Innovations Guide

“Innovations in Community Media and Technology: 3/29/12 Live from Brookline, MA and Webcast Everywhere” — Guide to the 12-Minute Version

A variety of long-range considerations and circumstances of the moment, including the current search for a new Executive Director for the Brookline Interactive Group, formerly Brookline Access Television, make a review of this live program especially timely.

Available online, this two-year old special roundtable runs more than 80 minutes, with a format not easily designed to translate directly into compelling video programming and many of the limitations of community access locally-produced television including noticeably rough production values and extended segments of talking heads. Hence, this special guide to the 12-minute edited version.

As the pre-show notices suggest, in an overview for the Brookline TAB and a fuller introduction in Open Media Boston, different presenters provide four overlapping but distinct contextual dimensions helpful for considering innovation in the field. These sections cover:

  • the commonwealth-wide, metroBoston focused nonprofit technology community;
  • the mission, history and development of community cable access and Community Media Centers in the U.S.;
  • the statewide association of Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) Access / Community Media Centers;
  • Brookline Access Television, previewing its transformation into the Brookline Interactive Group.

Here’s a breakdown on each section and what to watch for more closely in each.

I. The world of community and nonprofit technology

As a special offering of the Ethos Roundtable, introduced by Deborah Elizabeth Finn and moderated by Josh Shortlidge, the program is tied into and provides an informative perspective into the statewide, metro-Boston focused nonprofit technology community.

The Ethos Roundtable was a staple and lynchpin of that community from 2006-12 and included among its features:

  • Innovative projects and perspectives from across the globe — Harris Sussman on the Adamov Memorial Fund’s efforts to foster access to information and communication technologies among blind people in Russia; Samuel Klein on his work with the One Laptop Per Child project; Nolan Bowie, lecturer in public policy at the Kennedy School and senior fellow emeritus at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society, on his vision for global telecommunications.
  • Local notables, their organizations and projects — Ethan Zuckerman, Director of the Center for Civic Media at MIT, on Global Voices Online, a non-profit global citizens’ media project he co-founded; Joseph Porcelli on Boston’s and its 3,000 members; David Crowley on Social Capital Inc. and how evolving networking technologies can be used as powerful tools for crafting stronger communities.
  • Tools designed for the nonprofit community across the state: the Mass NonProfit Database, with comprehensive data, information and tools to build stronger nonprofit organizations and communities and promote greater citizen engagement; the Open Indicators Consortium, dedicated to improving access to data about communities and regions; NPO Connect, the online tool that assists in matching nonprofit professionals with peer mentors; the Massachusetts Philanthropic Directory, the first presentation of philanthropy as a coherent whole, organized by a systematic, comprehensive, taxonomy of 200 fields.
  • Other innovations in media and communications: Ken George, new media production manager at WBUR-FM on public radio, social media, and civic engagement; Lisa Williams, CEO and founder of Placeblogger, the largest searchable index of local weblogs, on what knits geographic communities together online; Melinda Wittstock, award-winning broadcast and print journalist, on Web 2.0, populism, and professional journalism.

While the BATV Innovations in Media program proved to be the last Ethos offering, the Roundtable was shortly reborn when Deborah joined Tech Networks of Boston and began offering a new series, at TNB and other venues across the metropolitan area. During the first half of this year alone the TNB Roundtable has included such themes and presenters as:

  • “Moving toward smart and open governments — what nonprofits need to know” with Michael Ahn, Assistant Professor, McCormack Graduate School at UMass/Boston, president of American Society for Public Administration-MA Chapter.
  • “Refurbished computers for low-income families,” a program staffed by disabled youth, with Marlene Archer, co-founder of Semi-New Computers and former Public Service Coordinator of the Boston Computer Society.
  • “WEAVE for nonprofits — a free data visualization platform” with Georges Grinstein, professor of computer science at UMass Lowell, head of its Bioinformatics Program and director of its Institute for Visualization and Perception Research.
  • “Bridging Technology and Evaluation in Nonprofits” with Laura Beals of Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Boston.
  • “Five Facebook Strategies to Grow Your Nonprofit’s Supporter Base” with John Haydon, author of Facebook Marketing for Dummies and founder of the Nonprofit Facebook Bootcamp.
  • “Community Engagement Governance™ for Nonprofits” with Judy Freiwirth, principal of Nonprofit Solutions Associates, founder and chair of the Alliance for Nonprofit Management’s national network on nonprofit governance and national board of directors.
  • “Managing Your Organization’s Online Identity: The Giving Common, a Tool to Help Manage Your Story, Accept Donations, and Enhance Philanthropy” with Katherine Westlund Scott and Leigh Handschuh of the Boston Foundation.

