Saturday, March 07, 2020

The Birth of Longmont Public Media



So, what have I been up to the last few months?

I didn't really write about it here because of all the red tape, NDA's, people involved and, frankly, drama, but our little group of media jammers bid on an RFP to take over our cities public access TV station in mid 2019 and we won.

We took over the Carnegie Library building, where our cities Public Access TV station lives, on Jan 1st, 2020.

Now, after being in existence for nine weeks and starting, pretty much, from scratch, we're making good progress at Longmont Public Media in creating a new kind of public access, educational, government coverage and local news/information media entity here in my hometown.

We've got the cable TV channels at CH8 and Ch880 working nicely as well as live streaming and archiving to our website, we've figured out mobile and remote broadcasting with modern tech, we're now covering all of the various government meetings that affect our civic life here (about 20 councils, boards and commissions each month with video/audio and full transcription services) as well as creating new regular and one-off shows about the community and we're building new membership for a media makerspace model that'll create an 'owned by the community and open to the community' media center for everyone.

This last part is essential. Having a deeply and widely involved community of engaged members is going to be essential to keeping public access media alive and well (funded) into the future.

If you're in the area, drop by and say hello. Our video, podcasting, internet streaming radio and recording studios as well as all our regular open to the public meetings and broadcast operations are at the Carnegie Library Building at 457 4th Ave. in Longmont CO.

We're open during regular hours of M-F 9 am to 5 pm, we have tours every Sat from Noon to 2pm and the space is generally open to the public whenever a supporting member is in the space.

Website:
https://longmontpublicmedia.org/

Watch live:
https://longmontpublicmedia.org/watch/

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/longmontpublicmedia

Become an LPM member:
https://longmontpublicmedia.org/membership/

We still operate the Longmont Observer as well, however, there are some changes coming in the near future. As things develop with the Observer, I'll update what's happening there in a future post.

Longer version of this post:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/media-makerspace-model-public-access-news-information-scott-converse/

Friday, January 24, 2020

Just for the record...

This is just one of those housekeeping things.


I've heard several people take ownership (as in 'I made this') recently of things they may have been involved in but didn't start and in some cases didn't have much involvement with other than being present and watching the action.

If you're interested in who actually started something, look at the state it started in, and go to the Secretary of State website to find out who, actually, created the entity.  Here in Colorado you just go to the SoS website, click on the Business tab, click on 'search business database (under search and file, first bullet), enter the name of the entity, click on Articles of Incorporation, click on Filing history and documents and then click on the actual Articles of Incorporation (the first clickable link at the top). The name of the person who founded the entity is on that document. Often there are additional attached documents that have additional founder's names on them. Check for those as well. These are government records that can't be altered, only added to and amended (which is closely tracked by the Secretary of State agency with each change and amendment listed on the website)

.Here are three examples:

TinkerMill (Longmont's Makerspace).

Startup Longmont (the original startup focused entity in Longmont).

Longmont Startup Week (the first one that started it, done in 2015).

I don't really care much about this, but, I (obviously) care enough to write this post.  It's a bit irritating when you regularly hear from people how someone is taking credit for something they didn't do.


Wednesday, October 30, 2019

We Can't Let Thousands of Local Newspapers Disappear ... Yang

I haven't really followed this guys campaign, but, I love the message he's got here.

This is less than 5 minutes and it's deeply important to our communities.

If a presidential candidate thinks this is important, it's closer to the public's awareness than I thought and that's a very good thing.




Tuesday, April 30, 2019

We Need A New Kind Of Local Community Funded Newspaper- At The Public Library




A story on this our local NPR station did: "As News Deserts Encroach, One City Looks At A new Way To Fund Local Journalism"

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Let's put unbiased local newsrooms into a place that's not obvious, but when you think of it, makes more sense than anywhere else: The local public library.

It's clear that libraries have become the center of unbiased non-profit information dissemination in America. It's where you go for guidance on how to find information on things you're interested in. It's also one of the few places in your city you can go to today and not be expected to buy something.

In a recent New York Times opinion piece by Eric Klinenberg, he makes the argument that we need to support our libraries more, not less.

Why not really focus on making them an integral component of our communities though?  Libraries all across America are moving toward this idea of being the primary information center for the community, regardless of information type.

Boulder, Colorado has a full-blown makerspace with tools and printers and laser cutters that are packed with patrons from the moment it opens to the moment it closes every day.

There are libraries where you can check out a laptop from a vending machine, or a drone, just like you can check out a book.

There are even libraries that provide 'newsletters on the happenings in the community' that turn into actual weekly's and online publications, fulfilling an essential need where towns have lost their local newspapers to the insatiable appetite of Google and Facebook pulling out almost all of the local advertising revenue, leaving little to nothing for real local newsrooms to operate on.



