“Every community needs its own Sentinel.”
This was the conclusion of the Rep Council, reflecting on 20 years of the Sentinel in 1996. Over the last few years, we have regularly looked at the role theSentinel played within Wester Hailes in bringing together the community, representing its voice, and encouraging democratic participation. The Sentinel operated through print only during its lifetime but this was in common with many printed publications, and also reflected the relative lack of internet access within people’s homes in Wester Hailes even when the internet was growing in use as a media tool. However, if the Sentinel was being set up today, it would undoubtedly have an online presence. Over the last few months, an exciting new project, the Digital Sentinel has been developing to establish a community news website for Wester Hailes, written and edited by local residents. A series of workshops has been enabling people to start gaining skills and experience in how to use a variety of formats such as Youtube and Flickr, uploading their stories, news and views using a range of digital technology.
Now the emerging news agency has been recognised by the Carnegie UK Trust’s Neighbourhood News with a grant of £10,000. It is only one of five projects to receive funding after facing strong competition, and the only project to be awarded funding in Scotland. WHALE Arts Agency is leading on this project, representing a collaboration of organisations in Wester Hailes including Wester Hailes Health Agency, Prospect Community Housing, Wester Hailes Time Bank and the Wester Hailes Community Council. Together they have been working with academic research partners on providing access to online social history archives using QR codes, blogs and Facebook sites. It is one of a suite of projects under the banner “Our Place in Time” using digital media to provide access to archives and to tell the stories of Wester Hailes today. The funding will enable further training to support the recruitment and development of citizen journalists to take the project forward.
The Digital Sentinel may turn out to look very different from the old printed paper but it will be firmly connected to the values associated with the original publication. The experience of the Sentinel shows that above all, community news needs to be independent, locally based and locally accountable. It is great news that the new Digital Sentinel will continue in this tradition in its aspiration to be community led, with residents trained as citizen reporters and content managed by community editors. The news will be produced by people within the community, with their own particular perspective. They will be able to cover stories that are not of interest to larger news agencies and with the hope of reversing the trend for negative media representation of Wester Hailes that continues to be an issue in sections of the press. And at the heart of the project will be the aim to continue the high ethical standards that the printed Sentinel set in its efforts to act as a unifying voice.