The Northfield Blogosphere Roundup is a good way to see the latest information on many of the area’s blogs. The updates included here show blog posts added approximately within the previous 48 hours. See Northfield.org’s blogosphere aggregator page for an automated, comprehensive listing.
This is the title of an article at the Mankato Free Press article about the March 13th Regional Competitiveness Economic Development Summit. The Rural Enterprise Center’s agripreneurs development model was voted the second most important priority for the development of the Agriculture and Food Sector as it pertains to the incorporation and full utilization of skills, assets and visioning coming out from the Latino/Hispanic communities of the region.
We are currently developing the strategic plan for the large scale regional deployment of this model in the coming decade with a launch strategy focused in no more than 8 SE MN counties, but including strategic outreach to other highly promising targeted Hispanic/Latino entrepreneur in other areas of the region.
At the beginning of the spring semester, I met with Carleton College students who are taking a class taught by Professor John Schott. Schott had invited me to speak to his students about the Representative Journalism Project. Following that meeting, the students set out in the spirit of the project’s goals to cover local news. The stories they produced are showcased here, replicated from a page on Schott’s Ratchet Up blogsite for the project:
About twenty years ago, Northfielder Rob Martin (Rob Martin Insurancy Agency) hoped to build a 43-foot steel sailboat from scratch in three to five years in a lumber yard in Dundas, even though he had no prior boat-building experience. The process wound up taking a bit longer than that. Today, the vessel is about two years away from completion. Martin agreed to a video interview update on his progress this week.
Local musicians Meredith Fierke, Steve and Dylan Mckinstry, and photographer Dan Iverson are arriving in Austin, Texas today to participate in the South by Southwest music and film festival. Fierke is performing at the Touche bar on Saturday and will play “Train’s Song,” a song inspired by the trains traveling through Northfield, Minn. Below are video interviews with Fierke and Iverson shot in Fierke’s home on Monday.
Megan Rossow (left), "Petey," the parrot, and Leah Erickson display locally produced merchandise at the Cannon Valley Veterinary Clinic
Local governments and independent non-profits can be resources for business owners in need of support, especially in today’s tougher economic times. In Northfield, however, not everyone agrees on what the government and non-profits should do in order to offer the most help to the most business owners. The Representative Journalism Project attempted to collect more information about the matter by issuing a survey in January to 60 business owners or managers from a variety of fields. (continued)
The annexation agreement, among other things, indicates how much Northfield would reimburse Greenvale for the property taxes the township will lose when 530 acres of undeveloped farmland goes onto the city’s tax rolls. Northfield is annexing the land to attract industrial developers in the hopes of widening the tax base and creating jobs.
The last week in January, I interviewed three professionals who are trading their know-how for the ingenuity (and, to a certain extent, free labor) of interns from Northfield’s two colleges. One partnership has already led to an art project, transforming discarded steel breadboxes into women’s breastplate armor. And there is promise that another trade could result in two new Web sites that could help boost the careers of local ceramic artists and rock stars. Continue reading Deal or no deal? An intern story
Melissa Reeder, Northfield’s Information Technology Department manager, has set a goal to begin uploading streaming videos of the City Council meetings to the Internet in 2010, so long as there is money in the budget for the $8,000-$10,000 upgrade.
With streaming videos, image files flow to a video player on a Web site in a continuous stream and play when they arrive. Before streaming technology, a Web user would have to download an entire file before watching a video, which could take a long time. Reeder referenced Burnsville’s Web site as an example of a nearby community that uses streaming video. Continue reading City could stream video by 2010
I surprised Mayor Mary Rossing in her store Present Perfect this morning with my video camera. I mostly asked her questions that had to do with Monday night’s City Council meeting, which you can read a bit about here. We touched upon her changes in meeting procedure, her tactics on facilitating meetings and her outlook on information exchange in Northfield and on the financial health of the city’s businesses. Continue reading New Northfield Mayor Mary Rossing talks about her first day
Note: This is a story in progress. You might want to join the existing conversation on this topic. I’m excited to read about what people have to say! Please email me directly at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com if you would rather not post publicly.
Paul Hager, president and founder of Northfield’s public access television station (NTV), emailed me last week with some more information about the city government’s financial relationship with his non-profit organization. The full text of his email is below, with a comment in brackets from me.
