Participatory community television is TV we make ourselves. Ideally this means volunteers handle the entire process from deciding what we want to say and to whom; digging a video camcorder out of someone's hall closet, and going out to collect interviews to make dialogue with the community.
But in practice, you will find that the 'community television channels' in larger centres are operating like mini-networks. They will give access to community groups (and if you're interested in buttons and lights, they usually have volunteer jobs available). The best advice for volunteer groups in these areas is to contact the cable station and go in for a long talk.
Be flexible and give the station lots of time to arrange your programming.
In smaller communities, it is sometimes possible for community groups to convince the cable company to wire up a community hall (it has to be relatively close to the satellite dishes) so volunteers can make their own television. The volunteers will be responsible for supplying their own equipment. Often the volunteers will program a community bingo and give the company a split of the profit. (NOTE: In Newfoundland and Labrador contact Lloyd Pretty in Dildo for details of Regional Cable TV policy.)
Volunteer community television groups usually have complete control over the programming in the community. It's probably fair to say that such groups have the most potential when all interested groups in the community have representation and input/participation in the programming.
The other distinquishing characteristic of participatory community television is the emphasis on two-way communication. Using a telephone hookup in the "studio", grassroots politicians can poll the people on what they think about issues; people are more ready to participate in community discussions from the safety of their living rooms and kitchens.
Probably the ideal way for your cause to be fully discussed in the community is to build your message inside a participatory community television event.
Such an event is guaranteed to be a lot of work and a lot of fun. Special care should be taken with arranging your panel discussions; your moderators should fully understand the procedure of involving the whole community in creative discussion of your message.
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1. Arrange for the site from which to broadcast. We prefer community rooms in which a lot of people can gather but it's possible to use a living room or kitchen (or in summer, an outside picnic table.) If you need to run a wire to the cable company's shack (the headend of the cable system), the room should be as close as possible to the shack. It will take a few hours to set up the equipment (and a practice for the students is always a good idea) so if you plan to broadcast after supper, try to arrange to access the room for the whole day.
2. Contact the schools. Typically, we get high school students to operate the equipment. It's not difficult; the Ryakuga POP VDO portable television studio is mostly consumer video equipment set up in a safe environment that is easy to operate. However, the students will feel more comfortable if they get a chance to play with the equipment before going on air. The best way is to set up the equipment (say, the day before the broadcast - it could even be in a different room), bring in the students and also invite people to be interviewed and maybe also musicians who are too shy to play live but they will agree to be taped before the broadcast.
We also need two students to host the program and two students to read community news. (The students who read the news will have to be supplied with local information beforehand. Remember community news also includes social news.)
Another job for the schools is to prepare posters both to publicize the event in the community and to make up a backdrop for the on-air set. An elementary school art class often does the best job here. Finally, on the day of the event, make sure the students all take home a notice inviting all local people to tune in and call in to the community television event.
3. Find local videotapes of community festivals and events. The on-air community television program is arranged in a "live-tape-live -tape, and so on..." sequence. It is not necessary to edit the local tape but the parts we want to play will have to be cued to where we want to start. Somebody should watch the tapes so we don't have to be embarrassed on-air.
4. Get a commitment from local musicians to play on air. We want the people taking part in our broadcast from home to feel good about their community so they will be more likely to call in. One way to achieve this is to have all the local musicians to play live on-air. Remember to ask more than you think you will need (musicians tend to cancel out at the last moment). We want our community television event to be a social in the community; live music is essential.
5. Choose a topic for the panel, a host and about four panelists. A local topic that is important to the people will work best for discussion purposes (but, of course, at times it may be necessary to use a panel to share information with local people). The mandate of the host is not to express her or his opinion but to elicit comments from the callers and/or audience and to keep the panel discussion moving. (Ryakuga has tip sheets for moderators.) The host and panelists should meet before the event to talk about their program.
