Digital Beat vol. 1, no. 6

Gary Handman (
Mon, 3 May 1999 14:37:13 -0700 (PDT)

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>Date: Fri, 30 Apr 1999 16:44:35 -0400
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>From: Jillaine Smith <jillaine@BENTON.ORG>
>Subject: Digital Beat vol. 1, no. 6
>Comments: To:
>The Digital Beat v.1 no.6
>By Alicia Kemmitt
> With editorial contributions from Rachel Anderson, Jillaine Smith,
> and Kevin Taglang
> Introduction
> Community Dialogues: Citizenship & Media
> "The Next Best Thing to Dialtone"
> Independent Media & Arts
> Digital Possibilities
> Conclusion
>As part of our continuing focus on the practice of public service media, this
>edition of Digital Beat highlights some of the activity in Seattle (WA).
>Seattle is made up of neighborhoods divided by lakes, hills and highways --
>creating a feeling of fragmentation for some who live there. "Seattle is
>a city and a town. It hasn't realized it is a full blown metropolis and each
>community has its own needs," said Scott Noegel of the Seattle Independent
>and Video Consortium. Building art and media networks among these communities
>is one of the organization's goals. The following is a snapshot of some of
>Seattle's media activities that are engaging the community by building on
>community-raised issues, sharing resources, and exploring new venues for
>Seattle's Front Porch Forum is a media partnership among Seattle's public
>station (KUOW), public television station (KCTS), and the Seattle Times. All
>three media organizations pool their resources with the help of a grant from
>the Pew Center for Civic Journalism, to surface issues of concern from
>citizens and design programming to address those issues.
>The project, which began in 1996, initially focused on electoral politics.
>In 1997 the programming focused on growth issues, followed in 1998 by issues
>surrounding public policy alternatives and factors involved in population
>growth. In the fall of 1999, the Front Porch Forum will tackle the question,
>"Is there a leadership gap?"
>Topics for programming are developed from a variety of sources -- flowing
>citizens, to programmers, to community leaders and back to citizens. In 1997
>the Forum reached out to the community and conducted 250 "pizza parties" in
>people's homes around Seattle. Enticed with free pizza, citizens invited
>friends and family into their homes to discuss their concerns with the Forum
>team. According to Marion Woyvodich, the project coordinator, the questions
>were basic and open-ended: "What do you like about living here? What don't
>like?" Topics generated from these citizen gatherings were used to develop
>public opinion surveys to garner more specific issues of concern to area
>Front Porch Forum's focus on growth issues included a "mock trial"
program. One
>hundred citizens were recruited randomly to attend a session in which region
>leaders were put on trial for not preparing for growth. Citizens listened to
>testimony from political officials, environmentalists, and growth experts.
>media partners of the forum recorded their deliberations and disseminated the
>session via TV, radio, and print.
>After the 1998 series on public policy and growth, the partners together came
>up with the theme of leadership. According to Enrique Cerne of KCTS-TV, Front
>Porch Forum media partners held several meetings with academics and community
>leaders to discuss their definitions of leadership. Last week, the Forum
>a series of focus groups to find out what citizens think about leadership in
>"If we hear people are concerned that there won't be a next generation of
>leaders because of lack of time or too much bureaucracy, then we'll focus on
>that. If we hear from people that they feel strongly that neighborhood and
>spiritual leaders are more important than political leaders, than we'll
>approach the story that way," said Robert Smith, KUOW reporter.
>The goal of the media partnership is to pool resources and address citizen
>issues across different media. Smith says that participating in Front Porch
>Forum has encouraged KUOW to address topics that they wouldn't have otherwise
>Such "civic journalism" has often been criticized as relinquishing
>objectivity. Smith defines what the term has meant to KUOW: "A lot of
>think civic journalism is crossing the line by collaborating. We just use
it as
>a way to ask people what's on their minds."
>With three years of project programming under their belts, the project
>have discussed how to expand the Front Porch Forum. Robert Smith of KUOW says
>the station would like to remain connected with the media partners as a
>resource base, but divide projects up a bit in order to exploit the diverse
>potential of each form of media. "Instead of taking each step together, we'd
>like to cover different aspects of a common topic," Smith said.
>The Front Porch Forum Web site ( is another
>area Smith says needs more attention. During the fall 1997 programming, the
>site was used to post stories, poll results, and the schedule of Forum
>While the site's "Electronic Porch" page solicited dialogue from citizens,
>site, according to Smith, was used primarily as a one-way venue to post
>generated at Forum events.