“Maren Swanson, the city attorney, heard of a law change that disallowed a city from having a contract to fund a non-profit, but a city could contract for services from a non-profit. There is a difference. The law must have been passed in 2002 or 2003, Maren could tell you those details.”
[Swanson has told me in the past that she does not answer questions from the general public unless a member of Northfield’s city government staff asks her to respond. Members of the city’s staff told me the details of financial dealings between the city government and NTV could be found in in the city’s files.
I submitted a written request to see any NTV-related documents having to do with contracts or finances. Only one of the documents seemed to refer to the law Hager mentions. That document, dated July 21, 2003, is titled “Resolution 2003-211: A Resolution by the Mayor and the City Council of the City of Northfield, Minnesota, relating to agreement with NTV 26.”
The part of the resolution that references a state law reads “It is important that the legal status of NTV 26 as an independent non-profit corporation be confirmed before August 1, 2003, so that it is clear that NTV 26 and the city are not required to comply with the requirements of Minn. Stat. 465.719, which might otherwise apply.”
I still have to find out from Hager if he met that confirmation deadline. I could not find “NTV” or “Northfield Television” on the non-profit listings on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Web site.
The resolution shows the City Council unanimously approved an interim financial agreement between the city and NTV in 2003. The interim agreement read “NTV 26 will continue to provide services to the City and the community as it has recently been providing, without further compensation from the City.” NTV had typically received anywhere from about $10,000 to $85,000 in the previous 17 years.
The resolution also states city government staff would work toward negotiating “the terms of an on-going contract with NTV” and present it to the council by Oct. 31. The staff requested multiple deadline extensions and the council did not approve any significant changes to the interim agreement until 2005, when NTV’s money reserves began to run out. NTV received $3,000 at that time.]
“We had the option to dissolve NTV, become part of the city, or contract for services, which is what we did. By mutual agreement, NTV and the city terminated our agreement (in 2003) to provide public access services and agreed to a new contract (in 2005) to provide access services as an independent contractor.”
“Starting in 1985, our funding had always been somewhat secure, but the possibility remained that the funding by the cable company could evaporate overnight and the city could direct the franchise fee to other purposes and public access would go dark. So I saved money and built up a reserve to fund operations in the event of a funding failure. I built a reserve large enough to buy us time to operate the channel for up to a year during which we would either reorganize or find a new funding source.”
“With a new franchise agreement with Charter Communications and a new agreement with NTV, the city wanted to come up with a new idea for public access. Until that idea was in place, NTV would spend its reserve and not receive any funding from the city. All PEG and franchise fees would go into the city’s cable account. (See more information about franchise fees and fees for programming for education and government).”
“Susan Hoyt, then city administrator, proposed a new model for access: Hiring a new “cheerleader” of public access to encourage people to produce programming. Susan also contacted the public schools to see if they (the school system) would be interested in taking over public access, but the schools declined. Susan left her position at the city and the city did not come up with a new idea for access.”
“I submitted my proposal to the City in October 2005. The council asked Scott Davis to convene a committee (task force) to address the issue of public access, media and my proposal. The history of that committee is documented, I believe, but the item of note for this discussion is that the future of public access was not resolved in the meetings of the committee.”
Discussions among LocallyGrownNorthfield.org visitors blossom and fade, to resurface another time or never again. Representative Journalism Project stories have had a similar cycle so far, but I’d like to insert a step when conversation about a topic begins to slow.
The goal of the step is to combine reader input and reported information into a single piece of writing. That way, a person can better see how the community and I worked together. I’m still figuring out what a final presentation of material would look like and how to make it as useful as possible, and I’m open to ideas from readers.
The subject of whether and where to build a new liquor store is one that has surged intermittently among Northfielders since about 2005. In 2005, the City Council was considering renovating or moving the existing liquor store on the corner of Water and Fifth streets.
In August, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued two citations to the city after inspecting the store. Those citations indicated an electrical panel was too difficult for workers to access and that the stairway connecting the main floor to a storage room below was dangerous.
