Research associate Jennifer Jones believes that open research paves the way for ordinary people to take control of mass communication and to free information flow from the constraints of the closed worlds of corporate media giants and publishing houses.
Twenty-seven-year-old researcher, lecturer and journalist Jennifer Jones has a fluid but pared-down working approach. She openly conducts her work as a researcher and lecturer through her personal website, using her blog and Twitter, on which she has 3,000 followers. She works virtually as she travels between two university employers in the Midlands and the West of Scotland.
Her inspiration comes from media activists and groups like Occupy, who use the free resources of the net to group like-minded people for action and discourse. All of her activity is open for scrutiny and for tracking – there are no pseudonyms – and she records everything she does on her website.
When I work with people ‘outside’ of the university, I can give back to the communities that I ‘take’ from through the research process. Feeling that you can help empower people to tell their own histories, by showing them the tools and techniques that are traditionally locked behind university pay-walls, keeps your energy positive within the more traditional university environments.
The thrust of her PhD is to highlight how social media is transforming large events. All of her students on the Online Journalism and Alternative Media Module at Birmingham City University can get involved in the project, so they get experience of, and exposure to, new media, and they can be mentored on how it might work for them.
Her PhD grew out of a project undertaken at the University of the West of Scotland during the Vancouver Olympic Games two years ago. She became part of a team that spent six weeks in Canada investigating and reporting the ‘alternative’ stories of the games through independent media centres and social media channels. She and her colleagues were part of a media organisation with open membership and printed off press passes that enabled them to gain access to the games. Now she is doing the same with the London Olympics.
Open research might be what you call the way I work, I just see it as a way of ensuring that I am the researcher that my previous education and my mentors have encouraged me to be.
A typical working day in Jennifer’s life might be:
Funfare from Glasgow to London. Jennifer uses what could be dead time productively, emailing and drafting blog posts using the Wordpress App offline. This frees up the time that she is at her desk for research-based writing. Jennifer sees social media as something that can connect us all, on our own terms.
She says it can be a platform where you choose whether or not you want to be part of a conversation, research study or a news story and contribute to it yourself, rather than having it thrust upon you by a press release from a corporate, which is then circulated through traditional media – radio, newspapers and TV.
Finds a WiFi hotspot in Costa Coffee for breakfast – Jennifer is a top WiFi hotspot tracker – and catches up with emails from her students and others on her laptop.
She is the co-ordinator for #media2012, the first national citizen media network around an Olympic Games. She and her students curate a new Help Me Investigate site to provide support and resources for people exploring critical aspects of mega events.
Presents a paper at a university on portfolio careers and academia.
Tweets to see if there’s anyone she’s met on Twitter living nearby, so she can go for coffee and lunch and meet them face-to-face.
Lunch with a fellow Twitterer, who is interested in work she has been doing, and asks her about #media2012. She likes to know what others are doing so if she gets the chance to co-ordinate a project, such as #media2012, she can pull together people according to their strengths, not because they work for the same institution or within the same discipline. She keeps parts of her day as free as possible so she can accommodate the unpredictable nature of conversations and mutual connections that Twitter allows.
She said: “#media2012 is not about taking down the Olympics but about reclaiming them for local people and showing them from a different perspective. Much of it is about having the confidence to know that your story matters. For me it is not about cashing in on the scoop but about showing how things are. By all accounts I should be on a blacklist but because I am open about what I do and I don’t hide or assume a false identity, it works the other way around.
People want to talk to me and learn about what I am doing and how I am doing it.”
Catches a train back home to the Midlands and checks out Twitter en route, probably for the sixth or seventh time that day, to see what her university tutees are working on. Her work is created out of the potential of new media, Twitter in particular, to quickly create conversations and then like-minded communities which have a similar objective and grow and develop on their own terms. Cross-fertilisation between separate communities creates even more open-ended discussion and then projects achieve a life of their own.
By working in this way she attempts to challenge the hierarchies of power in sharing information and the work develops a momentum of its own that can’t be predicted or managed.
Arrives home and sits at her desk working on her PhD and planning for other activities including workshops, presentations and voluntary work. Her latest project is to set up a festival @UWSInteractive, for the University of the West of Scotland, in a rural area that covers about 60 square miles, for people who are interested in community production and media activism.
Her research, although in the digital realm, involves talking to people face-to-face. She finds the most interesting leads through the people she converses with online, when she is writing, preparing presentations, or workshops or working on other things relating to projects around education or the Olympics.
Answers an email which requests a proposal for a series of workshops on uses and abuses of social media.
This article originally featured in issue 33 of Jisc Inform (UK web archive).