In my last post on this topic, I talked about how I ended up with my first media job, working as a producer in community television. In this post I will conclude with how online media and social networking have become the new public access media.
Community television in 1990 was a very different beast than it is today. Back then, it was all about public access. Anyone in the community who had an idea for a show could pitch it to the station. If the station agreed to air it, then that community person, with no television experience whatsoever, got to produce it. As staff producers, we were there to show them the ropes, guide them through the process and help them to get a decent show on the air. We produced a lot of shows every week. At one time I was in charge of 7 shows at the same time – albeit they were not all weekly shows, but covered a vast array of subject matter – music, arts, culture, and call in shows.
What strikes me is that this type of content production environment is not unlike what many people are doing online these days. If I wanted to, I could use these different online tools to create “shows”, and present my different stories in different ways. On Flickr, I could post the story of what I did on my last vacation. On YouTube, a story about a short film I’ve made (ok the example provided is my brother’s YouTube page, but you get the idea). I could create a page Facebook, to share my family’s story. On my WordPress blog, I can tell my professional life story. And through my Squidoo lens, I’m telling a story about my family of pets. In a sense, I am back to producing many shows again. I’m telling stories to an engaged audience and they are joining me in the conversation.
Community television, in the old days, was not about creating the next “Lost” or “Anderson Cooper 360“. Most of the time it was just about getting something on the air that was interesting to the audience. They used to call community TV “two people and a rubber plant” television, because we didn’t have a lot of money for fancy sets (but an abundance of fake plants!). We did have interesting people who had something to say. Kind of like a video blog, except with three cameras, more lighting and a crew of volunteers working behind the scenes.
We had proof that this format worked, because people would call us and tell us what they liked or didn’t like about the show. I recall a show we did at Skyline Cable, called “Around the House”. Ren Molnar, Ottawa’s preeminent home renovation expert, would sit in a chair for an hour and take calls from weary homeowners whose furnace was on the fritz or whose roof was leaking, and tell them how to fix it up. The show was so popular, we had to have a volunteer start manning the phones an hour before show time. People were continuously disappointed when they couldn’t get on the air.
Another show that I produced, called “Soundtrack”, was like MySpace on TV. Each week we would profile what was going on in the local music scene. It was hosted by Janet Eastman, at the time a local radio personality, and Roch Parisien, Ottawa’s premiere musicologist (at the time the guy had over 12,000 albums in his record collection). We would bring local bands into the studio to talk, play and promote their upcoming shows. We’d go out to local music venues like Barrymore’s and Zaphod Beeblebrox and interview whoever was in town. Some of the people I got to meet and interview include Barenaked Ladies, Sheryl Crow, Los Lobos, The Sweet, and my personal favourite, Davy Jones from the Monkees. Not to mention, Tom Green and his first rap band Organized Rhyme were pretty much a staple on the show. How’s that for my first job out of college? Anyway, the show was immensely popular and Roch and Janet couldn’t walk down the street without being recognized. Not bad for a show that, again, was produced almost entirely by volunteers (and the wonderful, fabulous local musicians, record company reps and bar owners in town).
My point is, what we were doing back then, long before the Internet became popular, is what social media is doing now. We were making good content that spoke to a specific audience and involving people from the community in the conversation.
These days, community television has moved in a different direction from the “two people and a rubber plant”days. The abundance of television specialty networks has forced the cable companies (who run community TV stations) to abandon the old thinking about public access and move towards competing with the local television market. In my opinion, it may have not been the best decision. Sure, they still work with volunteer crews and on-air talent. But the story has changed.
Community TV in 2008 is people telling other people’s stories, not their own stories. They are just like the other TV media. And to me, that’s not nearly as interesting. I guess that’s why I’ve made the shift to online media, because people’s own stories continue to unfold here. The Internet has created a new form of public access through social networking and online media. The community has found a new place to live.