A lengthy delay
The existing City Council appears to favor building a new liquor store, but the council has struggled to decide where to build one. The decision was significantly delayed in 2007 when council members suspected Mayor J. Lee Lansing had pushed too hard in favor of putting the store in his son’s building at the south end of the downtown’s main drag. That building was one the family had operated as a hardware store for more than 30 years.
Lansing has denied any wrongdoing. Even so, the City Council votedin December 2007 to ask Lansing to resign, but Lansing refused to step down or relinquish the key to his office in city hall. The mayor and the council continued to work together, but the council had the lock changed on the mayor’s office door to prevent him from working there, and tension mounted.
In April, the Lansing family’s hardware store closed, partly as a result of a separate legal matter, according to an article published in the Northfield News. David Lansing, the mayor’s son, had to move the store as “part of a settlement of a 2006 lawsuit that centered around the hardware store building,” according to the article.
In October, the results of an investigation by Steve Betcher, the Goodhue County attorney, caused the mayor to face five charges of misconduct and two of maintaining a conflict of interest while in office.
In January, new City Council members Betsey Buckheit (Ward 2), Rhonda Pownell (At Large, two-year seat) and Erica Zweifel (Ward 3) will fill three of the council’s six seats, to replace, respectively, Scott Davis, Noah Cashman and Arnie Nelson. Mary Rossing will be the new mayor. The looming turnover has caused some people to believe that decisions about the liquor store should fall to the new council. Other people believe the existing council will be able to make a sound decision by year’s end Jan.4*. Others still are discontented that the council is no longer considering repairing the old store, or getting out of the liquor business altogether.
A new approach
In November, members of the city’s staff attempted to come up with a way to help the City Council decide where to build a new liquor store. They asked City Council to come up with basic criteria. The city staff added a few more requirements to the list and then asked property owners to submit proposals. In December, the council began to consider five proposals that fell into the boundaries of the requests, and stopped considering two proposals that fell beyond those boundaries.
The new owners of the former Lansing hardware store on 618 Division St., who do business as the New Division Development Company, submitted one of the proposals the council is currently considering. In addition, the council is considering a proposal submitted by Mendota Homes, which would build a new liquor store on the same property as The Crossing residential building, owned by Mendota. That proposed site is on the southeast corner of Second Street and State Highway 3. The Q-Block Partners is another corporation that submitted a proposal. The partners would build a store on a property across the street from The Crossing. The Northfield Development Company is proposing to develop a parcel on 500 Water St. into a new store. That property contains the Just Food cooperative grocery store. Daryl Knudsen proposed to build a store at 717 South Water St., where a multiple-family house stands now.
Despite the attempt to aid the council in its decision-making, the request for proposals process the spurred another wave of suspicion over whether someone in the city’s government was trying to be sneaky. Complications began when the city staff devised a score sheet in order to rate how closely each proposal met basic criteria.
Four different groups of people, which staff identified as important players in the proposed new liquor store development, filled out the score sheets. Those groups were: Victor Summa and Steve Engler of the Economic Development Authority’s Infill Committee; city staff, represented by Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, Brian O’Connell, community development director and Steve DeLong, liquor store manager; Northfield Enterprise Center representatives; and Donnelly Development representatives.
Northfielders debated the selection of people, the criteria on the score sheet and the ethics of rating the proposals before giving them to City Council. There was also debate over what parts of the proposals were private and what information could be revealed to the public.
The city staff released the score sheet, with the names of the each of the seven property owners who submitted proposals, in November. Walinski asked one of the city’s attorneys to look up state laws on confidential information regarding requests for proposals. He then publicly posted a memo containing information about the law.
Perhaps the most significant debate occurred when Walinski said there were seven proposals and then Summa and Engler said that they had filled out score sheets for only five proposals when it had come time to rate the documents. On Nov. 20, Summa and Engler said city staff did not have score sheets for two of the proposals that had not met the minimum requirements in the request for proposals. Summa and Engler said they did not see the two eliminated proposals.
After Summa and Engler said they had scored only five proposals, Walinski said he could not comment on whether two more proposals had, in fact, been ruled out. That information, he said, was confidential. He added that he believed he had made it clear to Summa and Engler that any information about what they did during the scoring session was confidential.
