Wednesday, August 20, 2008

STAFF TV vs. CAT TV: A Long-Suffering Citizen Channel

It seems an odd mismatch: television channel 13, dedicated to feel-good advice from City Hall that has consistently high production values just a few channels away from citizen-run channel 3 (CAT TV) with low production values, no paid staff, and a funding source -- cable franchise fees -- city manager Bill Watkins has seen fit to raid for other programs.

Where one channel encourages conformity, the other channel questions authority. With complimentary messages -- the Yin and Yang of local broadcasting, as it were -- why can't the two channels have equal production values? After all, aren't taxpayers funding both, in one way or another?

I've never lived in a city where City Hall had its own television channel, but I have lived in cities with cable access television (CAT), a phenomenon so common Saturday Night Live parodied it with "Wayne's World." In Columbia, like most programs dedicated to the needs of ordinary citizens, cable access is suffering, despite significant boosts to the cable franchise fees anyone who has cable television pays as part of their bill (roughly 5%).

A recent discussion about taking clips from Counterpoint -- a CAT TV show about local politics -- to YouTube quickly turned to financial considerations.

"Sadly, I don't know of any funding source to cover the costs of converting CAT programming into a series of YouTube videos," CAT TV producer Pat Fowler told councilman Karl Skala and Dan Goldstein, who introduced the idea. Volunteer labor might also be hard to find, Fowler explained. "Right now, Counterpoint is without a producer/editor," she said. "I've had to relinquish that title in favor of helping out occasionally as a camera person in the studio. The editing time (4 to 5 hours per episode) was more than my schedule can handle."

Skala said he thinks "it's a great idea," but he's been a steadfast supporter of cable access generally. "You Tube is where it's at, (next to Counterpoint) and perhaps its time to join forces," he quipped.

For several years, CAT TV has limped along -- like the humane society -- while its counterpart, Staff TV, thrives. All manner of arguments have arisen as to why CAT TV's funding is always in question. Will the public like it? Can we afford it? Couldn't we spend our money on better things?
But all those arguments apply equally to Staff TV. Why fund one channel and starve the other? Or better yet, why not combine them, and allow Columbia's citizens the full benefit of a channel City Hall never robs and always supports?



  1. Accurate. Complete. Unbiased. Great journalism, Mike!

  2. This article is complete crap! There is so much mis-information/ misunderstanding that it borders on absurd. CAT is not a city division, much like KOPN is not a city division. CAT has made no attempt to fund raise. and 80% of CATs content is via satelite so the local activist angle is mute. If you can identify specifically, any city progams that advocate conformity, you should list them so others can be the judge of that statement. Also, approving responses is lame, so much for free speach.

  3. Free speech from the anonymous masses -- talk about lame!

    The article says nothing about CAT being a "city division." But it does criticize the city manager for taking money -- cable franchise fees -- intended for CAT! It is the city manager who is treating CAT like a city division, by dunking his hand into their budget. Why does he have that power, if the city has so little control over it??

    As far as CAT never raising money -- that's crap! They've been trying to raise money by fighting the city manager for the money they're entitled to for years.

    Read the paper, dumbass!

    They get cable franchise fees -- let them have those fees and stop robbing from them!!

  4. CAT will receive $1,000,000. over five years, more than most organization see in a lifetime. Not bad for an orgaination that started out fighting the company that ACTUALLY owed Columbia a public access station; MediaCom. CAT turned it's focus to the City after senate bill 284 squashed their chance to get any more funding from MediaCom. They did how ever receieve $190,000 dollars from MediaCom in 01-02, not a bad haul. My time in J-School taught me to check facts. You should do the same fan-boy. BTW, those articles are veiled advertising for their cause.

  5. Tom Cryer:

    I see your time in J-School also taught you how to spell and punctuate :(

    If you've followed the debate, CAT TV has been promised lots of money over the years, only to see it reallocated to other causes. Who knows if they will receive $1,000,000.00 over the next five years. I'll believe it when I see it.

    It's also clear that CAT needs additional funds; it's clear that the city has robbed from their funding source to pay for non-CAT projects more than once; it's clear that the city channel has far higher production values than CAT TV (why?); and it's clear that the city made an unfulfilled promise to get CAT TV off the ground.

    If the city manager doesn't want to give the cable franchise fees to CAT, he should stop forcing MEDIACOM to pay the fees and refund the money to cable customers.

    As it stands now, the whole cable fee thing is nothing more than a bait and switch.

  6. It’s unfortunate we can’t have a civil conversation without some feeling the need to make a personal attack against everyone who has an opposing opinion. In truth, it detracts from any points one may try to make.
    I believe the need for Cable Access Television is overwhelming. I have close friends involved in the process. But there is definitely some misunderstanding regarding the uses of the franchise fees. I don’t think the insinuation is correct that every franchise fee dollar is or should be earmarked specifically for CAT. There is a bigger picture for the money and it isn’t considered robbing. Perhaps one could list the programs or areas in which the robbed money is believed to have been spent incorrectly. I guess I could research it, but we're talking here, right? Stirring up some community support could go a long way to addressing financial concerns, either in the interim or in addition to the franchise fees. Besides, what good is this money if you can’t organize some grassroots support of your effort? I say this with the intent of wanting to support CAT3.
    I will sit back and await the emotionally charged personal attack I am sure to incur in lieu of any actual response or attempt at understanding. BTW, I used spell check and re-read for grammatical mistakes, as well. Sorry if I didn’t catch them all.