Personally, I'd like to see my local library take on the role of a local newsroom, producing information about what's going on in our community, just like local newspapers used to. Why a library? Because it's our communities long term memory. It stores the newspapers from 100 years ago. It keeps a record of our town's history and it provides guided access to information that's about facts, first and foremost.

To remove a book from a library because you don't like it requires you, almost, have to kill a librarian. They are badasses when it comes to unbiased access to information.

Can you think of a better place for a newsroom that's focused on local community information to existing? I can't.  Personal privacy, freedom of information and freedom of the press are key components of our society and all of those are enshrined in practice and law at American libraries.

Even what's left of our local newspapers are under attack by monied interests determined to squeeze out the last few cents of profit possible. Our community has a Digital First owned newspaper.  That, in turn, is owned by a hedge fund in NYC that could give two craps about news in my (or your) hometown.  They're sucking the final profits out of a dying business (local for-profit news). They shut down their office and not a single reporter from this shell of a newspaper has even a co-working space desk to operate from in our town now.  100,000 people. They work out of another city. The few reporters left cover multiple 'beats'. For us, the 5 or so reporters in the area cover 7 cities and 3 counties. A far cry from the dozens of professional journalists that used to cover Longmont.



Local news is essential and vital to the civic health of a town or city. Citie's that lose their newspapers and become news deserts (almost 2000 cities in America over the last 10 years have had this happen) see many costs to their communities from higher crime rates, more local political corruption, lower school scores, more opioid deaths and even higher borrowing costs for municipal bonds.

What better place than the local library to base a non-profit newsroom?

Libraries of the 21st century are becoming far more than places for just books. They are building out maker-spaces in their buildings now.  Some have community museums, high schools and senior centers in them. They're about community services, not just books, but what they're really about is knowledge sharing and learning. Newspapers are on that same continuum of knowledge sharing and learning that libraries have been brilliant at for centuries.

Just like a library, local news can help bind a community together.  It can inform and enlighten.  It should be accurate and honest and it should give us insight into our government, our schools, our businesses, our neighborhoods, and our town.  It can embody where we live and be the heartbeat and memory of what happened last week, a century ago, and everything in between.

Today's news organizations are under attack.  By the ruthless cold AI driven profit engines of social media like Facebook, Nextdoor and Twitter where opinion and gossip have taken the place of actual vetted unbiased news, search engines and Amazon's desire to make all things publishing oriented available only through them and by government officials who cry 'fake news' and focus on large centralized for-profit news entities that are vulnerable to the whims of these politicians and advertisers.

Imagine 10,000 local distributed non-profit independent newsrooms focused on their community, housed in the local library, reporting on our day to day lives, for us.  No desire to sell you something.  No need to try and influence or convince.  Just news. Locally focused news on the mundane but essential components of our schools, our government, our businesses, our families and our friend's lives. These newsrooms would be untouchable by politicians or the advertising-driven for profit needs of today's news business model.

But how to fund it?  There is a way that could work in any town in America.  All they would need is a library, or the desire to have a library.

The germ of this idea came from a fellow named Simon Galperin who wrote an article in the Columbia Journalism Review titled "Journalism is a public service. Why don't we fund it like one?"

Why not indeed?  But convincing a local community to create a 'Communication Information District', as Galperin proposes, is currently a hard sell.  Not because it's a bad idea, but, because it's a new idea.  New ideas are hard to grasp by large groups of people and can often take a very long time to be accepted by the general public.

But libraries don't have this problem.

Why not put every library in America into its own special tax district (as many libraries already are) to fund that library.  As part of that library create a local newsroom with a staff of reporters and editors with a video and audio editing capability (also accessible to everyone in the community to use) to cover the day to day happenings in that town?  Covering the local government, schools, businesses, social life, and entertainment. Acting as a place that holds together the community.

This 'newsroom' entity could also replace the aging network of underused public access TV studios that were funded decades ago by the Cable Communication Act of 1984.  Part of that act was to create PEG (public education and government access) stations.  Although these stations/studios once were an important part of local media in communities across the country, they, along with the rapidly accelerating 'cutting the cord' activities of people nationwide have made cable TV, and by extension, local cable franchise fee supported public tv studios, far less relevant in day to day society.

Today, video on the internet has replaced the old TV model.  Just as podcasts have taken a larger and larger roll in place of traditional analog radio stations.


A video and audio production studio in a library isn't just a good idea, it's something that's already happening across the country. Just look at White Plains NY's library who moved their cable access studios into the local library.

Libraries are already repositories of newspapers (if they can find them nowadays... often, they aren't even available anymore, or the hedge funds want to charge 10's of thousands of dollars for the right to access them), why not make them the home of non-partisan, locally focused news, as well as the archiver of it.