Walinski’s remarks implied Summa and Engler had breached confidentiality. Still Summa, a retired documentary filmmaker and local political activist, and Engler, a former state senator, said they had not known the number of proposals was confidential, especially since city staff had released some information about the number of proposals and property owners previously.
The debate over the information Summa and Engler shared even seeped over to the Northfield News’ Web site. Jaci Smith, managing editor, responded to Summa’s written note of self-defense, which he posted on LocallyGrownNorthfield.org.
“It seemed to me he violated the intent if not the actual rules of the process,” Smith wrote.
Walinski has since twice refused to publicly clarify why Summa and Engler scored only five of the proposals and whether Summa and Engler breached confidentiality. Instead, Walinski said he would rather focus on the primary goal, which is to help the City Council make a decision about the liquor store.
A side discussion
While discussion about the matter unfolded online, James Gleason, one of the owners of the proposals that didn’t made the cut, came forward to reveal why he believed his family’s idea had been removed from consideration. The property was too far beyond the downtown area that City Council and city staff identified as the prime location for a new liquor store. Gleason argued that the council might not have been wise in eliminating his proposal because he offered the valuable commercial land across from the Target store for just $1. The information fueled a side debate between those who agreed with Gleason and those who suspected the motives behind his offer.
Have we learned?
I began reporting this story after attending an Economic Development Authority meeting during which the issue of the liquor store arose. I was shocked at how quickly suspicion seemed to grow among elected officials, members of city staff and Northfield residents.
I talked with people about what I observed. Some told me “Well, that’s just Northfield” or “Well, that’s just city government.” Some people pointed fingers at groups or individuals. Some blamed the infighting the City Council has experienced of late.
*Corrections indicated with a strike-through of the mistake and replacement text.
What does this latest development in the plan to build a new liquor store say about Northfield as a community?
Is there anything we can learn from these discussions?
How could what we learn help us in the future?
What is the most important question that has emerged from our discussions and have we answered it?
Note: This is a story in progress. Please see my bulleted questions in green and help me move the story forward. I would like commenters to write the question(s) they are addressing into their post. You might want to join the existing conversation on this topic. I’m excited to read about what people have to say! Please email me directly at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com if you would rather not post publicly.
Three leaders of public access stations in other communities talked to me about what their jobs are like on Friday and I hope the information will reveal some possible ideas for Northfield Television (NTV).
Little Falls is about an hour-and-a-half drive northwest of Northfield and has less than half Northfield’s population. Northfield has nearly 20,000 people, according to city-data.com. Burnsville and Eagan are suburbs of the Twin Cities, about a 40-minute drive north of Northfield, and have a combined population of about 130,000. Chapel Hill, home to the University of North Carolina, has a population of about 50,000. The Little Falls public access station is a for-profit company, the city governments of Burnsville and Eagan run their station and the Chapel Hill station is a non-profit.
Of the three stations, the one in Little Falls operates on the smallest budget—about $90,000 a year, which is money that comes mainly from the cable company’s franchise-fee payments to the city government. Governments can use franchise fee revenues for any public purpose. The 2,800 cable subscribers in Little Falls pay that fee. NTV receives just $30,000 in franchise-fee revenue yearly. I am asking Charter Communications, Northfield’s cable provider, to let me know how many subscribers are in Northfield. Each of the stations is 23 years old and operates two channels.
Of the $90,000, Abraham pays himself about $48,000 a year and works full-time including “quite a bit of evening and weekend” hours, he said. He employs three part-time videographers who earn about $10 an hour and he sometimes supplies pizza to volunteer members of a youth video club. Paul Hager, NTV’s executive director, pays himself $17,946 and works part-time at that job in addition to a full-time part-time * job as the technical director of cinema and media studies at Carleton College. He has no employees and about 10 people consistently volunteer, he has said.
Should NTV receive more money from Northfield’s Cable TV Fund? If so, how much?
The $90,000 is still a “shoe-string” budget, Abraham said. He buys used camera equipment on eBay.com and builds his own television sets. The station now has four cameras that stay in the studio and three that members of the public may borrow. NTV has one camcorder to lend. Hager said his station’s camera is used less and less because many people own their own camcorders now.
