Dateline: Springfield, Mo.
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There are hundreds of government access channels in the UnitedStates. These make up one segment of what is often referred to as PEG,or Public, Educational, and Government, channels on local cablesystems.
Most of Springfield's TV23 shows are cablecast live, and thenreplayed several times during the week.
The city of Springfield manages the “G” part of thatacronym with two channels on the Mediacom cable system: TV23, our mainchannel for meetings and information, and channel 29, which is usedprimarily for training by our fire department.
TV23 started in an official capacity in 1995 with live (and on tape)bi-weekly city council meetings, and the occasional special programalong with a basic bulletin board of city information. The channel isnow on 24/7 with an average of 15 hours of new programming each month;most of which are first cablecast “live.” All programs arereplayed several times during the week. In TV programming parlance, we“strip” some of our programs and move others around to thedifferent “dayparts” in the schedule so that no matter whattheir work schedule, each viewer has at least one chance to see everyprogram during the week.
We operate with a staff of four full-time employees, threepart-timers, and an occasional intern or two. Our $280,000 annualoperating budget is funded entirely through our franchise fee with thecable company MSO (Mediacom).
The goal of TV23 is to provide timely and accurate information aboutcity government and its services to citizens. We televise all majorcity board and commission meetings — live if possible (seerelated story page 58). Other special meetings, such as budget hearingsand public hearings on issues of public health or safety, are recordedand aired. In addition to election-related coverage, we also produce aregular monthly feature news program, City Beat, which expandson the sound-bite coverage that the local media may be able to give tocertain city issues or events. For example, one episode focused onenvironmental issues and the role the city plays in this area —timed to coincide with Earth Day activities and events in April.
In The Mayor's Roundtable, our mayor provides in-depthdiscussions on key issues. Recent editions have featured MissouriGovernor Bob Holden, U.S. Senator Christopher “Kit” Bond,Congressman Roy Blunt, Missouri Attorney General Jay Nixon (to talkabout our state's successful no-call list), and Missouri LieutenantGovernor Joe Maxwell. It seems politicians enjoy having 28 minutes totalk unedited about issues of concern for their constituents.
The channel staff produces public safety PSAs on traffic and healthissues. For example, several years ago there was the potential for anoutbreak of Hepatitis A. TV23, working with the local health departmentand the city's Public Information office, produced a series ofaward-winning PSAs to alert citizens to proper hand-washing techniques(the major factor in preventing the spread of the disease) and providedinformation on symptoms. These PSAs also were provided to and run bylocal TV stations. Another campaign, Respect Red, focused on thedangers of running red lights and featured television (one a winner ofa local ADDY) and radio spots plus bus wraps, road signs, bumperstickers, and key chains.
Our Crime Stopper PSAs, which are also aired by some local stations,provide information about unsolved crimes in the community and give aphone number for the reporting of anonymous tips. These tips have ledtoseveral arrests, and the television spots are a primary method forgetting the message out.
In some cases we also serve as the eyes and ears of the citizens.TV23 staff documents construction on major city projects that arefunded with tax dollars. We air regular updates to provide informationand accountability on the city's ongoing slogan: “Progress asPromised.” We recently completed a multi-camera shoot at thededication of two new facilities representing over $20 million dollarsof taxpayer-funded expenditures.
TV23 assisted our Police Department in its recruiting efforts byproducing a video highlighting the department and what is expected of arecruit. The Winning Team is a Telly-award-winning project thatcontinues to be sent to future police officers across the country onVHS, CD-ROM, and via the city's website. At this writing, a new videois underway and in keeping with the changes in technology and ouraudience, it will be released on DVD.
To help in the orientation and recruitment of other city employees,Welcome to the City of Springfield shows the breadth of servicesprovided by the city and helps new employees get a handle on their cityinvolvement. We've also assisted the state of Missouri by taping andtelevising a series of public hearings on the foster care system.
Our award-winning documentary on an airport disaster exercise hasbeen used by our local airport and Emergency Management agency to shownot only compliance with FAA requirements, but to show othercommunities how to conduct such an exercise. We continue to assist anddocument other emergency preparedness efforts, which have taken on anew level of importance since the events of Sept. 11.
An interactive bulletin board (INFOcus) allows citizens to call andrequest specific information (which is displayed on their home TVscreens) simply at the touch of a few buttons on their phones. Closedcaptioning of city council meetings began in June 2002 to make themmore accessible to the hearing impaired and those speaking English as asecond language. Live realtime traffic information from most of thecity's major intersections was added in July 2002 through a network ofcameras maintained by the city's Public Works Department and theMissouri Department of Transportation. These traffic views can be seenlive each weekday during the morning rush-hour time. During the majorsnowstorms in'02 and '03, we expanded our daily traffic coverage andour signal was used by local affiliates during their own newscasts tohelp motorists find their way through the snow-packed streets.
Earlier this year, we completed a documentary about the 50thanniversary of our city charter. Months of research, a full day ofshooting, and two weeks of post later, we showed that even serioussubjects could be fun. In what may be a first (and last!), we securedthe rights to include a clip from an episode of The Simpsons inan otherwise dry documentary.
The information available on TV23 complements the overall efforts ofthe Public Information Office, which provides touchscreen kiosksthroughout the city, maintains a website (springfieldmogov.org), issues the usual newsreleases and brochures, and coordinates special events.
In recognition that not everyone has cable and that many peopleprefer to get their news from the Internet, several of our programs areavailable online. The most useful and popular feature is possibly thearchive of city council meetings. Citizens can view a specific portionof a recent council meeting by simply finding the agenda item billnumber in a drop-down menu at tv23.springfieldmogov.org.
As a government access, or as we choose to call it, GovernmentInformation Channel, the content is produced and prepared by citystaff. The information is easily accessible for citizens and showslocal government in action. TV23 allows viewers to find out about anycity service or topic in the most convenient way possible: in thecomfort of their own living rooms.
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