. In short it demands we change into being very different kind of people than the ones we were trained to be by our parents, education and our competitive, aggressive culture.

A collective blog allows space and time for that kind of engagment and experience. It has built into it all the best features of a resilient eco-system - connection, invention, communication, diversity, feedback. Within a friendly and creative environment everyone is valued and everyone knows what to do. The bar was set very high from the beginning. And it has brought out some extraordinary pieces during these three months as a result.

It also brings certain key qualities into play. The shocking: Tamzin Pinkerton (Forest Row) writing about nursing her sick daughter back to Health whilst writing Local Food. The active and inspiring: Joe Rake (Transition Heathrow) on GrowHeathrow's standing firm against eviction and their upcoming Art project. The unexpected: Marella's hilarious blog about her hair (and the consequent discussion about hats). Unexpected reader moments: dancing to Once in a Lifetime inspired by Teen's (Black Isle) awesome post about being bi-polar, and seeing the crew send in their comments titled with each of song's lines. Unexpected editorial moments: talking to Rachel (Cam and Dursley) about writer's block:

"I don't know anything about Permaculture!" she cried exasperated. "The nearest I got to it was a job processing and packing up Bill Mollison's Permaculture: A Designer's Manual".

"That's a great story!" I said. "Why don't you write that?"

And then seeing it appear the next day, a star.

I could sing the praises of each post, but I'm not going to list them all here. In the new year the social reporters are going to be talking about some of the posts that struck, shook and inspired us (you can also, dear reader, look back at our abundant 90-plus post store cupboard in the meanwhile).

social reporters (or why we get out of bed at five in the morning for nothing)

Recently George Monbiot wrote a blog about unmasking the pressand how the "reality" that is being confirmed everyday by the media is deliberately skewed towards the business-as-usual, last-man-standing, technology-will-save us storyline. Anyone who observes or has worked within the press knows how it is managed to suit the dominant paradigm, how strongly our perceptions of the world are shaped by what we see, listen to or read. What is hard is to know what to do about this manipulation, how to set up a media that reflects another paradigm. The conventional press have money, influence, advertisting, corporate sponsorship, a high readership, politicians and celebrities, glamour and power. What do we have? 

10 writers and a breaking story - possibly the greatest untold story in the world. It's not a story you will find in the papers, taught in school or for sale in the store. It's made of far too ordinary, earthy stuff: wind threshing the trees as Caroline goes out to visit Occupy Lancaster, the salt Adrienne is making over handmade charcoal as she goes on a locavore diet in Sussex. A conversation Ann sparks off about independence in Wales, Jo sparks off about consensus and peace camps in London and the North. A meeting Marella organises in Omagh against all cultural expectation:
Sometimes looking around our Transition group and noticing the son of an ex-political prisoner / combatant sitting closely together with the daughter of a policeman, heads bowed low, concentrating on the finer details of a connection question at a world cafe session, simply takes the breath away.
It's a story about people getting together in spite of everything and creating a empathic culture in a hostile empire, who would have never met had it not been for Transition. Because as Mark (Norwich/Bungay) wrote, Transition is the People, the people we know and the People who left us their life-loving legacy. Who passed on the fire.

what we plan for 2012

The project starts again on the third of January for a month ofLooking Back, Looking Forward and then launching the new look blog in February. Our pilot was deliberately hermetic and UK based, but in 2012 we'll be opening up to include other contributors from around the world. We'll still be publishing daily, but this time leaving the weekends free for news-type stories and cross-posts. We'll also be following weekly themes, but this time all of us will be taking turns at the editorial helm for the week. We'll still be reporting back on our initiative's events and projects and our personal experiences of Transition.

In this "bridging" month we'll be choosing some of the posts that have struck us during these three months and republishing them. Then we'll be looking forward to the year ahead, visioning what we are planning to do and what we imagine will happen, as Transitioners, within our initiatives, our neighbourhoods, our cities, our island, the world. What we hold dear as the systems and resources which define our civilisation show every sign of cracking. Because no matter how we construct our energy descent action plans for twenty years ahead, and no matter how we view the mythic predictions for 2012, next year is crunch year. And we either hold fast and thrive, or we break apart and lose the plot. Resilience is about creating an infrastructure so when the big monocultures fail the small and diverse can start working and picking up the thread. This is not just a matter of alternative energy and localised food distribution, this is also about narrative. The story that makes sense of the unravelling and shows us the chink of the future. The glimpse of a butterfly wing as we navigate our way out of apparent chaos.

This small co-operative blog with all its connections, the Transition Network with all its connections is about holding a frequency so that things do not go the way of history. So we share resources and skills and make connections with people who hold the same dream of the future, and have the same ability to look at reality square on and make decisions. So that we hold together and weather the storm, and remember where the lifeboats are stored.

so long and thanks for all the blogs . . .