Two-and-a-half years ago, Abraham moved his station from the public high school to a space in the Great River Arts Association building, which is on the main drag in downtown Little Falls. The move, he said, is one step toward his goal of expanding the station. One day, he would like to take on the task of branching out into other communities to help them begin or expand their own public access television stations. NTV’s station in Northfield’s downtown is hardly visited by members of the community today.
The Little Falls station has begun to attract more and more participants since Abraham extended an invitation for people to record their own monthly, half-hour show at the station. The mayor, local sports analysts and senior citizens telling stories about the past are the most popular.
While Abraham seemed excited about what is happening at the Little Falls station, Hotchkiss said he grew disappointed with his station after the city governments of Burnsville and Eagan took over in 1998. The cable company now known as Comcast managed the station previously, and the city stepped in when the cable company no longer wanted to manage it.
“It seemed like a good idea at the time,” Hotchkiss said of the shift, and pointed out that the city government can pay employees much more than an independent organization can.
He employs nine people, broadcasts to 32,000 subscribers and has a budget that fluctuates between $850,000 and $1.2 million, he said.
Burnsville and Eagan governments consistently disagreed about the management of the station, Hotchkiss said. So, as of this week, the station is splitting to give each city its own programming. That programming, however, is not the kind Hotchkiss would like to see on the station. The government-approved shows can seem one-sided, with documentaries about street-side curbs and bituminous concrete, Hotchkiss said, laughing.
Hotchkiss said he believed the ideal management could be if a cable company franchised with the state instead of individual cities and towns. That model already exists in some states. Hotchkiss believes it would reduce the conflict of interest he sees with government or local cable company management. In addition, he said the fees a cable company pays to support educational and government programming (PEG) should go directly to the public access station instead of routing through the government as it does now.
I asked him what he thought about PEG fees going to other organizations that disseminated educational and governmental information, such as community Web sites. Hotchkiss said the idea seemed reasonable, but that cable companies might be reluctant to support content that would be available to people who aren’t cable customers.
As for advice that NTV could possibly use, Hotchkiss said he believed it’s important for public access stations to network with other stations through organizations such as the Alliance for Community Media or the Minnesota Cable Communications Association. He also said a station should have plenty of shows that are consistently popular with viewers such as children’s concerts and high school sports in order to “sell” local-government and nationally produced public programming.
In North Carolina, a cable company now franchises at a state level, but Johnston said that has only resulted in less funding for his Chapel Hill station. His budget is $123,000 and he employs two full-time staff members and several part-time workers.
Johnston said that as a result, he has had to find ways to raise additional revenue by charging service and member fees and selling advertisements. He also barters with local businesses by exchanging advertising space on television for, as an example, food for volunteers.
Johnston also collaborates with other non-profits to work toward common educational goals. For example, the station partnered with an arts center to offer classes in media arts. That kind of teamwork has been especially helpful, he said, in gaining the support of local government officials.
Update 12/20 4 p.m.: I corrected several grammatical errors in the story, removing the word “moved” from the first sentence and removing some extra words from the paragraph third from the bottom.
Update 12/22 3 p.m.: Griff Wigley filled me in on the following info: While Northfield’s official 2000 census is 17,000 and recent estimates place it near 20,000, that includes the 5,000+ college students. So for this NTV story, I think a population estimate of 13,000 is more relevant for comparing us to other cities since none of the college students are potential cable subscribers.
*I indicate corrections with a strikethrough mark through the mistake, followed by the correct text.
Brian O’Connell, Northfield community development director, and Joel Walinski, interim city administrator, discussed the remaining details of a proposed annexation agreement with Greenvale Township‘s three supervisors for more than an hour on Tuesday night.
In the accompanying video, O’Connell and Walinski are on the left side of the table. Township supervisors Robert Winter, Bernard Budin and Chairman Richard Moore are on the right (Moore is the furthest in the background). The woman at the end of the table is Edith Nelson, the township’s secretary.
The annexation agreement, among other things, indicates how much Northfield would reimburse Greenvale for the property taxes the township will lose when 530 acres of undeveloped farmland goes onto the city’s tax rolls. Northfield is annexing the land to attract industrial developers.
The discussion led to two clarifications in the draft of the agreement. Walinski said he will release a copy of the final draft of the annexation agreement in his memo on Friday. The first clarification, which is shown in the video, addresses Greenvale’s request to prohibit Northfield from annexing any more of the township’s land for a period of five years following the current annexation deal.