You could set this up as part of the Library Special Tax district (well established laws in all states) and protect it's independence with a set percentage of the tax districts money that can't be taken away by the libraries board (creating journalist integrity and the essential ability to not be influenced by anything other than the needs of the community) and writing into the library tax district bylaws protections for the integrity and independence of the newsroom to ensure the newsrooms focuses on the needs of the community and not any special interests.

For those who wonder if tax dollars can effectively be used to create quality balanced news, you don't need to look any further than what many believe is the best news organization in the world: The BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), which is funded mostly by taxes on the countries citizens and the selling of it's content (produced by the tax-funded divisions) internationally.

Communities that lose their local newspapers all suffer.  A recent study done by the University of Notre Dame and the Universtiy of Illinois found that cities without locally active newspapers shouldered higher costs across the board.  From lower test scores in local schools to higher crime rates and even higher borrowing rates for things like city bonds to fund public works projects. They even see substantially less civic engagement as outlined in an article titled "When local newspapers shrink fewer people bother to run for mayor"

As Jacob Passy writes in MarketWatch"Higher taxpayer costs can come about in other ways. The closure of a local newspaper was also shown to lead to high government wages, more government employees and higher taxes per capita. “Local newspapers hold their governments accountable,” the researchers wrote. “The loss of monitoring that results from newspaper closures is associated with increased government inefficiencies.”

It's likely that it would even save money for local government.  Today, our city spends at least 10's of thousands of dollars on advertising and subscriptions in the for-profit hedge fund owned newspaper as well as money paying for 'public notices' that are required by law be published in a local newspaper. All of that money is currently taken out of the city of Longmont and sent back to billionaire hedge fund owners in NYC.  Why not spend that money with this newsroom?  A paper version could easily be created that contained these public notices, available at the library, through USPS subscriptions and, of course, online (available to the entire population of the city from their phones).

And all that money spent by the city would stay in the city.

Public notices are a requirement for all cities in America and make it even easier to justify the creation of local newsroom and publication housed at your local library.

The level of civic engagement and transparency in communities with this kind of hybrid local non-profit newsroom and library institution could both replace the dying newspaper business of yesteryear and provide a new vibrant way for cities and towns across America to better take care of both themselves and their residents.



I don't know if this is something that will come about, but, I do think that this may be one of the best solutions to fixing a problem that's fast approaching our community and other communities across the country.

Update 5/10/19: An article published on this and what's happening in our community in the Columbia Journalism Review: https://www.cjr.org/united_states_project/longmont-information-district-library.php

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Ever Want To Set Up A Low Cost, Wireless, Mobile 4 Camera (multi-cam) TV Studio?




Turns out, you can now setup up one of these multicam systems for less than the cost of one pro camcorder. And you can do it in a completely mobile/wireless fashion with a setup time of fewer than 10 minutes. There are now several low cost 'tv studio's' that can be set up with an iPad and a bunch of iPhones that allow you to record and live stream in full 1080p a multi-cam 'show' that's not too different than what you see from your local TV stations. This includes overlays, transitions, pro audio input, but also includes something the old school folks don't: real-time interaction with people on Facebook and YouTube, if you want it. Why should I care? As part of the creating these non-profit low operating cost local newsrooms of which the Longmont Observer is the prototype- video is part of the equation. Gotta capture those local news events, city council meetings, school board meetings, high school sporting events, ribbon cuttings and many other day to day life kind of things a local newsroom covers. These kind of systems are also useful for things like local music and comedy venues, churches, convention centers, and local sports and event arenas. I've found 4 companies worth looking at. Switcher Studio Mevo (Livestream) Cinamaker SlingStudio I'm sure there are others, but, these are the one's I was able to really dig into. I'm still doing evaluations on feature sets, but, honestly, all 4 can do pretty much the same (basic) things. Of course, the longer they've been around, the more polished their products are likely to be (Switcher Studio is the most mature, with Cinamaker almost brand new. Mevo and Sling came out about the same time). What's really interesting is the cost. Here's a spreadsheet with a breakdown of all four systems costs. https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1b9Ojmxa_7ijAcaI7SbN-XSJ09GKkl4JjTXZiypbOU4U/edit?usp=sharing As a baseline: I used iPhone SE's (4K capable) purchased (new) from one of the MVNO's who sells them for $150 new (locked but doesn't matter, you don't need to activate them to use them). I also used, pretty much, the same set of 'base' equipment (iPhone SE's, cables, stands, mics, etc.) for each system as a cost basis since they all use the same parts, not including their proprietary hardware and/or software. Interestingly, the cost to get going and to operate the systems the first year really is far less expensive than you might think. From a low of around $1600 to a high of around $2600. For everything (including the first year subscription costs for the software/service). Considering a Tri-caster mini (the 'switching' device used by many 'pro' studios) starts around $5,000 (no cameras, at $2500 each, included), that's pertty darned impressive. Can you spend more? Sure. But this is 'good enough' for about 90% of the things you'd want to do on a day to day basis at a local level, where, you know, we live our lives every day. Yes, there are differences in what you get, the capabilities of each system, the level of sophistication possible in the productions, the reach of the wireless each is capable of and the scope you can grow into, but, the basics are all pretty similar. I'll be doing a feature comparison as part of the evaluation as well, but that's likely a 'few months' away kind of thing right now. This'll get you started though. If you're interested in creating a low cost, highly capable 4 camera (or more) 'multi-cam' wireless mobile TV studio- you've got plenty of options.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Times Call = Boulder Camera (?) Apparently it's the same Newspaper



