Years ago, our organization ran a single public access channel and used it to help individuals and organizations who didn’t have access to media. Our emphasis was on maintaining a free speech platform, with access for all. It was good work, and I look back and can’t help but think things were simpler then.
Today, Davis Media Access is a nonprofit community media center supporting local content creation, distribution and archiving via television, radio and the Internet. We manage two cable channels, a radio station and a digital archive that is a unique asset in our community, as well as four websites and a raft of social media. Free speech and access to media technology is still central to what we do, but times and technology have changed, and our community has challenged us to be a resource on many different levels.
The challenge inherent in providing online content in what I like to call “swiftly shifting sands” was the topic of Saturday’s keynote address at the Alliance for Community Media’s Western Region conference, held last weekend in Sacramento. I was privileged to serve on this panel with Tom Negrete, managing editor of The Sacramento Bee & Sacramento Connects; Jason Shoultz, producer/reporter and social media maven for nationally syndicated PBS show, “America’s Heartland”; and Jared Goyette, editor in chief of Sacramento Press (SacPress.com).
It was interesting to represent the noncommercial perspective. Our respective organizations may have very different directives but providing content in ways that work — and are of value — to our communities is the common denominator. For The Sacramento Bee and Sacramento Press, challenges include declining print circulation and increasing online subscribers, and stumbling blocks with pay walls and subscriber fees, as well as some I’d never thought of. How do you sell ad space when your “real estate” is no longer a broadsheet, but a 3-by-5-inch smartphone?
At “America’s Heartland,” Shoultz has been building viewership and online engagement using tools like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube — tools that just a few short years ago would have been considered anathema in a broadcast environment.
At DMA, we do a lot and we’re faced with having to become experts on many more levels, and to make a lot of choices as to how we offer and present content. Some issues we’re tackling now include: formatting for mobile devices, options for live transmission, video aggregation across many platforms, archiving, policies for working with commercial providers who want to use our content and standard-definition transmission even though we’re fully high-definition now.
Additionally, we’re faced with a wholesale and ever-evolving set of challenges about how people get content. Can they get it, how they get it, at what speed they get it, their access to broadband, their understanding of technology, their media literacy. The map of media and who can access it is still very fragmented.
We can produce all the great content we like, but it’s expensive and hard to get in remote and low-income areas. For examples, broadband penetration in Yolo County is just 39 percent. I believe this particular challenge will be central to our movement’s work, and to DMA’s, in the coming years.
The conference was good. I really enjoy hanging out with smart, techy people who are dedicated to improving their communities. The work ahead is layered, nuanced, never boring, and I look forward to it.
For more information about DMA, please email [email protected] or call us at 530-757-2419.
— Autumn Labbé-Renault is executive director of Davis Media Access, an organization providing access to, and advocacy for, local media. She writes this column monthly. Find out more about DMA at davismedia.org.