O’Connell and Walinski said, in order to keep with the goals of Northfield’s comprehensive plan, they would not prohibit annexation across the next five years, but agreed to a restriction that Greenvale landowners who petition the city for annexation within that period must get written consent from the owners of every neighboring property.
The next clarification had to do with how Northfield will calculate its tax reimbursement payment to Greenvale. The proposed payment plan would reimburse Greenvale in the amount of about $3,854 a year for five years. That figure is the amount of money Greenvale currently collects in taxes on the property. According to the agreement, the reimbursement amount would change year-to-year as the property tax rate changes. In the sixth year, Northfield would pay a “balloon payment” that would equal 20 more years of annual payments. In all, Northfield would pay Greenvale about $96,362, using today’s property tax rate figure.
At Tuesday’s meeting, O’Connell and Walinski said the city would calculate the balloon payment by using a tax rate figure equal to the average of tax rates in the previous five years.
At the end of the meeting, the Northfield and Greenvale representatives agreed to allow their respective lawyers to look at the final draft of the agreement before signing the document. Three Greenvale residents attending the meeting said they were not completely satisfied with the way their supervisors negotiated the annexation agreement. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 19 in the Township Hall on Guam Avenue.
By Bonnie Obremski, on December 16, 2008, 10:26 pm
Note: This is a story in progress. Please see my bulleted questions in green and help me move the story forward. I would like commenters to write the question(s) they are addressing into their post. You might want to join the existing conversation on this topic. I’m excited to read about what people have to say! Please email me directly at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com if you would rather not post publicly.
“With the number of people who care about the city, and with the educational resources available, you’ve got a lot of potential for doing good work,” Mike Wassenaar, of the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network, told me on Tuesday.
Wassenaar said he learned Northfield Television (NTV) is operating on a bare-bones budget by reading the article about the matter posted on LocallyGrownNorthfield.org. Wassenaar is an individual member of the Alliance for Community Media and he volunteers some of histime to help other public access stations around the nation.
“It’s important for us in Minnesota that places like Northfield actually do well,” Wassenaar said. “If they don’t do well, people start saying, ‘Oh well, this isn’t really worthwhile, so it isn’t worth investing in.’ And that can lead to changing the laws so that these types of resources aren’t available anymore.”
Wassenaar said he wanted to talk to Paul Hager, NTV’s founder and president, and come up with a few ways to improve the station, with or without additional funding
After I talked to Wassenaar, I called Hager, who said he would be willing to speak with Wassenaar about those ideas. Hager agreed that Wassenaar’s offer to help seemed like good news.
Wassenaar said he believed NTV could use more than the $30,000 a year it receives now from the city-managed Cable TV Fund to make significant improvements its facility and potentially hire staff.
Wassenaar said he acknowledges, however, the differences in size between the Saint Paul network and NTV. His network, he said, has 52,000 subscribers and receives $2.5 million in cable franchise fee revenue a year. The network also receives $800,000 a year from the fee cable companies pay for communities to produce educational and government programming.
Wassenaar said Hager’s proposed model of creating a pool of money to provide “micro-grants” to citizens to produce content for the station has worked in other communities. He said he could also share some other ideas about business models.
“It’s awfully hard to run something that only has a virtual presence,” Wassenaar said, referencing the little-used NTV station on Division Street and lack of paid staff. “You need a place for people to go to.”
As one way to attract more people to visit the station, Wassenaar said he might be able to connect NTV with larger stations in the city suburbs that could donate equipment. Wassenaar said NTV might develop its presence in places around Northfield where people regularly visit to participate in community events, such as a recreational center or at Saint Olaf or Carleton colleges.
Wassenaar said he would also help NTV explore the possibilities of asking people to support the station as members.
In one of our earlier conversations, Hager said it could be difficult asking cable TV customers for more money than they are already paying in subscriber fees to support the station.
Wassenaar said the larger community, not just cable viewers, directly benefit from the services his network provides, however. For example, he said, the network once produced a show about a local clinic, and then gave a copy of the show to the clinic to use as an educational tool. He said the network also provides youth programming.
As another funding source, Wassenaar said, the network has sought grants from other organizations.
