If the people of Durham created their own media coverage, what would it look like?

Imagining Durham Community Media Charrette
Saturday, Oct. 4, 12-3 p.m.
Durham Arts Council, 120 Morris St.

A forum this Saturday will explore the possibilities. Organizers are inviting residents to join in a brainstorming and planning session to discuss the programming, equipment and training a community media center should offer. Televised teen forums, training in blogging and podcasting, and access to digital video equipment are just some of the ideas so far.

“We need to ask what’s going on in Durham, how we communicate with each other, and how a media center could serve to augment the work that’s happening already,” said Elena Everett, one of the event’s organizers. “It could be a tool and resource for neighborhoods, for youth, for folks who don’t have access to equipment and technology, and to raise up the voices of people in our community so they’re telling their own stories.”

The potential is boundless, but the clock is ticking.

At the beginning of 2008, the franchise agreement between Durham’s government and Time Warner Cable expired. Because of a state law passed in 2006 with the heavy backing of cable industry lobbyists, Durham couldn’t negotiate a new deal to preserve its local cable-access channels.

Suddenly and without warning, people who had been producing public access TV programs for years were cut off. They pressured the city to make a deal that would keep them on the air.

The city and county agreed to pay Time Warner $120,000 to air public access and government programming on Channel 8 through the rest of this year, though in the end the company decided not to charge. When that agreement expires, Channel 8 will become a government channel only, and public access will go dark unless producers and local officials can reach another agreement with the company.

The Rev. James Vaughan is a lead organizer of the Durham Cable Access Association. Regardless of what new programming emerges from the Oct. 4 meeting, he said, his group is focused on keeping their airwaves access. “The current producers are not intending to go away.”

Organizers want to keep public access on the air, and to expand the idea of public media beyond anything the city has seen.

“Public access is a starting point,” Everett said. “There have been community producers in Durham for a long time, and we want to preserve that. We also want to integrate the Web, radio and all sorts of other media.”

One model is The People’s Channel in Chapel Hill, which has a TV studio, equipment rental and classes Orange County residents can access for little cost.

Everett said she expects the center would cost $150,000 annually. Organizers will need to present a proposal and a business plan to government officials soon if they hope to save public access TV and receive public money for the center.

Editor’s note: The Independent is a co-sponsor of this meeting.

Correction (Oct. 2, 2008): Channel 8 will not go dark at the end of the year, as was originally reported. It will remain a government channel for the city and county of Durham.