6. Prepare for the call-in. (The essential differences between mainstream television and community television is that: 1. We do it ourselves. 2. The programming is from here and about here. And 3. This is two-way television. People don't just sit back and watch but they are invited to take part.) Unless the panel issue is really hot, it may be difficult to get participation from the folks at home. (However, it has been proven many times, it is easier to get people to call in from the safety of their own homes than it is to convince them to speak out in a hall in front of hundreds of people.) Calling in to a public panel is a lot like being the first couple on the dance floor. What we do is seed the call-in. Don't think of it as cheating; it's simply a tried and true way to get the discussion in the community rolling. Have each of your panelists and your planning committee ask two people to call in to the panel; help them with a question if necessary.
One of the reasons for having students involved is so people at home will feel proud of their kids and be more ready to take part; live music and local scenery also makes people feel good about where they live and be more likely to participate. Another way to encourage callers is to early in the program ask for birthday greetings and anniversaries.
7. Publicize the community television events. Each community has its own way of getting public participation. Don't forget notices to be sent out from schools. Put a poster on all local bulletin boards. Some communities use church bulletins or even PSAs and notices in local media.
2. You can make community television with a camcorder, VCR, a mic and a couple of TVs.
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Most of the work has nothing to do with blinking lights and videotape.
We should all try to remember that, aside from promoting communication between our neighbours, community television is supposed to be fun.
It's obvious there will be some nervousness and stress, but that all adds to the excitement. However, planning and organizing before the event is the easiest way to ensure the most fun and 'relaxed' excitement on the day.
Each community will make participation-television in its own style but there generally seem to be four main ingredients - mixture of live and taped segments; live phone-in; live entertainment, local news, weather and sports.
Plan your program from beginning to end. This doesn't mean you shouldn't be ready to change during the event, especially if somebody unexpected drops by to tell a story or sing a song.
The reasons for playing pre-recorded tape back-to-back with live segments are, first, it provides time for everybody to relax and breathe easier and, second, it gives time to change the set and move people on and off.
Your program should be typed up and a copy given to all the participants so people, such as the VCR player, are not wandering around saying - what happens next?
It can be helpful to leave a column down the side of the program to include such information as which camera (if you're using two) will take the first shot of the live segment and which participant will talk first.
Don't worry about time; this is community television. The only time that really matters is going on-air at the announced time. But it's helpful if you pre-time each pre-taped segment with a stopwatch (not the VCR counter); this lets people know exactly when they have to, for example, finish their cigarette and get back to the mic.
During the event, also time each taped segment with a stopwatch so everybody knows "how much time is left".
You'll probably want to change jobs during the special, but it's important to assign positions during the planning stage so each person knows what they have to do. They should be encouraged to share, however.
A live phone-in is one of the most important differences between community and network television. It allows everybody in the community to actively participate and make their views known. A phone-in, of course, doesn't have to be centered around a panel. The Placentia group, for example, used birthday greetings to "break the ice".
One of the things community television can do is preserve and develop oral traditions. Storytellers and local entertainers also give the event a 'social' feeling.
You may find it easier if you 'edit' all your pre-taped segments in order on one tape.
Make sure the event is well-publicized in the community so people know when to watch.
Test the equipment to make sure you have sound and picture well before the time announced to start. Check each piece of equipment including the phone. "This is just a test" is a good way of letting people know you're going on-air soon.
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A typical schedule contained pre-taped and live components. One practical benefit is this approach gives amateurs a release from the continual pressure of live television and also time to bring on new panels, interviews, newscasts or live entertainment.
Pre-taped programs can also introduce the community to people or events which cannot be brought to the studio. Typically the community itself, including scenic views, historic buildings, people at work and play, is shot and edited to music. Other pre-taped segments could include interviews; story-tellers; entertainers; choirs; church services; sports events; community fairs; children at play, and advice on a community problem by outside experts. The pre-taped segments are often edited and titled before the on-air special.
In community television, an open-line phone system, combined with live panels, gives people the opportunity to participate in the communication process by "talking back to their television". The panels relate to the theme of the special and often include outside "experts" and knowledgeable people from the community. In such events, it is important that the panel moderator continually elicit response from the community and the phone-in number be prominently displayed.
