Santa Rosa’s Community Media Lab Needs Reinventing

I much prefer my headline to the PD’s:  Santa Rosa’s Community Media Center may go dark |

Or maybe: The Community Media Lab Present and Future is So Bright, the CMC Might Need Shades (for a while)

As a City staff member, I have to be careful about what I say here – forgive me if I am vague about anything. I certainly have an opinion, but I’m also happy to respect the process, and the process is that there will be a wide-open public hearing for everyone Tuesday, February 5th… Honestly, I’m really looking forward to that hearing. The public space is going to be the best place to flesh this one out!  Meeting starts at 4pm, Tuesday February 5th – no telling when item 13.2 will be presented.  Here is the agenda.    Here is the staff report  Live video will be available here at 4pm.

Having spent a good deal of my life during the last 5+ years trying my best to push the new-media envelope, and to expect better of media here in the North Bay, I also have more than a few ideas and conclusions that I’d love to share.

If you’re just tuning in, the issue as simply as I can summarize:  Santa Rosa staff are recommending that “PEG” funding to the non-profit “Community Media Center of the North Bay” be concluded at the end of their contract (March), in favor of exploring other, more innovative public access options.  Reading between the lines, and knowing what I know, City staff desire to use a CMC hiatus to rally community involvement and input around some of these burning questions:

  • “what amazing things can be done with these funds?”
  • “what uncharted places might we go?”
  • “how can the City’s multimedia resources help a new collaborative landscape?”
  • “how can we meet more of the needs in local community media (generally)?”
  • “how can we do amazing things in the media space with this limited amount of money?”
  • “who else exists out there that desires to get involved?”
  • “what kind of organizations might maximize public media dollars together?”

A formal ‘request for proposals’ was publicized last Fall (2012) – there were two respondents.  Both respondents (one was CMCNB) came in significantly over available budget. (it should be mentioned that “budget” is not a mystery – there has always been a finite number of PEG dollars) Additionally, neither of the responses were evaluated to be very innovative – they were determined by a neutral RFP review panel (6 people – 3 staff + 3 media experts) to be lacking. The RFP panel further suggested that Santa Rosa internalize the G (government) component and seek something innovative to carry the E (education) and P (public access) components into the future.  Staff agreed – hence we have this item on the agenda which seeks NOT to shut it all down or put it all , but to press pause – and to create a better design for community media.

Truth be told: I sensed that the RFP panel might conclude this – it’s a big trend in reinventing public media lately… most recently I know that KRCB had been told a very similar conclusion by a thinktank that I was lucky to be a part of.  The gist of the outcome of that thinktank was “Keep the baby and the bathwater… but throw out the clawfoot iron tub!”  In theory the “baby” is the staff, the customers, the citizenry, and the “water” is the content… how do you adjust the paradigm, the structure beneath it without losing everything?  Another metaphor: changing the station-wagon’s oil while on the interstate.  It isn’t easy – no two ways about it… but somethingmust be done – for the public’s interest – something to adjust the mission behind the public funding to match the 21st century media paradigm which is defined by fast, easy and cheap access to multimedia tools, and worldwide instant audiences.

The folks I’ve worked with at the Community Media Center are wonderful. To a person. However, this upwelling of media disruption (new & inexpensive technology, the internet, low cost of entry) makes everyone uncomfortable. I completely understand that.

But… we can do better – and I expect that a lot of the CMCNB folks might well be along for the ride.  Public Access should have always been about much more than just a channel… It should have been future-proof – and we need to design it so that it is future-proof.  It should have been about collaboration – about DIY, and experimentation, and pulling everyone together to help people create community oriented multimedia.  It was a really tough bill in 1996… but it’s not going to be as difficult today.  What *is* difficult is switching gears, changing the oil, removing the claw-foot tub.

I think Santa Rosa simply needs an opportunity to redo – to enable something vastly better to emerge.  I look forward to that public process, and I know a lot of you will absolutely want to be involved in recreating public access & media in Santa Rosa.  In the DIY capital of the West Coast, I’m positive that we can do something amazing that other communities will aspire to.