SCAN adalpts to new age of community media

by Sam Bennett, Journal Newspapers

As technology changes the way people interact and exchange news and information, Marshall Parker says he intends to stay on top of the latest trends.

As executive director of SCAN, Seattle Community Access Network, Parker is responsible for developing and implementing the business plan to fulfill SCAN's contract with the City of Seattle to provide community television throughout greater Seattle.

In recent years, he said he has seen a shift in the way people access information, and that shift has meant programming changes at SCAN.

"As a 30-year experiment, public access has been individuals accessing free media for their own free speech purposes," said Parker. "We are evolving from what has been the traditional public access to community media."

SCAN remains committed to adhering to free speech, but Parker said the network will adjust some of its programming for audiences in Seattle, south King County and parts of Snohomish County. He wants to reach out more to community organizations and get the word out about what they are doing.

"We are still a free speech forum, but we are doing outreach to groups of people," he said. "We are turning to organizations that have messages and that have a community base with people who have things to say." He said such organizations include the Greater Seattle Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Antioch University. The network will also continue its work with churches.

Traditionally, community access networks such as SCAN have provided training for individuals who want to learn how to use the TV media to speak on a variety of issues. With new technologies such as digital video cameras and new forums such as YouTube, Parker said the broadcast landscape has significantly changed. The explosion of cell phone videos and videos on popular devices such as Flip Video has meant that there are fewer barriers for people who want to shoot and edit, and then post their work online.

But Parker said there is a downside. "What you get when you have technology and no training is YouTube," he said. Parker added that most YouTube videos are not good quality, and they become the property of YouTube.

However, the popularity of Web videos has meant that SCAN re-evaluate its place in the cable TV scheme. One of SCAN's new initiatives is what it calls citizen journalism. "This is citizens reporting from a grass-roots level, utilizing the technology available to them," he said. "They can use cell phones to shoot video." But, while people have become adept at downloading videos to Web broadcast sites, Parker said SCAN has the facilities to teach people how to present the videos in a news format and provide the distribution system for those reports. "That's the movement we're working toward," he said.

"The consolidation of corporate media has left less and less news available to us," he said, referring to the general public. "The No. 1 thing people want is local news." Breaking news could be as simple as having a short report from a farmer who participates in the U-District Farmers Market giving regular reports about what fruits or vegetables they will have available, Parker said.

Another report could come from a person at a presidential campaign appearance. "If someone is at an Obama rally and they meet someone really interesting, they can do an interview with them and upload it," he said. From there, he said local newspapers or radio stations could take excerpts from the interview - so that SCAN would be acting as a "central repository for cities to store information and local news organizations to draw from," he said.

Although most TV shows are in the 30 or 60-minute format, Parker said he is a proponent of news stories than can be presented in five or six minutes. SCAN, he said, will teach would-be news correspondents to tell a concise story and make the story stand alone.

Parker has worked in community media for more than 15 years, most of that time with Houston MediaSource, which operates the public access cable television channel in Houston. He served there as interim executive director until coming to Seattle in October 2006. Parker is also a founding member of Expression Media, a nonprofit organization based in Houston that develops video programs designed to educate the general public on issues of the community of hearing disabled individuals.

At, the station provides explanations for submission and explanations of how people can train to be producers.

He said the Web site has a surprising number of international viewers, as it provides streaming live content on the Web 24/7. "We want to empower people to report the stories going on around us and provide a distribution system to get the word out to other people," he said.

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