ACM Chair Mary Van Sickle (seen on-screen) was the host of this year’s ACM conference.
The theme of the 2015 Alliance for Community Media Conference and Trade Show in Pasadena was “Re-Discover Community Media,” and hundreds of attendees took that message to heart: joining in workshops and sessions ranging from the expected (Telecom Policy, Re-franchising Strategies), to the unexpected (Transmedia Storytelling, Maker Spaces).
“I came here to be surprised and I was surprised,” said Gretjen Clausing, executive director of PhillyCam. “The workshops got me thinking about new ways to tell our own story.”
The more adventurous had plenty of opportunity to leave their comfort zone and explore new ideas. Sessions like the standing-room-only Transmedia Storytelling Workshop had participants brainstorming out-of-the-box ways to tell a story.
One of the workshop’s leaders, Francesca Marie Smith, brought to the PEG stage a fresh perspective based on her work as research fellow at USC Annenberg Innovation Lab and Google’s Niantic Labs. Smith challenged the audience to tell their story in a way that would tap into a person’s deeper impulses.
“I wanted them to take advantage of the workshop format to get their hands dirty, interact and brainstorm what new kinds of storytelling might look like for them,” said Smith.
To which her co-panelist Steve Peters added, “It’s not a broadcast, it’s a conversation.”
“At this time of dizzying change in the communications industry, the ACM is trying to help our members anticipate, prepare for and manage those changes,” said ACM President Mike Wassenaar. Wassenaar himself led several panels on pending changes in the telecom industry and telecom policy—also a recurring theme in his address to the plenary sessions.
In updating members on the ACM’s public policy work, Wassenaar recapped the ACM’s work last year with the FCC in merger discussions (petitions, ex parte meetings, amicus briefs) and making common cause with other organizations like NATOA that are also interested in telecom policy.
The ACM conference drew twice as many exhibitors as in the previous year.
The ACM’s mission includes educating lawmakers about our issues. Wassenaar summarized the outcome of one campaign to garner comments from the field in support of PEG: “The House Energy and Commerce Committee was impressed by the number of responses from local jurisdictions that said PEG is important and localism matters.”
Zeb Schmidt, of the Open Media Project in Schenectady, NY appreciated those insights.
“I love coming here for the access to the wonky stuff,” Schmidt said. “Everybody who knows anything about what goes on behind the scenes of policy is here—and accessible.”
PEG operators are often too busy on a day-to-day basis to spend much time in the policy world. This was their chance to compare notes with some of the politicians who appreciate the power of community broadcasting and want to help.
“They want us to be disconnected and we can’t allow that to happen!” was the rallying cry from California Assembly member Roger Hernandez, who was recognized at the ACM Awards Luncheon for his efforts in trying to eliminate the distinction between capital and operating expenditures in PEG grants across the country.
Pasadena Mayor Terry Tornek got a knowing chuckle at the opening plenary when he said: “It was astonishing to me the number of people who actually watch the council meetings!”
Tornek no doubt spoke on behalf of many mayors when he added, “We find ourselves challenged with communicating with our citizens. We are looking to you all for solutions.”
Finding those solutions has spurred many PEG operations to experiment. In a session on “Maker Spaces,” for example, panelists spoke of a collaboration between the Long Beach, Calif., library and PADNET, the Long Beach public access station, to give citizens equal access to tools like green screens and 3D printers as a way to empower people with new technological skills. Of course, there is a lot of experimentation in among PEGs in finding new fundraising models as well, since industry changes cast a large question mark over the future of PEG media.
Pasadena’s Theatre 360 Children’s Troupe staged an energetic opening act for the Hometown Video Award ceremony.
Transitioning to HD was typical of the technology discussions at the ACM conference. One such panel gave participating vendors a chance to share technical know-how directly with the audience.
Besides the vendor panels, there were dedicated “User Groups” for a deeper dive into innovative technology solutions. Of course the biggest buzz was generated around the tradeshow floor, where ACM members got hands-on demonstrations, plenty of giveaways and a cocktail reception.
“Community media is as vital as ever,” said ACM Chair Mary Van Sickle. “You only have to see the 200-percent growth in exhibitors at this conference to appreciate that PEG media centers are important to their communities.”
The ACM conference wasn’t all business, of course. The Annual Hometown Awards Gala recognizes accomplishments in local video production, and this year’s ceremony was held in the gorgeous and historic Pasadena Civic Center.
There were also youth summits and regional ACM get-togethers, as well as a trip to the local Ice House Comedy Club. The ACM annual meeting showed that community media knows how to innovate—and have fun—even when it comes to raising funds.