The nonprofit that runs Denver’s public-access media facility is rallying its users and 300-plus members to appeal to Mayor Hancock to keep the operation in its current home, and to hear their concerns about possible staff and service cuts.
The city’s contract with Denver’s Open Media Foundation — the public’s open-access resource for media training and production — expires in two months. The city has proposed moving the TV, radio and video production equipment from its office at 700 Kalamath St. (also home to The Colorado Independent and other nonprofits) where it has been operating for 12 years, to temporary quarters in the City and County Building. Production would later move to Rocky Mountain PBS’s new headquarters at 21st and Arapahoe streets in downtown Denver. That downtown facility is slated to open in 2020, and the city’s purchasing about 4,500 square feet of space there.
Ann Theis, Denver Open Media station director, recently issued an alarm about the proposed changes, posting an appeal to public access supporters:
“I am writing you today to let you know that the City of Denver has released a Request for Proposals that puts the future of Denver Open Media and Public Access TV at a critical turning-point. … If you don’t make your voice heard, Denver Open Media will cease to exist as we’ve known it by the end of 2018.”
The city’s RFP calls for the Public Access office to be consolidated from a team that currently has four full-time staffers down to a single individual. Open Media leaders have warned this will dramatically reduce the level of service to the public in regard to training, administration, fundraising, and video and web consulting. The vision laid out in the RFP makes it impossible for the hundreds of individuals and nonprofit and government clients who use Open Media every year to reap the same benefits they do now, the organization says. Among Open Media’s clients are hundreds of producers — youth, artists and nonprofits included — who create more than 2,000 shows and podcasts a year that are broadcast over local channels.
Denver has been anticipating the need for changes in public-access media services, said Jenny Schiavone, the city’s marketing director. That’s in large part because public access receives funding from fees paid by cable subscribers, who are increasingly ditching cable.
Those cable subscription fees not only benefit public access, but also Channel 22, operated by Denver Public Schools and Emily Griffith Technical College, and Channel 8, a government channel operated by the city. The city oversees allocation of the fees to the three sources, and Tony Shawcross, executive director of the Open Media Foundation, says that funding for public access media has taken a bigger hit than that for Channels 8 and 22 in recent years. Having the city control the distribution of that funding presents a “conflict of interest,” he says.
And Shawcross questions the city’s motives after the current contract ends, saying that by slashing and potentially relocating staff that oversees public-access media, Denver is further consolidating its power over public media, and restricting access to it.
“The RFP is set up to have one individual accountable directly to Julie (Martinez, director of Denver media services), who’ll take whatever crumbs she gives them out of the fund,” Shawcross said. “What’s going on here is a huge conflict (of interest) and there’s no one at the city willing to step up and say we need more eyeballs involved in this funding distribution.”
Schiavone, who works with Martinez, pushed back.
“I don’t believe there’s a conflict,” she said. “What we’re doing isn’t dissimilar from a lot of other cities. There’s not one prescriptive way of doing it, but in a lot of cities the (government) has the oversight.”
There’s no power grab afoot, Schiavone added.
“We’re not trying to take control of the operation,” she said. “We don’t today, and won’t in this new model, either.”