Live entertainment is an important component of community television. It promotes viewer interest and avoids information overload by providing a counter-balance to the more "serious" programming. Taping local entertainment, dances and theatre as well as music, can provide an important service by preserving local traditions which otherwise might be lost. It can also promote a sense of pride and identity in the community.
One community television special tradition has been to leave the programming open-ended by on-air inviting local entertainers to come to the studio. The special becomes more of a community event when people are welcomed into the studio itself to watch or participate. It is possible to invite local residents, especially children, to "come see yourself on community TV".
Interviews with children, live or pre-taped, always grab the attention of the community. Another popular feature has been news, weather and sports, written and performed by local students. If possible, it is effective to show the schedule on air before the event. Promotion in the local newspapers can increase the number of people who want to watch. If equipment is available, the schedule can be superimposed on-air over posters prepared by school children promoting the theme of the special.
It is important that the special starts on time; scheduled guests are in the studio, and the video/audio signals are technically adequate to be watched and enjoyed on the television sets of the community. But the schedule should not be thought to be etched in stone. For example, don't cut off an interesting phone-in just because the time is up for that particular event of the schedule. Similarly, if a potentially interesting interviewee or entertainer shows up at the studio, fit them in.
The Newfoundland experience has been that community television specials are watched and appreciated by the people. Be prepared for requests for VHS copies by people who missed the event and who want copies as souvenirs or to send to relatives and friends.
LIVE: Local music. (NOTE: musicians are very important and should be slotted in the schedule whenever they arrive.)Welcome and explanation of the theme of the special by the hosts (3:00 min.)
TAPE:A Day at the Local School: pretaped: shots of students at work and play: interviews (7:00 min.)
LIVE:Story-time: older child reading story to small children with closeups of pictures in the book and expressions on children's faces. (5:00 min.)
TAPE:Organizations for children: pretaped: shots of Cubs, Beavers, Brownies (10:00 min.)
TAPE WITH LIVE INTRO:Local history: pretaped: interviews with older people in the community, shots of old, black and white photos (15:00 min.)
LIVE: first panel of local experts. Includes phone-in. Flexible time (30:00 min. to one hour)
TAPE: Church choirs (15:00 min.)
LIVE: news, weather and sports (20:00 min.)
TAPE:Community fair: pre-taped: shots of exhibits, events and people. Interviews (15:00 min.)
LIVE: second panel of outside experts. Includes phone-in. Flexible time (30:00 min. to one hour)
TAPE:Series of interviews with local clergy, Mayor, municipal officials, fire chief. (15:00 min.)
LIVE: third panel of local provincial and municipal politicians. Flexible time (30:00 min. to one hour)
LIVE: conclusion of regular programming; thanks to all volunteers; pan cameras around the studio (3:00 min.)
LIVE:television entertainment: local singers, dancers, musicians, some have previously agreed to perform while others are a surprise. (time limit varies according to circumstances)
TAPE:Signoff: Pretaped shots of community with credits; edited to
music (6.00 min.)
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-Moderator should be a relatively objective observer
-Moderator should be seen to be a relatively objective observer.
-Moderator should act as a facilitator, not as a lobbyist of one side or the other.
-Moderator should attempt to become familiar with the subject of the panel discussion; find out what the community at large would like to know/discuss.
-Meet with the panelists and work with them on a set of questions/topics.
-Inform the panelists of your intentions, for example:
(i) that you want to start with a brief opening statement
(ii) that you will give priority to people phoning in rather than to the panelists (after the initial statement).
-Introduce the panel. Let the producer or camera people know beforehand what order you plan to use, e.g. left to right or whatever. Also let the camera people or producer know beforehand how you plan to close the session. This will result in a 'smoother' more professional program.
-If the panel discussion is part of a phone-in the panel should be used to stimulate discussion by the audience; it should not be allowed to dominate or bore the audience. Do not allow long monologues or presentations.
-Give priority to the phone calls. The panel can respond to what the callers are particularly interested in rather than what the panelists are pre-occupied with. Usually the most important thing is community involvement.