I wonder what organizations or individuals would consider becoming members of NTV?
Wassenaar said he would also be willing to help inform government officials and the general public about what a well-supported public access station can offer to a community.
What would it take for NTV to thrive in Northfield?
Note 12/17 9:45 a.m.: I corrected the spelling of the word “network” at the bottom of the thirteenth paragraph.
The Representative Journalism Project is nearing its five-month anniversary and my collaborators and I could not thank the people of Northfield enough for all the support they have offered so far.
We’re hoping those supporters might chime in now and let us know what parts of the project seem to be working and what parts still need refinement.
One change I am determined to make this week is in how I introduce stories, document their development and finally present them to readers. I would like to gather more input from a wider spectrum of people, and do more to show them my reporting and writing process, before I produce a finished piece of work.
Now, when I put up a part of a story to introduce a topic, I would like to see readers help me put together the next part of that story for the following day, and so on until finally, I write a feature-length article that one might see in a magazine or newspaper.
In the evolution phase of story development, I want to be more informal about presenting the information I update day-to-day. I want people to know more about how and when I got the information, and what thoughts ran through my head as I received it.
I hope the increased transparency and opportunity for public participation will improve the quality of my stories and distinguish Representative Journalism as a truly different and valuable way for a community to learn about itself.
Please answer the questions below to help us know how we’re doing. If you prefer, email your responses to RepJNorthfield@gmail.com. Thank you!
What parts of the Representative Journalism Project do you value? What parts don’t work?
How can we further refine the project into something Northfield citizens value more?
How could Representative Journalism support itself financially in a community?
Note: This is a story in progress. Please see my bulleted questions in green and help me move the story forward. I would like commenters to write the question(s) they are addressing into their post. I’m excited to read about what people have to say! Please email me directly at RepJNorthfield@gmail.com if you would rather not post publicly.
Photo by Josh Rowan. A letter "N," once part of a downtown supermarket sign, now stands for "NTV" in the entryway of the station.
Paul Hager, who is NTV’s founder and president, told me on Thursday that Northfield Community Television (NTV), which is an independent public access station on Channel 12, is operating on a “lights-on” budget these days.
I asked Hager what “lights-on budget” meant. He replied, saying NTV receives $2,500 a month from the franchise-fee revenue sitting in the city’s Cable TV Fund. That amount, which totals $30,000 a year, is enough to pay rent, insurance, utility bills and a modest salary for him to produce some content and air some governmental meetings. He has no employees and about 10 volunteers who regularly produce content for the non-profit organization.
The station is on the second floor of 309 Division Street View Larger Map, which is under the relatively new ownership of JB Enterprises. Hager said he is optimistic the new owners will repair the building very soon. In the past two years, he said, the station has been uncomfortable to use because of heating and cooling problems. But, he said, most people now produce video at home and give him a digital file. The station houses the public access channel’s video equipment. Hager does not keep regular hours at the station, but the public can contact him via NTV’s Web site. Phone: 507-645-6917. Email: NTV@charter.net.
As an example of the kind of programming NTV airs daily, the schedule for Dec. 15 included:
I wondered why the city government isn’t allocating as much money to NTV as it used to.
I also wondered what the general public thinks of NTV.
What does the station bring to the community?
Could NTV do more, even with its small budget?
Should the community show more support for the station?
Have other forms of information sharing, such as the Internet, replaced the need for public access television?
What is the Cable TV Fund?
Cable systems have offered access channels to the public since the 1970s so that people could make programs for others in their own communities, according to the Museum of Broadcast Communications Web site.
I first learned the basics of the Cable TV Fund by reading an article Jaci Smith, managing editor of the Northfield News, wrote on Nov. 28., which had the headline, “Cable fund holds wealth of possibilities.” Smith said city governments collect two kinds of fees from cable television companies and that money flows into the Cable TV Fund. The cable company serving Northfield is Charter Communications. There is currently about $766,000 in the Cable TV Fund.
One kind of fee is called a franchise fee. Time Warner Cable’s Web site gives a brief overview of the rules of the Cable Communications Policy Act of 1984.
“The franchise fee is intended to compensate a community for the cable operator’s use of the local rights-of-way, and to offset any costs associated with administering the local cable franchise,” the Web site reads.