>Another public service media project in Seattle, "Ask the Governor," is a
>caller-driven program that airs quarterly on public radio and television
>stations throughout the state. Callers talk directly with the governor. The
>show, produced by Susan Hahn, began in 1993 and has enjoyed the participation
>of the two governors in office since then. The program seeks to provide
>unedited access to the governor, and raise awareness about state issues not
>usually covered in the state's mainstream press.
>In the hour-long show, the Governor fields 20-25 of the several thousand
>placed by viewers. While most topics raised by callers are not necessarily
>on the news agenda for journalists, a recent program focused on a heavily
>covered issue. Earlier that week, teachers marched on the steps of the state
>capitol to pressure lawmakers for a fair salary. Teachers claimed that
>a raise in six years, they had lost 15% of their salary to inflation. The
>governor responded to pro-teacher callers by explaining the realities of the
>limited state budget.
>"Ask the Governor" co-host Barry Mitzman is not sure if the show helps people
>understand the issues better, but he does believe it gives people a chance to
>ask questions, make comments and test the governor's ability to explain his
>position and respond to concerns. The program "knits the state together more
>than it might be otherwise."
>Broadcast outlets are not the only place for Seattle residents to find out
>what's happening in their city. Some advocates have turned to cable PEG
>channels for coverage. Peggy Saari, president of the Seattle League of Women
>Voters, says the organization hasn't had much luck attracting commercial
>to cover their monthly forums on such issues as social security, Medicare
>reform, and trade. Instead, the League has turned to government-run cable
>channels like TVSea -- Seattle's Municipal Television Channel.
>In 1998, TVSea expanded its regular coverage of Seattle City Council meetings
>to include citizen-engaging programs. In an effort to provide more distance
>between the program's content and the government-run station, "Seattle
>is produced outside of TVSea.
>These and similar efforts are demonstrating that citizens have additional
>interests on top of those found in current commercial and even noncommercial
>television programming. TVSea station manager Hap Fruend was surprised by
>amount of local issues that are raised: "You would think they would be about
>big policy things ... but people are more concerned about (issues like)
>a park in my neighborhood that hasn't been cleaned in three weeks."
>The cable channel has convinced the City Council to include dial-in capacity
>during some of their meetings, allowing citizens to participate and even
>testify from home. Phone numbers and Web sites are displayed on the TV so
>citizens can quickly respond. The TVSea Web site (
>features video streaming of many proceedings. Because not everyone has access
>to cable or the Internet, TVSea has a viewing room at the station where
>can come in and view City Council meeting broadcasts; tapes of the broadcasts
>are also available for only $2.50.
>Community Voice Mail ( provides people who cannot afford phone
>service the ability to get and retrieve messages -- a communication must for
>participation in modern society, not to mention for gaining employment. Like
>Front Porch Forum, "Community Voice Mail" is made possible through community
>partnerships that are sharing resources. In Seattle, the voice mail equipment
>is housed at the Fremont Public Association -- a community action agency that
>serves as a food bank and provides job training. Seattle CVM system manager
>Eileen Bidwell works with community groups, providing them with the
>and training they need to give out voice mail boxes to folks without phones.
>The CVM user can create her own private outgoing message and then call in to
>the mailbox and receive incoming messages. According to a CTI study, 88% of
>unemployed, phoneless people in Seattle found employment within 60 days of
>enrolling in the CVM program -- compared to only 16% who did not enroll in
>Ninety-two agencies in Seattle are equipped to distribute CVM numbers.
>Begun in Seattle in 1991, Community Voice Mail won Ford Foundation - Harvard
>Kennedy School of Government Innovations Award in 1993 and was awarded
>from the national nonprofit, Community Technology Institute (CTI). CTI now
>trains and guides communities in setting up the program. Twenty-six cities
>nationwide have replicated this model.
>Seattle CVM does look to commercial phone companies for support, although
>partnering with commercial phone companies has not always been easy to
>Recently, USWest donated $18,000 to Seattle CVM-the approximate annual
cost to
>provide CVM in a given city. In addition, Active Voice of Seattle donates
>Seattle CVM's voice mail equipment. Despite these successful donations to the
>Seattle program, CTI president Jenn Brandon says that partnering with
>commercial phone companies has been difficult to achieve in other CVM cities
>across the nation. Instead of donating resources to CVM, many phone companies
>have chosen to replicate the CVM model themselves, which Brandon says they
>not set up to do. The Community Technology Institute's focus is training
>practitioners to provide service to the poorest members of communities. Phone
>companies are too focused on the bottom line to truly be successful in
>this population, Brandon says.
