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Wednesday, December 22,2010

For the people, by the people

New and improved programming for Lansing’s public access cable TV channel 16 takes shape; programming due back by March

by Andy Balaskovitz
The past 10 years of public access television in Lansing have included obscure shows about Batman, neo-Nazi rallies, diatribes against the City Council. More recently, mind-numbing scrolls of community event announcements have been largely the only programming.

By March, though, viewers should start seeing shows again — the result of a $600,000 investment in local producers and a Lansing Public Media Center.


Dominic Cochran, director of the city’s Office of Community Media, said the goal of the new center is to give local producers access to state-of-the-art equipment.


With $250,000 in grants given to local groups and producers and $350,000 being sunk into a public facility, Cochran said it will no longer be “a bunch of community bulletins” on City TV. Any new, locally produced material is welcome — even if it is reminiscent of “Wayne’s World.”


“That’s what we’re really excited about. We don’t know what will happen or what people will create,” Cochran said.


Cochran expects programming to “run the gamut. Probably some art-centric stuff. People in their basement railing against the government. Expect that stuff you used to see — everyone will have a voice,” Cochran said.


The media center also plans to buy a production truck so it can broadcast more live events in Lansing. “That will be something open to organizations, and they can call us and we’ll go out and shoot,” he said.


Austin Howard, a 20-year-old Lansing Community College student who received a $10,000 grant, produces a show with two friends called Lansing Music TV. After forming in June, Howard’s program includes 40 videos online of interviews and shows of local music acts, including Cheap Girls and Frontier Ruckus.


“It’s a really good motivation to keep doing what we’re doing. A lot of kids don’t have this equipment,” Howard said.


Christina Harter, another grant recipient, has worked with cameras most of her life. She specializes in capturing “first-time experiences” of Lansing residents. For example, she said, catching people on their first walk through the City Market.


Being a Lansing resident for 20 years, Harter said she’s noticed a heightened commitment from the city to public access television. That ought to show in the work produced, too.


“It means more creativity,” she said of the new media center. “It’s the opportunity to be more creative and show off creativity.”


The Capital Area District Library, Potter Park Zoo, Impression 5 and the East Lansing Food Cooperative also landed grants.


Historically, public access television in Lansing was an anything-goes operation, though still offering much more content than the community announcements seen today.


Charlene Decker, who has appeared regularly at City Council meetings since 1994, used to have a show about city government.


She said at any given time you could watch cooking, musicals, maybe some religious programming. Her show was intended to explain how the city works on a daily basis with a critical eye cast upon the Council.


“I
would see them on TV and think, wow, they’re good,” Decker said of the
programming. “It was diversified to the point where you wouldn’t see the
same thing over and over again.”


The city of Lansing is putting $350,000 into equipment and housing for the newly formed Lansing Public Media Center.


On
top of that, the 13 Lansing-area grant recipients have to commit to
producing one hour of programming each month for two years for Lansing’s
public access cable TV Channel 16.


The
equipment for public use is housed at the former Washington Street
Armory, 2500 S. Washington Ave. in south Lansing. The large green screen
sits in the large drill hall of the Armory, which will open in
mid-January.


An
additional 10,000 square feet at the Holmes Street School will be
remodeled by next fall. Both the Armory and school will provide
classroom space, editing suites and a studio for public use. New, local
programming is expected to launch in March.


Cochran
said the response to the grant program was “enthusiastic.” Thirty-two
proposals came before 13 winners were selected earlier this month.
Groups got a maximum of $25,000 each, while individuals got up to
$10,000.


The money comes from public, education and government — PEG — fees that cable providers such as Comcast and AT&T pay the city to use its cable infrastructure.


Lansing’s
public access TV went south after Comcast closed its studio in 2007.
Since then, local producers have had to send their content to
Southfield; few have.


“That
kind of pulled the rug out from trying to get the message out,” said
Matt Penniman, chairman of the city’s Cable Advisory Board. “When that
happened, producers lost space and equipment. Sending material to
Southfield is somewhat nebulous.”


The
facility also avoids one group “monopolizing” the space and equipment,
Penniman added. “That has been a problem in the past.”


The biggest challenge facing the Office of Community Media is rounding up enough volunteers to keep City TV running smoothly. While
PEG fees collect a nice chunk of change for the city, it can only be
used on capital improvements — such as facilities and equipment — but
not for staffing. That would have to come from the General Fund.


“It’s one big pot for equipment and one little pot for personnel,” Cochran said.


Penniman agrees volunteers will be necessary.


“The
city can’t magically get funds to pay for more positions,” he said.
“The reality is that it’s staff intensive if you’re doing it right.”


But will all of this promotion lead to too much content being produced?


“That would be a great problem to have,” Cochran said.

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