-Remember, you and the panelists are there to serve the community at large, not just the panelists.
-Remember that this is a television program and it has to be interesting as well as informative.
-Have a list of questions yourself to direct to the panel and/or the
viewers; you should try to avoid having 'dead air'. At the same time,
try to get a panelist or a caller to fill in 'dead air'; sometimes people
make the most interesting and informative comments without being
prompted. They too feel pressured by silence. Be ready yourself
though, in case the period of silence becomes too long.
-Don't let the callers go on too long. Thank them for their call and remind them that other people may want to call in.
-Cut off a crank call immediately. Treat it humourously, don't get upset by it and don't make a big fuss. Go on to the next caller or next question to the panel.
-Try to involve all the panelists, do not allow one or a few to monopolize.
-Don't be afraid to ask provoking questions.
-Speak to the viewers at home directly; for example, use "we want you at home to call us with your comments or your questions", or "this is your program, your community".
-Sometimes a 'Cross Country Check-up' type question can be used to get people to phone-in. If for example the subject is the future of the community, ask a general question like "Is the future of this community threatened by (for example) the closure of the fish plant, shut down of the railway, etc."? This type of question may not be necessary after people have begun to phone in. The callers may have their own particular interest. In any case, always have a few such stock questions in your notes.
-If the event also includes a public meeting or live studio audience equipped with a microphone, try to give the people phoning in the same opportunity to participate as the people in the room.
-It is easier for a moderator to control a meeting which uses only a telephone than a meeting which also allows the studio audience to participate in person. A telephone call can be easily disconnected if the caller becomes belligerent. A person in the room is not always as easy to deal with. However, the public meeting/live audience can make for a more interesting and exciting program.
-If you have the technology, have the phone number appear on the
screen from time to time (when no one is on the line). Otherwise,
make up a poster beforehand and pin it in a location which can be
easily shot by a camera .
-Give the panelists an opportunity to make a final short statement. Try to end with a panelist who is particularly articulate.
-Thank the panelists, the callers and the viewers.
-Remind the people to stay tuned.
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The three components of POP VDO are groups of people, issues and communication tools.
POP VDO usually happens in a low technology, portable television studio (option a). But it has also been facilitated using a public address system and two microphones (option b - the camera only records the event).
There are no technicians in POP VDO - the participants are in control on both sides of the camera. A fundamental aspect of the game is the intimate knowledge everybody has of television. We don't have to be taught how to make television - we know it.
Ryakuga sets up a low technology environment with user-friendly ergonomics. The concept is that when people realize that their neighbours or children are operating television equipment they feel good about themselves and more ready to publicly express their opinions.
Another ingredient of POP VDO is an atmosphere of electronic age excitement as untrained people - of all ages - discover they can make television. The game is based on the realization we all can control technology in order to communicate.
Early practitioners of POP VDO have dubbed the game operah. Role descriptions for the participants fall into categories of equipment operators, presenters and participating audience. There are no 'couch potatoes' in POP VDO.
It can be useful to place an extroverted questioner/stimulator (the more, the better) in the audience. Another way to encourage participation is to seed the discussion. Get a few reliable people to make up their questions before the event. The "dance" begins after you get a few people on the floor.
POP VDO has been used as a tool in issue-based workshops; report-challenges at conferences; public forums; community television, and communication skills training.
The Ryakuga POP VDO system has been used for community television and transmitter projects. It utilizes a digital special effects generator for smooth switching as well as a one way intercom to the cameras and tally lights on the cameras.
Now, POP VDO often happens in rooms but we don't use a stage even when one is available. The presenters' table should be as close to the audience as possible. The participating audience should be wrapped in a semi-circle about the presenters' table. (Actually, when outside experts are present, it can be very effective to insist that they talk from the audience while the head table is restricted to local people representing community-based knowledge.)
It's better to use a small semi-circle of a few rows rather than one large semi-circle. Some people will feel more secure sitting in a second or third row rather than a front row. It's also good to have the audience really close to the presenters - speaking on the same level.