All told, the Ethos and Tech Networks of Boston Roundtables have been providing leading edge community technology and media presentations and discussions for the better part of a decade, almost as long as co-convener Deborah Elizabeth Finn has been moderating Mission-Based-Massachusetts, an open email distribution list on yahoogroups for over 1,700 “people who care about nonprofit, philanthropic, educational, community-based, grassroots, socially responsible, and other mission-oriented organizations in the Bay State.” The roundtable and list supplement and reinforce each other in mapping and developing the nonprofit technology territory in the state and the region. Along with Deborah’s recent Facebook shout out on the national Nonprofit Technology Network / NTEN Leading Change Summit in San Francisco later this summer, this all provides good indications about how the nonprofit technology assistance providers movement extends across the country.

The actual length of Deborah’s appearance at the beginning of the Innovations program is less than 1½ minutes. For those who have seen and already know Deborah, you’ll find she does come across a bit formal, not quite the free-wheeling “you know the Roundtable’s going well when those sitting around it start going after each other more than the presenter,” in part because her introduction was prerecorded due to her travel to Austin at the time of the program and she doesn’t have the usual audience to bounce off of. Especially if you’re not familiar with her, it’s worth checking out the whole 80 seconds as it merges into the opening music and graphics.

II. A History of Public Access and Community Media Centers

To the degree a longtime activist in a field can help us gasp the contours of that arena, so Chuck Sherwood’s presentation provides a personal perspective and useful resources on the history, development, and innovations in the community cable Public, Educational, and Government (PEG) Access and Community Media Center (CMC) arena over the last 40 years.

A pioneer in the field since the mid-1970’s, Chuck has been Executive Director of the Channel L Working Group in New York City, one of the country’s first Government Access operations, Cincinnati Cable Access Corporation, and Cape Cod Community TV, and has served on national and regional boards and in leadership positions with national advocacy associations. The Northeast Region of the Alliance for Community Media (ACM), the national organization that supports PEG access centers, sponsors the Chuck Sherwood Leadership Award that annually recognizes an individual whose commitment, experience, and accomplishments have made a significant contribution, going above and beyond the call of service to the mission and goals of the Alliance and to the preservation and growth of community media.

Following Josh Shortlidge’s panel introduction and lead-in “So let me just start it off with innovations in community and cable access, Chuck, you’re on,” Chuck’s definitive “Absolutely!” at 4:36 begins a presentation that runs almost thirty minutes and makes up the show’s longest segment.

For a personal-historical, lived curriculum view of the field and some by-play give-and-take typical of the Ethos Roundtable at its best, the full segment merits a leisurely view. For a more directed viewing that focuses on some highlights, consider the material Chuck has provided, from Ralph Lee Smith’s early-70’s visionary and prophetic The Wired Nation to his own guest-edited Summer 2010 issue of the Community Media Review, “Community Media Centers Connecting with the New Broadband Networks” featuring BronxNet, Humboldt Access in northern California, and Denver Open Media, key national models of innovation at the beginning of the new millennium’s second decade.

There’s a good minute beginning at 18:30 that concludes the early history, about the opportunities that those small cities and towns that first got cable because of limited over-the-air reception realized they shared to televise local meetings, local shows, produce their own news stories, what mainstream media wasn’t covering, all of that converging and spreading across the country to 2,000 PEG entities that can be found on And, following a sum-up of the technology changes that followed, from analog to digital, the coming of the Internet, there’s another minute beginning around 21:00, where Chuck talks about the institutional transformation, from PEG access to Community Media Centers, CMCs, “not just community TV, but community computing, community art galleries, community theatres, community radio, media literacy education, and lots and lots of civic journalism.”