. . . and hats off (!) to everyone who took part in this pilot. We published every day for twelve weeks, without missing a beat. Everyone made the deadline, did the tech, kept their word (well our word really, since this is a community blog).
And so in this last para on this last post here is a big thank you to everyone who sailed in this pilot ship: all the bloggers, all the guest eds, all the commentators. Thank you for your commitment, good humour, fortitude, talent, intelligence and heart. Thank you Ed for your extraordinary vision, your perserverance with us non-techies, for believing in me and producing the project through thick and thin (and a relocation to Australia). Thanks to everyone at the Network for supporting us all the way. And thank you, dear readers, for following our voyage into uncharted territory. This new world doesn't happen without all of us. Merry solstice, happy hollydays! See you on board in 2012!

Photos: first post: Adrienne lighting a fire (Me and My Initiative); Indian spices from the Low Carbon Cookbook (Food and Health); Joe Rake blogging at GrowHeathrow (The Visitors - A Transition Journey): the Norwich bloggers by Mark (Arts and Creativity); festival lights by Ann Owen (Arts and Creativity) last post: loch side by Catriona Ross (Land Rights); me in that hat up a birch tree, 2009; sunrise in Suffolk.


Catriona Ross's picture

Sláinte mhath!

... and a MASSIVE thank you to you Charlotte for all your inspiration, encouragement, patience in the face of frustrated technophobia right on deadline and for this fab final post. Looking forward to carrying on in the New Year. Have a great break!
Ann Owen's picture

Share the love!

And we couldn't have done it without all the wonderful support from Charlotte and Ed, patience of saints, those two!
Now it is time to turn our attention inwards, towards friends and family, to bask in the warm company of loved ones, to eat, drink and make merry with children and grandchildren. To celebrate all those good things in life and remember why it is we work so hard. While outside economic and ecological storms rage and the global outlook continues to grow darker by the hour, we'll hide in our homes for awhile, renew and recharge ourselves and when the new year comes, we'll be there, oh yeah, we'll be there!
Happy Solstice everyone, it's been wonderful!
Kerry Lane's picture

Comment Writers Blog

Ah the familiar sensation we have been discussing in our behind the scenes discussion forum, I know I want to write a comment to express my sincere gratitude to everyone involved in this pilot for keeping me on the Transition radar, but thats about as eloquent as it's going to get.
I very much look forward to going back and reading the posts that I missed and enjoying those I've already read all over again in preparation for our reflective January.
And now I don't know how to end... accept by saying thank you again and wishing everyone a wonderfully earthy festive season and solstice.
Fiona Ward's picture


...this has been totally wonderful and I look forward to seeing the 2012 posts.
Happy Christmas!
Ed Mitchell's picture

On navigating the unknown

This has always been about navigating the unknown; both for the pilot itself and Transition on the ground, and capturing and sharing the stories along the way and seeing what story comes out of that. So lots of unknowns!
I'd never dared to think that this would have been as poignant, and personal, and productive as it has been. Thank you all for the focus, motivation, and humility and openness.
Good work all!
Mark Watson's picture

Being part of it all

I love being a part of this project. Looking forward to 2012.
All the best of the season to everyone,
Adrienne Campbell's picture


...for now. I enjoy the opportunity the blogs have given me to reflect on all this change. 2012 is looking like it's going to be a stonker, a good time to reflect on the unfolding new world. Thank you charlotte and ed and see you next year.
Graham Truscott's picture

In awe of the Social Reporting team

Congratulations to the whole team. For Transition Social Reporting junkies like me (even though I didn't post many comments, I know) it's going to be tough without our fix of insightful, entertaining, intelligent, provocative, Transition writing. Hats off (bearing in mind the lovely hat discussion) to all of you. Some excellent contributions from everyone and you kept up the standard and delivery throughout. I am in awe and also rather glad I recognised that I couldn't deliver to such quality and therefore didn't join you only to let you down ! In your writing is all the warmth and heart and energy of Transition, with the ups and downs and the reflective alongside practical activities and actions. We've read about the fun and hope of building positive approaches, so much better than the failed economics and lifestyles dependent on the cheap oil era. We've been inspired and uplifted. We've been encouraged and supported in the parallels with our own experiences. A very sincere thank you, and if I may, a special word of thanks to Charlotte for keeping the whole show on the road, no matter how good all the other contributors !
Charlotte Du Cann's picture

good cheer

Thank you everyone for the lovely comments and feedback.
Hope you'll be tuning in again in 2012 for your next fix Graham! And maybe writing a guest blog too (watch out for that commission!)
The brilliant thing about a co-operative blog (well Transition really) is that writing becomes much easier than if you are struggling with that keyboard and deadline on your own.
Warmest wishes,

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