Operahs to pass around the mics and encourage people to talk are important. Because we want to encourage discussion, the presenters share a mic while a number of mics (if available) and operahs are in the participating audience. If the speaker seems mic-shy, the operah can hold the mic. (We have also used an operah wearing a lapel mic with a transmitter.) But it should be stressed that in order to tape the meeting, mics must be used. The mics also ensure that everybody doesn't talk at once.
Sufficient lighting is essential for videotaping but in POP VDO we must take care not to make people feel uncomfortable by shining bright lights in their eyes.
One camcorder is placed at the front of the room so it can record the presenters from the side while being primarily responsible for taping the speakers in the audience. The other camcorder, primarily responsible for taping the presenters, is placed either in the center of the back row in front of the video table or behind the video table itself. From this position, the camera operator can see the television monitors and so has a better idea of what's happening.
The video control table is usually placed at the centre of the room just
behind the back row of the audience. In some locations this may not
be possible and the control table is positioned at the side of the room.
However, we must remember that the people videotaping are also
participants in the POP VDO process and they should be an obvious
what's happening and not hidden in another room. Camera operators and audio mixers, for example, should be encouraged to voice their opinions just like any other participants.
Ryakuga encourages groups to find as much equipment as possible within the community. This shares ownership of the process and also makes the technology stuff less frightening. But sometimes we have to work to make an assortment of equipment compatible - it's worth the effort.
If your participating audience is large enough to use a public address system (PA) or you want to generate more excitement in the POP VDO environment by using a portable PA, then it's simple to record the sound. The mics used by participants will plug in the PA while another mic placed in front of a speaker will send sound to the audio mixer and on to the recording vcr. Connect a cord from video out of the camcorder to video in of the VCR. You can even connect a TV monitor to the VCR to check the recording.
A simpler alternative would be to put a mic in front of the speaker and run a cord to the camcorder itself - you'll need a mini-plug adaptor to plug in the camcorder.
The first thing we do is to give as many mics as possible to the participating audience. This means one mic only for the presenters and the rest for the audience. (Also see the discussion on ergonomics.) And instead of putting a mic stand at the front of the room, we use operahs - friendly, outgoing, energetic extroverts - to take the mics to the people and to encourage people to participate. Actually operahs may have the most important role in the whole POP VDO environment.
Now - microphones at a public or media event represent power which is another reason to give as many as possible to the people. Another function of the microphone is that it gives structure to the discussion - everybody doesn't talk at once.
The mixers we use will take three mics, all with one quarter inch (maxi) plugs, for input. The output is from the main output on the back of the mixer to the audio input of the recording VCR.
Note to operahs: let's face it; some people hate microphones. This is one reason why it's hard to get people to get up from their seat at public meetings and walk to the aisle to speak their minds. We are committed to giving all voices a chance to be heard so we take the mics to the people. Now some people will grab the mic from your hand and start talking but with others, you must be gentle. If you notice that the person who wants to talk shrinks away from the mic, don't force him/her to hold it. Sit close and hold the mic so it will pick up the voice but still be inconspicuous. (A lapel mic with a hidden radio transmitter on the operah can be the most inconspicuous.)
Once again, the most common problem in video is audio. Often in POP VDO, all you have to do is ask the question - where are the microphones?
The components are the special effects generator, two camcorders on tripods, two thousand watt lights on stands, tally lights and intercom, three television monitors, recording vcr, microphones and audio mixer.
The signal goes from the two camcorders to the special effects generator and loops out to monitors one and two while the video output goes to the recording VCR which outputs by composite or RF video to monitor three (or a transmitter or the cable system).
With the digital special effects generator, you have the option of mixing the two camera signals. You can do this for effect or you can pause in the middle of a mix when the camera operator hasn't quite got the scene framed or in focus.
For transmitter projects or community television events, you can also use camcorder two to record printed titles or messages which then can be superimposed on the signal from camera one.
Because the special effects generator is digital, the signal inputs from the camcorders are synchronized and there is no problem mixing the signals.
