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Citizen Journalism and Community Access Television -- Finding the Fit

Thousands of public-access, government and educational television services in cities and towns around the United States telecast on cable systems. Typically the receive the majority of their funding via the franchise contracts municipalities negotiate with cable companies like Time Warner, Comcast, Cablevision and the like. How are these "PEG Access" operations adapting the the new broadband environment, where video is increasingly viewed and created by consumers on Internet devices, including mobile phones and tablets? At the Alliance for Community Media conference in Pittsburgh, some 25 participants in a pre-event seminar considered this question on July 7, 2010. Much of their dicussion was streamed live.

Source for more info:

Burning questions after the morning panel

Here are some of the questions participants raised after the morning panel:

  • How does web/Internet work benefit the TV side where most revenue seems intended to support the cable venue?
  • How do we address online the challenge of serving multiple languages and niche, underrepresented communities?
  • Why even do this online rather than on-air?
  • What about developing a checklist of sites to understand the startup process?
  • Could we create "cookbooks" to starting a web/mobile initiative?
  • How about a list of successes and failures in cable-to-online so far?
  • Can we contribute local reporting on national stories?
  • Where is the financial support to cover missing journalism?
  • What about looking at this all from the point of view of community contributors?
  • As a citizen journalist, what do I have to do to be most effective?
  • Where and how do I develop a technology strategy?
  • How do I stay nimble?
  • Is there a business strategy that transcends the medium, or any medium and just speaks to meeting community needs?
  • When we don't get the grant, how do we bootstrap it?
  • What are the sustainability / business models, involving different products and strategies (ads etc.)?
  • How do we identify and execute opportunities for collaborating with established media?
  • Where's the optimum line between automation and high touch?
  • If we don't want to editorialize or be gatekeepers, what is our role?
  • How do we head off the inevitable push from authorities to monetize on an advertising model?
  • How do we frame cit-j as a part of the larger mission of public access?
  • Can we develop the list of baby steps -- vs. big pushes -- required to develop a citizen journalism initiative?
  • Why is text still king in citizen journalism and what about the value of video for telling stories?
  • How do we train citizen journalists to be reporters -- and editors -- as well as writers?
  • How do our media centers become a cornerstone of a community?
  • How do we make the center matter so much that the community sustains it?
  • How do we ensure that we consider the impact and power of search on community media?

After lunch discussion

  • Question: What were the baby steps you took to get started?

Donna Liu: Started with skeleton site. Now has gone around to people who are tolerant of beta. People often ask for “groupspace” which is not always public. They have gone back to add that. First step: Listen to people to find out what they want.

Issue: Mission statement says “television.” How do you redefine?

Discussion of attempts by municipalities to reuse formerly dedicated cable money for other purposes. What happens when a $70K a year PEG operation goes to zero? They’re working on that. Launched low-power FM station.

What about launching a community media website with advertising support?

Kathy Bisbee: The Gilroy, Calif., experience: Move toward thinking of public access as a “Community Media Center.” People are interested in youth matters and in news, primarily. The want to see short pieces they can watch online or on cable. They are now thinking about setting up an L3C. “We need to constantly reiterate the value of what we are doing.”

Community information needs assessment

Sources of information about the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities assessment process:

Consider setting up a separate profit or non-for-profit to work the web/multimedia side of the equation.

Colin: Is there something we are all saying that we are needing to collaborate around? Funding? Sustainability? Technology? Recruitment/training of citizen journalists? Diversity?

Let’s start with the baby steps for: “Starting a citizen journalism program”


What sort of person can conduct a citij training? Advice from the Sacramento Press. Teach: (1) How to post, (2) ethics, (3) how to do journalism, (4) photography (5) interviewing skills. Keep them short, keep repeating and “we pull people in with cheap food.”

Focusing in on three "burning" issues or needs

What are the three or so burning issues:

  • 1. Community info needs assessment
    • a. How to organize a needs ID process
    • b. What can we do that is essential and unduplicated?
    • c. Necessary to be able to garner support/funding
  • 2. Recruitment and training / using internal staff
    • a. Baby steps
  • 3. Infrastructure requirements / technology needs
    • a. Baby steps
  • Discussion: Informal ways of assessing community needs. Advice: Don’t just rely on site comments. Face to face works well.
  • Insight: You can’t charge people for content, but you can charge them for a unique community experience.
  • The Sacramento Press provides a public space for people to access the internet – to remove the barrier of having to pay for access.
  • Some people experience news as print, some as video/TV.
  • CPB is starting to get TV stations to focus more on community needs.
  • Sacto public access: “I don’t think we would be having these discussions if it were not for the collapse of the advertising models of newspapers.” In South Sacramento, an extremely diverse community, there’s never been enough advertising business model to support even a community newspaper.
  • Colin’s advice from Cambridge: Go to the people who are already active in the community and give them new tools. They give everybody Flip cameras – “and it looks pretty good on your cable channel, especially if you give everybody a tripod!”
  • This is content that goes on the web, but then later goes on the cable. “We are doing both.”

“It seems like this is the logical next step for this industry and it should be mainstream.”

  • In Gilroy, Kathy Bisbee has started an eighth-grade citizen journalism program.

IDEA: Can we create a list of the top five PEG access stations that are leading the way in citizen-journalism programs?

  • Colin: How do we look at what we are doing now, just do it online? Think of it as a “logical next step,” in the broadband age. How can we start advocating for that on the local and national level? We need to move from a cable to a broadband strategy.

RESOURCE: The ACM community journalism listserv

Following the August NAMAC conference in Boston, Alliance members Colin Rhinesmith (Cambridge Community Television) and Kathy Bisbee (Community Media Access Partnership, Gilroy, CA) proposed that the Alliance create an additional listserv for those at community media centers interested in exploring citizen journalism initiatives. We've set up such a listserv - – as of October 1 there are nearly 150 subscribers. The list is open to anyone; the address for subscribing is Online archives of all the posts are available to subscribers, as they are for our two general discussion listservs, Alliance-Members and Alliance-Public.

Wrapping up: The one big thing

What’s the one thing today that was helpful that is actionable – something YOU can do, or something you’d like ACM to do:

  • 1. Work more with staff to ask them: How can we better integrate with the web; take things submitted to the website and figure out how to get them on cable.
  • 2. Ask ACM to create a how do for a video playback service that goes from website to cable.
  • 3. ACM provide hands out the five or more “best practices” PEG access centers that are doing a great job with citizen-journalism/reporter programs.
  • 4. Go and talk to our volunteers more actively.
  • 5. Will provide more technical support on how to maintain a blog on very little resources.
  • 6. Will build out training sessions. Especially as an after-school session in the schools. “I’d like to get them to think of it early as more than your Facebook toy.”
  • 7. Will write a blog post for the New American Foundation. There is a them about emphasis on diversity.
  • 8. Will be a resource from the listserv

  • 9. The first thing he will do is join the listserv. Should document the best practices.
  • 10. Plan to help ACM with five-sites best practices cookbook; and work with contractors to Knight on community needs assessment – with PEG access outfits as key leaders.
  • 11. Get my board to move from cable to broadband. And development a document/plan that will include steps, survey, recruitment, training, funding.
  • 12. He’ll work on baby steps. Encourages all to have an online email newsletter.
  • 13. Making six lunch dates with community organizers to ask for their advice and help.

Source for more info: