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?