The camcorder video outputs are attached to the special effects generator inputs with a heavy RGU cable to prevent interference with the video signal. The system video cable is also combined with the tally light cable and the intercom cable.
The camcorders are usually left on automatic focus to make it easier for beginners. The only rule about operating the camcorder is not to move the camera while your signal is being recorded - i.e., While your tally light is on or after you've been told your camera is the recording camera. Your job is to record the person talking. Usually one camcorder is responsible for the presenters and the other focuses on the audience. Wear the intercom headset so you know what subject the director or camera switcher wants.
The camcorders are mounted on tripods - both to ensure steady shots and for safety. The height of the camcorder on the tripod should be the same level as the head of the person speaking. Make sure the legs of the tripod are securely adjusted but don't overtighten any of the adjustments on the tripod heads.
Placing of the camcorders is discussed in the ergonomics section.
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The basic lighting system for video is three-point. But the first rule of lighting should be to check the results in a monitor and try a recorded video check.
The video automatic gain control (AGC) of the camera will maintain the overall brightness of the picture but it reacts to a very bright area by closing down and reducing the brightness of the rest of the picture. This is why you should try not to shoot subjects against a window or bright sky. The best solution for POP VDO is to try to set up the room so you don't have to shoot anybody in front of a window. This usually means that in front of the window is the best place for the equipment.
The purpose of video lighting is to give the cameras enough light to work and to create the illusion of depth. But you also want to avoid shadows and glare (hot spots).
So what do you do? First, remember the rule about checking your lighting in a monitor. Then you might try directing the lights up at the ceiling at an angle. Try to light the room, if it's small enough.
When the ceiling is relatively low and white in color, light can be bounced to provide an even wash of illumination over the subject area. Light may be colored by the object off which it is bounced. Remember that reflected light bounces off a flat surface at the same angle as the original light hits the surface. Check your subject area for the edge of the pool of light. Lights can also be bounced off walls and reflectors.
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One way is to divide the roles so people can work according to their individual job descriptions.
In 1994 at the Caribbean Federation of Youth camp, an entirely different process evolved. First, a goal emerged of including all voices of all participants.
Next, it was decided that it wasn't necessary to have official jobs. What was important was to try to stimulate everybody to take part - to have a voice.
Operah (s): speak to the audience. Catalyst. Ensure the flow of the program. Makes sure everybody has the opportunity to talk. Encourages shy people to talk. Asks questions. Stimulates debate. Wanders through the audience with microphone. Often, more oprahs are better than one.
Host (s): ensures continuity from one segment of the program to another. Introduces each segment, if necessary. Knows the schedule. Introduces and concludes the program. Encourages audience participation.
On-camera people: know about placement of cameras and microphones. Encourage audience participation.
Time-keeper: producer and director of the program. Ensures, if appropriate, that recorded material has been produced. Creates, with consultation, the program schedule. Liaison between on-camera people and the tekkies. Manages the floor and ensures a flow of talent and operators. Keeps time. Maintains a stable set.
Camera operators: wear headphones and follow the instructions of the camera director. Don't move camera (pan, zoom, tilt or dolly) when tally light is on. Frame shot and then hold it. Camera one is usually wide shot and placed behind the tekkies' table. Camera one is a safety camera and, because the operator can see the monitors, is able to pick shots to get out of trouble (say a situation, for example, where the other camera goes out of focus). Camera one is usually the establishing camera (it establishes the scene so the viewer gets the whole picture at a glance) and it is used to begin each scene. Camera two is the closeup camera and is usually mounted on a dolly so it can move around in front of the tekkies' table. All movement should stop when the tally light is on. The operator should be careful not to step on the cables or tangle them up.
Camera switcher: doesn't switch to a camera that is out of focus or moving. Waits for a good shot. Can mix signals using a digital frame synchronizer mixer. Watches monitors to choose best shot between two cameras. Generally begins each segment with a wide shot on camera one and then switches to camera two to get closeup of person talking. If there's sudden movement out of frame on the closeup go to the wide shot until camera two picks up the closeup once again. Consults with the camera director.