There is also a 2½-minute edit riff one could pull together and go through, a combination of key early history and good audience back-and-forth and humor: (a) Chuck on the development of the portapak — the original mobile media technology, precursor in that way to laptops, i-pads, and smart phones, providing an immediate and simpler way for ordinary and unheard people to communicate and make video and to hear and see themselves as well, leading into the history of Challenge for Change in Canada and George Stoney and Red Burns founding the Independent Media Center at NYU (not far from Channel L government access), lived moments expounded upon in Ralph Engelman’s classic monograph “The Origins of Public Access Cable Television”; (b) over to the end of the presentation ten minutes later, Chuck’s brief response to Josh’s query about youth media and his reference to and acknowledgement of those in the audience from area access centers with experience in that arena; (c) Josh’s call for feedback from the room and Brookline activist Archer O’Reilly jumping in with his own history in the field; (d) the humor and banter between Archer, Chuck, and Josh about the NFLCP, the National Federation of Local Cable Programmers, a.k.a. the National Football League of the Communist Party, and its transformation into the Alliance for Community Media; all these clips from 14:25 through 15:15, and from 24:10 to 24:40, 25:45-26:20, and 27:20-28:00 + 28:45-50.

III. MassAccess and the statewide community video distribution network

The collegial exchanges about community media’s early history and its post office and in-person distribution methods for sharing programs across localities leads easily to Jeff Hansell, executive director of Belmont Media Center and former director at Malden Access TV, MassAccess Organizational Development chair and member of the MyMassTV Sub-Committee, and his presentation on current distribution resources on and MyMassTV., the state association of PEG access Community Media Centers, has regularly provided national leadership on the ACM board and in the movement. At the ACM national conference leading up to the show, of the 129 HomeTown awards given and honorable mentions listed, more than a quarter of them, 33, went to Massachusetts, to 19 different centers with nine receiving multiple awards (with Brookline leading the group with four) — for achievements in magazine shows, animation, documentary events and profiles, government-supported programs, programs for seniors, informational features, the arts, music, public service announcements (PSAs), website development, programs about access, and overall excellence in public access at all three budget levels (to Medford, Somerville, and Cambridge).

MyMassTV Network is the state association’s distribution network for TV programs, videos, and PSAs provided by state, federal and regional agencies, elected officials and nonprofit organizations with service areas across the Commonwealth’s 120 affiliates from Boston to Bellingham that regularly download programs for viewing in their communities.

Technical limitations have long been a stumbling block for local community and nonprofit video production program distribution and sharing, but recent advances in large file transfer and establishing quality standards have helped contribute to the acceleration of shared programming, as per the Community Media Distribution Network and Witness some of the programs currently available on the MyMassTV Network aggregation pages. In just the last few months, now available for cablecasting on local channels across the state are shows that feature:

  • Boston College’s Graduate School of Social Work Professor Marylou Sudders discussing her experience as former Mental Health Commissioner and the changes and advances in the care and treatment for those with mental health issues;
  • POCCA, a citizens’ environmental group established to inform the public about growing problems concerning water issues on Cape Cod, on the dangers of Pilgrim Nuclear and wastewater management;
  • Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan discussing her Empowering Girls program, a county-wide initiative that reaches hundreds of middle school and high school girls annually in the 54 towns and cities in the county and, in another offering, her Domestic Violence Awareness training program;
  • Tech Eyes with Teresa Martin on drone technology;
  • Series segments from Science for the Public, The Legal Edition, and the Visiting Nurse Association Health Highlights.

These shows are all available for any access center to cablecast and for any access producer to use and integrate into their programs.

Beginning at 34:20, Jeff’s presentation runs for a little over twenty minutes. A key span is the two-minutes beginning at 38:10, where Jeff uses diagrams to emphasize the special ties that CMCs share with all the institutions and organizations in their community along with local and state government, ties that have not been fully tapped into, especially by agencies and nonprofits that hunger for such an outreach and information and education delivery system, now at hand through this new partnership embodying the vision of the true digital bicycle, of what a statewide distribution network has to offer, all at no cost to the public.

