Community group proposes taking over cable access in Durham, NC

by Monica Chen, Durham Herald-Sun

Student films. Videos of community meetings. Concerts at American Tobacco.

That's what Durhamites could see on Channel 8 next summer if the idea for a new public access channel comes to fruition.

Brainstormed by a group of eight local producers who've been meeting regularly since January, the Durham Community Media Center would take the place of Time Warner in managing the channel and model operations on The People's Channel in Chapel Hill.

Rebecca Cerese, one of the producers involved in the project, said Durham currently is paying Time Warner $120,000 a year simply to air programming that is turned into it.

But because of a recent change in state law, Time Warner's contract with Durham will run out at the end of this year.

If there is not a replacement, Cerese and others say, Channel 8 could go dark, creating a void that the new media center hopes to fill.

To that end, the group is meeting every Wednesday to discuss ideas for the station and ways to raise funds.

It's partnered with eight community organizations so far that its members also are part of, including Independent Voices and Southern Coalition for Social Justice.

To run the station, they would need $500,000 a year for equipment, maybe a downtown office and four or five full staff members.

They hope to get half of the funding from the city and raise half from the community.

Elena Everett, a co-founder of Independent Voices and one of the producers involved in the new media center, said public access channels are needed because they provide ways for people to define their own city instead of relying on the mainstream media.

"I think Durham has a particular reputation and it's portrayed a certain way -- particularly around crime," she said. "By allowing community members to have access to public media, for people to have their own stories and highlight their own community, it allows people to define Durham for themselves."

The group has sought out the help of Chad Johnston, executive director of The Peoples Channel, for advice.

Like the Chapel Hill public access channel, the Durham media center hopes to provide equipment, production facilities and training to organizations and individuals interested in producing media productions of interest to the community.

The channel won't adhere to specific programming but will show videos on a first-come-first-served basis.

"Durham is a big place. There's a lot of young people, nonprofits, arts folks. We want to have a real community-run public access station," Cerese said.

So the group is also reaching out to the community for more ideas on what the station should be.

Southern Coalition for Social Justice, where Everett is also the community media director, has agreed to partly sponsor a charette brainstorming session in September for 150-250 people.

The group hopes to get a business plan together in October to present to the Durham City Council.

article originally published at .

The media's job is to interest the public in the public interest. -John Dewey