Over the past week or so I’ve been writing about my experiences in community television over the years and some of the striking similarities that social media has to the original days of community television. As a result of my articles, I have met Colin Rhinesmith, who is the Community Media Coordinator at Cambridge Community Television in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Colin was kind enough to post about my articles and we have struck up an interesting conversation about what his group is doing to involve their members not only in producing television for traditional broadcast but also for the Internet.

I have to say that the existence of these community channels in the U.S. has been a bit of a new discovery for me. I was aware of public access TV but thought that it was mostly about PBS and its affiliates. We live in a bit of a broadcasting bubble here in Canada, and though we get lots of American TV stations up here, we don’t get much more than specialty networks and network affiliate stations. We certainly don’t get to see the great content being produced at the community level.

For those of you who don’t know much about public access or community television in the U.S., here’s what I’ve learned thanks to Colin. It’s similar to the model we have in Canada, whereby the cable companies contribute a certain amount of their revenues towards equipment, staffing, licensing and day-to-day operations. What’s different is how it is implemented. Though some of these stations (some 3,000 across the U.S.) are simply run and staffed by the cable companies (like in Canada), and some of these stations are very independent from the cable companies, running as non-profit organizations that have members who pay fees (like CCTV). There are also government access centres run by municipalities, and educational access centres run by colleges and schools.

I find these independent stations like CCTV most interesting. To become a member, you pay a yearly fee and, you get to take inexpensive workshops (ranges from about $20 to $50 depending on the level and length) and then produce your own television programs. It’s simliar to a video co-op, except you get to put your stuff on the air! It’s true community access, and from what I’ve seen the programming is great.

CCTV is doing some remarkable things. First, their web site is created in Drupal and it’s terrific. In addition to all of the regular information about how to become a member, programming and workshop schedules, members can have their own blogs where they can post their thoughts and link to their shows online, and groups where like-minded members can share ideas, brainstorm or make announcements. These guys are really taking community TV to the next level. Members are encouraged to participate on many different levels and they do.

There has been some talk about the relevance of true community access television, with the advent of YouTube and other video services going online. If anyone can now make a video and post it for the world to see, why do community TV stations even need to exist any longer? The reason is simple. It’s about community. It’s about people physically coming together and producing valuable content, and the relationships that are formed when people are in this kind of environment. You can’t get that by hitting “Submit” on your YouTube page.

I think the Internet is going to be an extremely valuable outlet for those community television stations who choose to embrace its potential. By taking the power of community and sending it out to the world, everyone stands to benefit. Now, we not only have the power of being able to bring the community to the world…we have the possibility of linking these communities to make something even greater.

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