While it is not clear how widely used and accessed the current program offerings are or the extent to which its promise is shared, especially when combined with multi-site productions and other efforts developed especially for wide distribution, the promise is enticing. And given the predecessors referenced in the program, such as the Commonwealth Broadband Collaborative and the Greater Boston Broadband Network — and current contributions such as the Community Media Distribution Network’s inclusion of programs like Democracy Now! — the reinforcing potential of all this content and experience opens up exciting possibilities for the growth of local/regional/state community programming.

The edited version of this Innovations Roundtable, too, can perhaps provide some useful guide, contribution, and suggestions for pursuing such an effort.

IV. The Brookline Interactive Group, formerly Brookline Access Television

The final dimension of innovation in community media, looking at Brookline Access Television, anticipating its transformation into the Brookline Interactive Group (BIG,, can serve any of two or three purposes. First, plain and simple, it can be looked at as a placeholder, for some example of localism. Localism is a key dimension of innovation in any community endeavor. We live our lives in real geographically-bounded communities. This is where our schools, our police and fire and most basic public services and utilities are, and the governing bodies that we elect to oversee them.

All media recognizes the centrality of localism, from the mainstream’s recent discovery of “hyperlocalism” to the experimental community news projects that have been launched in recent years. The centrality of localism has always been the case with community access television. If community access is indicative of anything it is giving visibility to programs involving health, educational, social, cultural, governmental, public, and community services. It is giving a distinct and genuine voice to those who are not commonly heard, to those not necessarily English speaking, to seniors, to youth.

A community’s public access community media center is a transformative and key community development institution; it comes out of and reflects and at the same time helps mold and build a community’s character, its culture, its politics, its basic telecommunications technology infrastructure.

The channels of identity a community media center provides run deep and now flow into expanding streams of offerings that reflect and contribute to its pools of talent and resources. It doesn’t have to be Brookline Massachusetts, but it has to be somewhere. What is important is that some local context be pulled into any discussion of innovation in community media, some physically contoured community, some specific locale.

On the other hand, for the residents, citizens, institutions, and organizations in town, the Brookline Interactive Group is precisely the point, especially now. The BIG search for a new Executive Director presents a special moment and opportunity in establishing a promising interactive digital direction into the future. And those with an appreciation of how Brookline Access Television came to its current transformation should be able to grasp those future possibilities more clearly and appreciate the pivotal opportunity that selecting new leadership brings along with establishing new basic organizational structures, by-laws, and long-range strategic plans.

Indeed, from this perspective, the whole Innovations Roundtable production, beginning with Board member Al Davis’s opening graphics informs BATV/BIG developing staff, member, and volunteer delivery capacities, and Peter Zawadzki’s full presentation beginning at 54:40 ought to be informative.

For those in between, BATV transforming into BIG can be usefully instructive. It represents in a particular way the general transformation of PEG-access-becoming-community-media-centers that has been taking place since the mid-90’s across the country. The recent “rebranding” both reflects changes that had been taking place and anticipates the integration of new ones involving new technologies, skills, venues, programs, interactive services and directions for social and community media.

Recent projects and productions and experiments and explorations involving workshops on Facebook and Twitter, 3D printers, TedX, Google and YouTube as well as town providers Comcast and RCN, WGBH, local colleges and art institutes have some of their intimations here. For a couple of key segments, consider the minute beginning at 55:25 where Peter Z talks about what goes on in the facility atop the third floor of the high school’s Unified Arts Building, the complementary adult and community education, the media center’s own classes, the offerings by local college in its facilities, the 19 interns, a thriving multi-media facility, with graphic design, animation, digital video, and documentary film-making for the next generation.

There’s another one-minute riff at 1:06:15 on the training provided on cameras, on iPads, for camps, having kits available for 4th and 5th graders so they can do productions, digital music, music videos, a lot of different programs that are key to the center’s long-term survival.

These two minutes can be useful take-off points for looking at BIG in greater depth as well as considering the situation in other locales.

* * *

At the end, the final minute of the production’s closing credits beginning at 1:19:10 provides a recognition of those involved, a summary of the tasks competed, and a intimation of future possibilities. This video editing journey, traveling along first in thought and vision, can perhaps guide further explorations over the territory, from more refined video editing to continued innovation in community media and technology.


The author is a community technology activist and researcher and member of the Board of Directors of the Brookline Interactive Group.




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