From tomorrow there will be just ten days until the Forest Cafe and arts space must vacate the building they have occupied since 2003.
Those last few days, it seems to me, would make a compelling video or radio documentary, and I’ve been exploring the idea of covering them with various members of the Forest over the last few days. The idea would be to spend each day with a different person, as a way of exploring the people who make this arts space special – and, of course, covering any developments that occur along the way. Will there be an last minute changes? Will they manage to raise enough money to buy the building, or at least enough to put down a deposit for a mortgage? Can Price Waterhouse Cooper be pressured into changing their mind, and allowing them to continue to rent the building – at least until they find a buyer?
On the other hand, I am aware that work I do with community groups in social media might well be of great assistance to the Forest right now, in helping in any last effort to look for financial donors and philanphropists. The kind of work I have been doing with Edinbuzz and the Innertube Map would be very useful for them in getting their message across, in creating a flow of material and stories about the Forest, and encouraging people to donate money.
This has left me of something with a dilemma – one familiar to the documentary maker, though perhaps less so to the news journalist – how involved can, and should, one get?
My feeling is that I need to decide whether I am documenting what happens over the next ten days, or whether I am trying to affect what happens over the next ten days – and that I cannot try to do both. I even ended up discussing this with one of the Forest members this evening, Rachel McCrum.
Perhaps surprisingly, Rachel thought I should stick to documenting events. “No-one has really managed to explain what this place is.” she said. She also though that it would be valuable to have someone independent – an outsider, like myself, hold a mirror up to the Forest, to show it with all its pros and cons.
Tomorrow I’ll need to make a final decision on this. I thought you might be able to help me decide. Which options do you think I should choose?
UPDATE – 16:38 – SUNDAY 21ST AUGUST
In the end there was a substantial majority – 70% to 30% – in favour of me approaching this as a documentarian, rather than getting involved. There were also some valuable comments from people, both on the blog, and on twitter. Michael Traill argued that there were lots of people in the Edinburgh social media community who could help them out with the campaign. Some thought that I was making a false separation, and that the journalist oten influences the story.
David Eyre’s suggestion on twitter was to embrace both;
This is certainly an interesting idea, and indeed, may be a necessary one if I am to be truly honest about the story. In some ways I feel like I have already influenced events quite strongly, just by talking to people from the Forest about their plans, and offering advice about social media tools and strategies. In a way, that speaks about how very open the Forest is an organisation – it’s almost like a vacuum, pulling like-minded people into it and encouraging them to get stuck in.
At the moment though, I plan to step back from that, and record events as they unfold. And if I do end up getting pulled in? Well, as David said, that can become a part of the story too. But my gut-feeling is that you can’t do both properly.