Longmont and Boulder:  Very different towns.  However, our for-profit local newspaper chain seems to think it's the same town, and we won't notice, so they just reuse the same content.  Over and over.

From 60% on the low end to over 90% on the high end (any given day) the content is the same.

This isn't community news and information media, it's an advertising container.

However, it's also the reason we started the Longmont Observer.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Times-Call, our local newspaper, turned off commenting- this is not a good thing

Some of our readers at the Longmont Observer, recently, pointed out to us that The Longmont Times-Call, owned by Alden Global has made the decision to turn off commenting by readers for its entire site.  They referenced this article: Times-Call ends story commenting

The Times-Call, a Digitial First Media Corporation property, states that "Commenting on stories, while a sound idea in principle, presents a host of challenges for us and we simply do not have the tools or adequate resources to ensure story commenting provides positive value to our readers."

They go on to say: "The majority of the time, the comments are dominated by a small group of people, most posting anonymously, and who, frankly, tend to simply shout down or ridicule any opposing view. Commonly, our comments sections are filled with vitriol, personal attacks, profanity, and angry and hateful speech — and worse, unfortunately."

Many news outlets in America, and across the world, have moved the conversation from local media outlets to the large social platforms like Facebook and Twitter.  The thinking has been they create a barrier that raises the bar by creating helpful friction in the process that, in theory, would produce a more restrained and thoughtful commentary.  Others, especially over the last couple of years, agree that places like Facebook offer a massive space, but, are not always a place for intelligent discourse.
What appears to be happening with social media is a significant portion of people are behaving irresponsibly and writing without thinking of the consequences their messages have.  Often, these people hijack public discourse and set, even control, the tone of the discussion.

That, apparently, has now happened to the Longmont Times-Call.

In addition, most sites that have commenting only see a small percentage of their readers actually sign up and participate in the comment sections.  Sections that require, often, significant resources to moderate from already struggling news media entities and their constantly shrinking staffs.

The news, today, is no longer concentrated and fed to a city by a single source anymore.  The local newspaper used to be a quasi-monopoly on how people found out what was going on in their town and determining what was important and what would be ignored.  People were willing to pay for that news.

Those times are no more.

We still pay for it, make no mistake about that, but it's distributed among several players now.  The average person pays on average $50-100 a month for their internet service at home.  Another $50 a month for your cell phone and it's data service.  With that comes access to 'free' information and news.

What we forget is we pay for 'free' services like Facebook, Twitter, and Google.  What also forget is that, when a service is free to us, we become the product.  My Friend Dennis Dube, when the iPad first came out said to me, quite insightfully "oh look, a screen attached to your credit card'.

How true.

We pay with our personal information.  It's collected and sold, as highly focused advertising, to sell us things.  From cars to politicians to, it now seems, social contracts on how to behave. 

Those advertising dollars used to go to that local newspaper.  The old Times-Call building in Longmont had, at it's prime, 200 plus employee's, creating a well informed daily record of our lives in Longmont.

Also, no more.

The small, personal and sometimes even petty is now relegated to the short sound bites of Twitter or the cloistered bubbles and echo chambers we create for ourselves on Facebook.

The question then becomes where to turn to find out what's really happening in your town?  Who's paying attention to what's going on at St. Vrain Valley Schools?  Who's digging into that tip about the troubled kid's facility going up on the west side?  Who's asking about things like police misconduct?  And who's talking to local businesses to find out what's available to people in our town?  What kinds of local goods and services do we have in Longmont now?  And what's happening with issues like the train noise on the East side? 

I like to think we're taking a shot at it with the Longmont Observer.  We're doing our best as a non-profit supported solely by the goodwill of the institutions, businesses, and residents of Longmont, but it's going to be a difficult road.

Competing with the locked in costs of internet and cell phone bills, and the well-crafted game theory used to manipulate people to come back, over and over, to their social network profiles, maybe something that no one can overcome.

Let's hope not.  Let's hope that we can keep a level of local independence and local engagement by people who live in our town(s) by creating and supporting things like the Longmont Observer.

The Birth of Longmont Public Media

So, what have I been up to the last few months? I didn't really write about it here because of all the red tape, NDA's, people...