Dear Barry: Get your facts right on FCAT
Dear Barry (Schoenborn): Thanks for calling me on Friday alerting me to the column that would appear in The Union on Saturday. You called it your “yearly anti-FCAT column” and wondered if it might jeopardize your coming on the Nevada County News Hour next Wednesday evening to help me interview Nevada City Mayor David McKay. I assured you that whatever you might say about FCAT in print wouldn’t affect your appearing on FCAT in person.
That statement still holds. I hope you can join me next Wednesday to interview Mayor McKay. I’m more worried about whether your column may jeopardize your relationship with The Union. It would have been so easy to call me, FCAT Executive Director Miles Everett, FCAT Board President Gary Peterson or many other people you know who are connected to the station to see if the allegations you were about to publish were true or not. You chose not to.
As far as I can tell, only two of the “three biggest failures” and 11 bullet points in your column have any basis in fact. It is true that a former FCAT board president fell off the FCAT truck during last year’s Fourth of July parade and has sued the city of Grass Valley for negligence. I think she may have a good case.
And it is true that four (not three as you stated) FCAT board members have resigned in the last year. I don’t think this is an unusual number of resignations for a nonprofit board. One of them left with some rancor – also not unusual among nonprofits – and I would be glad to discuss the reasons she had for leaving with you, with her or with the public at large. FCAT is a community resource, and any disagreements about how that resource is used should be open to everyone.
As to the other points you make:
— You say that FCAT should “provide a regularly scheduled forum for regular people to broadcast their opinions to others.” I thought you knew more about community access TV than to say that. FCAT and other CATV stations are not here to make programming. They’re here to give people like you an outlet for the programming you make. If you think our community needs a program like this, come in and take FCAT’s low-cost production class and then create the program yourself. (Miles Everett, FCAT’s executive director, told me a month ago that he wished we had a program like that and that he was tempted to create it himself. But that’s not his job. He’s supposed to keep the station humming so people like you can make good programs.)
— There is some “blue screen (no signal going out)” on FCAT, but there’s a lot less than there used to be. Our problem in the past was equipment that was so bad that we needed many volunteers to keep it going and never had enough of them. The equipment that Miles has installed in the last few months takes care of that, but only if the producers who submit programs give accurate timings for their programs. If they say that a program is an hour long but it’s only 57 minutes, that produces three minutes of blue screen.
— The FCAT board has approved a new underwriting policy, a new scheduling policy, a new copyright policy, new mission and vision statements, and began two fund-raising projects in the last year. I agree that the board did almost nothing from the fall of 1999 to the fall of 2001 – I tried to rouse them during that time -but they have been very active in the last year and I think their activity has had positive results. As for our budget, we don’t have anything with that name, but our treasurer produces a cash flow projection and provides us with a comprehensive balance sheet and profit and loss statements every month.
— It was the FCAT board, not the vice president, that solicited applications for an executive director. Although I had no formal connection with the board at that time, I had long conversations with board members who weighed the qualifications of the applicants very carefully. They would have liked to have a local person take the position, but felt that the out-of-town applicant, Miles Everett, was the best choice. I’m very glad they did.
— FCAT isn’t whimpering to the Grass Valley City Council about money. According to the contracts cable companies have with their local cities or counties, most CATVs receive 50 to 100 percent of the franchise fees that local TV viewers pay. Grass Valley and Nevada City have never paid a cent of this money, and Nevada County has only paid $15,000 a year for the past three years. They’ve used it for projects that have nothing to do with the purpose Congress intended it for when it authorized CATVs. Grass Valley and Nevada City have been getting a free ride for over a decade and Nevada County still keeps more than three-fourths of the franchise fees it receives. It would be nice if they – and you – would acknowledge this.
— Gil Dominguez is running on a very short rein right now. Last spring FCAT conducted an extensive review of its underwriting policy and came up with the most comprehensive policy it’s ever had. I suggested much more restrictive policy, but Miles Everett convinced me that it wouldn’t stand up in court. The fact is that FCAT has to balance its devotion to being noncommercial with its devotion to free speech. But there is now in place a very clear set of guidelines and a very clear set of procedures for dealing with violations. If you think Gil or anyone else is violating the policy, please send us a written complaint.
— Buck Stoval has received all the FCAT Board minutes from January 2000 to March 2002 (the more recent ones are on the FCAT Web site, fcat.tv). As to his submitting programs, Buck has always (and I’ve dealt with this for four or five years) been very sloppy in the information he gives about the programs he submits. I refused programs he submitted three years ago because I couldn’t figure out what was in them and I’m not surprised that the new automated system refuses them as well.
— FCAT’s “PR person” may have referred to some people who disparaged the station as “detractors.” What would you have called them?
— The newsletter editor had some definite communication problems with Miles Everett. I’m not sure who was at fault. Maybe one. Maybe both. Maybe it was just misunderstanding. I’m willing to check further, if you think it’s worth the effort. Or maybe we should just look at the next FCAT newsletter and see if it’s better than the old ones (let’s look at both form and content).
— Have you actually looked at the FCAT Web site in the last few weeks? It’s at fcat.tv these days and it’s so much better than it was two months ago that I don’t know what to say.
— I admire many things that Miles Everett has done in the last year, but most of all I admire the time he’s given to TV production classes. Remember that he’s only paid for 20 hours of work a week, but he’s spent almost that much time preparing for and teaching these classes (I think he must work at least 60 hours a week in all). There was a time when FCAT tried little to recruit or train new producers, but that time is long past.
— FCAT cablecasts 29 hours of new material a week (about the same amount as Davis CATV, which has a budget of over $300,000 a year), 24 of it locally produced. “Democracy Now,” which is produced in New York by Amy Goodman (I would think you and The Union would at least remember the name of the program and get the producer’s last name right) has been submitted, or at least recommended, by four (not two) local residents. There are several other programs (mostly religious ones, but also the NASA program) which are produced out of the county but have been submitted by local residents. So far, none of these have prevented any locally produced programs from being cablecast. Most programs submitted to FCAT are shown four times a week. We would have to have 168 hours of programming a week submitted to prevent any program from being cablecast at least once.
You’ve been on this “anti-FCAT” kick for a full year now, Barry. A year and a half ago I would have agreed with many of your criticisms. I think the FCAT board had grown ingrown and unresponsive to community needs. Membership was down. The number of programs submitted was down.
But a big change occurred last fall. The FCAT board hired a new executive director, the first (poorly) paid one in two years, and wound up with a very good one. And then the board itself, which had been inbred and isolated, also changed. It now comes closer to representing our entire community than it has in the six years I’ve been involved with the station. I wouldn’t have agreed to join the board last month if I hadn’t believed that it was finally an instrument of change, rather than of complacency.
You’ve probably had a lot of fun sitting on the sidelines while these changes were occurring, refining your “anti-FCAT” diatribes rather than noticing what was actually happening at the station. I think you’d better start paying attention now.
Eric Tomb was executive director of Foothills Community Access Television in 1998 and 1999, and recently joined the FCAT board of directors. He said Barry Schoenborn has been offered time on the station to discuss FCAT issues.
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