People’s Voice Media: An inside look at community reporting

People’s Voice Media (PVM) is a non-profit organization based in Manchester, England, that aims to give a voice to individuals in the community by way of social media. The Institute of Community Reporters (ICR) was created by People’s Voice Media in 2012 to share these voices through written and digital stories.

Using social media, People’s Voice Media and the Institute of Community Reporters aim to give members of the community a platform to share their experiences and discuss issues they feel are important. The Institute of Community Reporters website is a forum for those whose ideas and concerns may otherwise be overlooked by the mainstream. The Institute of Community Reporters helps to train and provide community members with the tools necessary for them to have a voice. On the website, one can find articles, videos, and photos created and shared by community reporters.

On People’s Voice Media’s website, they state: “Reporters are local residents, often from marginalized and excluded groups, who tell their own stories and the stories of others around them, providing the authentic voice of real people.” By doing this, the organization hopes to start discussions about and bring awareness to real issues members of their community face.

Gary Copitch, chief executive at People’s Voice Media, explained in a Skype interview that the organization aims to ensure that the stories being told are as authentic as possible, regardless of if they are relatable or deemed “newsworthy.” Says Copitch: “What we need to make sure always is that the stories that we collect are lived experience… There’s a debate about voice and supporting [the reporters] to have a voice, or capturing people’s lived experience, which is a more mutual process. We’re not about making judgments and we’re not about solutions. All we’re about is capturing insight.”

Copitch explains that PVM and ICR also aim to start a conversation within the community to incite change or bring awareness to certain issues that may be overlooked by policy makers. “What we’re not is saying that the insight that we give or support is universal. It’s people’s perceptions at a given moment in time, and it’s limited. The idea is to use that insight to challenge perceptions… What we then try to do is create conversations between people and policy makers to try and co-produce new ways of working.”

In theory, this approach sounds reasonable and effective. In reality, however, the organization faces some obstacles when trying to start a productive discussion. Copitch explains that the majority of the organization’s reporters are not highly educated, and one of the challenges they face is telling stories in a language that is appropriate for everyone involved. Enticing people to read and discuss the stories the organization collects is another hurdle the organization faces.

“The challenge we have is two-fold: one is getting people to listen to the stories we collect, and that’s a real battle, because lots of institutions and places think they know the answer. The second battle is not providing questions, because lots of researchers all want to ask questions and not seek people’s story, what they’re about is proving a point for their stories,” explains Copitch.

While this type of reporting could technically be classified as community or citizen journalism, People’s Voice Media has a staunch opposition to labeling their reporters as journalists or editors. Copitch breaks down this reasoning:

“We spend a lot of time saying we’re not journalists,” he said. “I’m a little scathing with journalists. We banned the word journalists. We banned the words community journalists. We banned the word editors. What we’re always trying to do is remain authentic to what people are saying and journalists are there for entertainment, largely. They’re there to create sensation. So they always choose extremes. Not everything is an extreme.” Copitch said that there are so many stories that go unreported because they are not extreme, and therefore not considered interesting.

Interesting, however, is a term that could be readily applied to stories cultivated by People’s Voice Media and the Institute of Community Reporters. With stories about homelessness, education, the elderly population, the disabled, and real members of the community, these organizations have created a network that allows individuals to be informed and start discussions about issues that they face at a local level.

People’s Voice Media and the Institute of Community Reporters plan to continue working to train individuals to tell stories within the community, with plans to expand into storytelling through theatre in the near future.