>Deregulation of the pay phone industry in 1997 resulted in additional cost
>problems. Policy changes allowed for increases in payphone call charges and
>decreased the affordability for the service. The number of people using CVM
>decreased. While CVM is free, most users must access it through a pay
phone. At
>one time, Frontier Communications donated a 1-800 number to Seattle CVM, but
>didn't renew its contribution to the program, according to Brandon. Although
>many CVM cities are able to offer 1-800 numbers to CVM users, the owner of
>800 number is charged a surcharge each time a call is made -- doubling their
>In addition, the number of pay phones is decreasing. "With the number of cell
>phones increasing for middle and upper class, the number of pay phones out
>there on the street is going down," Brandon said.
>The Seattle Independent Film and Video Consortium (SIFVC) has pooled the
>resources and communication efforts of alternative art and media
>in Seattle. The Web site ( provides a
>calendar of events, links to member organizations, as well as a resource
>for production and distribution of independent media.
>According to Scott Noegel, SIFVC organizer, the Seattle independent media and
>arts community was fragmented before the consortium formed. In addition to
>generating more sharing of resources and networking, the consortium,
through a
>central Web site, has also succeeded in getting the mainstream press to cover
>more independent media events -- from art showings to micro cinema
>Black Chair Productions, a member of SIFVC, hosts "micro cinema"
screenings at
>a local Seattle café, the Speakeasy. The café hosts meetings,
performances, and
>activist-related events in their "back room." Black Chair Productions
>national and international independent film, video and computer artworks
to be
>screened at their monthly program, "Independent Exposure." According to staff
>member Joel Bachar, Black Chair Productions is exploring alternative
>spaces and the use of new technologies as a way for the independent film and
>video community to broaden their reach to the general public.
>The SIFVC Web site is hosted by Offline, a multi-tiered promoter and
>distributor for independent film and video, and an Internet resource.
Funded by
>the NEA and based in Seattle and New York, Offline signs non-exclusive
>contracts with artists to distribute their videos, short films, or computer
>animations. Artists' work are aired on cable, netcast on the Web, or
>at a micro-cinema. Over 80 cable stations around the country air Offline
>content. Some films and videos get distributed through "Indeplex," a
feature of
>the SIFVC site that links to 36 different Independent film Web casting sites.
>These sites receive Offline content in exchange for being listed on SIFVC's
>comprehensive access site.
>On April 10, 1999, Seattle public television station, KCTS-TV, launched its
>first digital broadcast -- "Rainier: The Mountain." The one-hour, high
>definition documentary featured scenery and commentary on the mountain that
>makes up the visual backdrop for many Washington state residents. Although
>KCTS-TV is ahead of most public TV stations in its ability to "pass through"
>digital programming and multicast on three channels, it still has as long way
>to go toward digital broadcasting. In order to produce local digital
>programming, their entire production facilities need to be converted from
>analog to digital.
>As in our examination of Hampton Roads (VA) last month, we find that the
>thread through each example of public service media is innovative
>that work toward local discussion and problem solving. The Benton Foundation
>has high hopes for the interactive potential of digital media as a medium for
>public service. As broadcasters in the major U.S. markets kick off digital
>broadcasts in May, Benton will continue to document and assess new public
>service media models. The success of the transition to digital will not be
>defined by bits and bytes, but by alliances of community organizations to
>develop programming that serves community needs. In the meantime, the public
>service media work being done by community members and media organizations in
>Seattle now provides insight into how commercial, noncommercial, and
>cross-media collaborations can work to engage citizens in the policy decision
>that affect their lives, raising the quality of life for the entire
>(c)Benton Foundation, 1999. Redistribution of this email publication - both
>internally and externally -- is encouraged if it includes this message. This
>and past issues of Digital Beat are available online at
>The Digital Beat is a free online news service of the Benton Foundation's
>Communications Policy & Practice program Digital
>Beat is made possible by support from the Open Society Institute. Our aim
is to
>equip you to be engaged in the public debate on the public interest in
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>advocates, the work of nonprofit organizations and government agencies to
>create new public services, technology developments, and communications
>Benton houses the legacy of the Presidential Advisory Committee on Public
>Interest Obligations of Digital Television Broadcasters <>
>and is committed to using its report and recommendations as a starting point
>for achieving access, diversity, equity, and education in the new media.
>Additional contributors to the Digital Beat include the Media Access Project
>(MAP), the Center for Media Education (CME), and the Civil Rights Forum on
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Gary Handman
Media Resources Center
Moffitt Library
UC Berkeley 94720-6000

"Everything wants to become television" (James Ulmer -- Teletheory)