We in the newspaper industry are no strangers to the fact that today’s public consumes information differently these days. How people choose to find news, or to communicate with their peers, has changed beyond handwritten letters, meetings at the Grange Hall or corraling the family around the television.
It was nearly two years ago that the Bethlehem Public Library considered removing independently produced programming from public access television, the studio for which has long been at the library, right next to where its board of directors meets. It was a cost-cutting measure, and there was the question as to whether or not the programming produced from the studio served a large enough piece of the local community.
Public access television was created in 1969. The popularity of television as a consumable medium for community members established another means for municipalities to communicate with the community. Local government could post public notices and meeting schedules. It also evolved into something community leaders could use to post notices of important events. Over the years, our channel has televised shows with librarians reading to our children, and good samaritans reading our local newspaper for those with impaired sight.
A half a century later, we have a community that does not use television as the primary means of consuming news. For many families, television is no longer the center of entertainment in the living room. Terrestrial television once gave way to cable television. Cable television providers have since provided the means to this product, but with streaming internet content becoming the norm for entertainment, cable television suffers through the same challenges of newspapers and radios. With internet seemingly the king of all media, those who manage public access television scramble to maintain what communities view as a vital channel for freedom of speech.
This month, we are looking at a new era in public access broadcasting. The Bethlehem Public Library has decided to keep its studio open, and in turn, has made an emerging medium more accessible to a curious audience. Podcasting and vlogging, terms still not completely emersed in the vernacular of everyday people, are popular means for people who wish to step up on the old soapbox and share their opinions.
More than one billion people are active on Facebook. With social media, people with an opinion have a captive audience and are no longer shy to share their thoughts on just about anything. With a computer, one can type out a few words, record an audio message, or even broadcast a video presentation to thousands. Some people are better at it than others. Depending on equipment, laypeople can appear as professional as your local television newscaster.
The Bethlehem Public Library is providing quality technology to would-be podcasters and vloggers. It’s a studio atmosphere public access television audiences are familiar with, but now it has the feeling that everyone has a chance to get in front of the camera and be a voice. Ironically, the previous version that was under threat of disappearing, even if untrue, felt accessible to only an exclusive few. In relation to this new arrangement, anyone capable of walking in and pushing a single button can step in front of a camera and say what needs to be said.
And, that’s the way it is.
Michael Hallisey is managing editor of Spotlight Newspapers.