A city government can use the franchise fees to pay for any public service. According to Smith’s article, cable companies pay Northfield about $100,000 a year in franchise fees.
In addition to franchise fees, cable companies also pay a fee that a city government can use only for purposes of public education and government (PEG) programming. Smith reported PEG fees total up to $15,000 a year.
Deb Little, the department manager for the City Clerk’s Office, said she could help me find out how much money in the Cable TV fund is from franchise fees and how much is from PEG fees by the end of the week.
Additionally, I asked what PEG fees are paying for now, if anything. Little said she would have to research that, too.
Kathleen McBride, Northfield’s Financial Director, said most recently, the city government used that money to install a new video recording system in the City Council’s chambers. The work on the nearly $100,000 equipment upgrade finished in 2007.
Why does NTV receive less funding than in the past?
The $30,000 NTV receives a year is less than half what the fund used to provide NTV in the 1990s, Hager told me. The station has been around since the 1985. I wondered about the dramatic decrease and how it had affected the quality of the station, if at all. I don’t own a television and so have never watched the station’s programming.
Scott Davis, a city council member who has worked to define the relationship between city government and the station in the past, told me on Friday that changes in state law led to the decrease in funds. Davis did not have time to explain further because I visited him in his photography studio on Bridge Square and he had a client waiting.
I did not find a copy of the Minnesota statue online that could apply to the matter. So I am still searching for more information about how the law changed and how it affected contracts between the city government and NTV.
I did have time to ask Davis if there were any other reasons why the city government might have cut NTV’s funding, such as NTV not providing enough of a service in exchange for the money. Davis said that was not the reason.
Hager told me that all he knew about it was that, a few years ago, the cable company and city government did not renew a contract that outlined how much PEG fee and/or franchise fee revenue could go to NTV. For a time, NTV operated without a contract and ran on savings and the city government paid no funds to the station, Hager told me. In 2005, the City Council decided to allot the $30,000 a year in franchise fee revenue to keep the operation running.
Photo by Josh Rowan. Paul Hager stands in one of the station's studios on Monday.
Should we change how public access television works?
Hager had asked for more than renewed funding at that time, however.
The primary attraction of public access television has been erased by changes in technology. It is time to re-think the model for public access.
We could capitalize on the digital technology revolution that has created a visual storyteller in every household that has a video camcorder.
We can and should provide a modest financial incentive to spur production of community programming.
We must create a higher level of visibility for public access and invite local institutions to take an active role in creating programming.
The proposal sounded to me like an interesting model, not wholly unlike the goals of the Representative Journalism project.
Davis said one of the reasons Hager’s proposal never went into action is because the City Council has a lot to do. When the council decided to renew some funding to the station, it considered the situation fixed for at least a little while, he said. Davis compared it to patching a crack in a window. The window still isn’t a good window, Davis said, but you can live with it.
In addition, Davis said Hager’s proposal relied a lot on individuals who would be willing to work as videographers in exchange for a small amount of grant money and there might not be enough people willing to perform such work.
I could see his point, but I’m wondering how many other people would feel the same way.
Davis said the new members of City Council and the new mayor might revisit the city’s relationship with NTV in the coming years, but the struggling economy might now present another obstacle to further funding or attention.
At that, I wondered how many people might deem the station undeserving of any funds in the near future. In tough times, some people might think that $30,000 a year could be better spent on something else.
As a journalist, I shuddered at the thought of another of America’s independent, information-distribution services closing down. However, I also believe that those services do have to learn how to better compete for attention in order to survive.
I put in a request for data at city hall on Friday to take a look at all the contracts the city has had with NTV over the years. I plan to share that information here so we can better see what kind of service NTV has provided to Northfield over the years.
Should the city government control public access television?
Smith quoted McBride in her article about the Cable TV fund, saying, “McBride said she recommends using only part of the money so that if the city does decide to get into the public access broadcasting business it has the startup funds to do so,” Smith wrote.
I asked McBride via email to expand on what Smith reported.
McBride wrote, “It would be a Council decision – and while I’m not close to the process (at all!) – I do think there is interest in starting a public access function – where we would buy the equipment and hire a company or employees to run it.”
I haven’t heard any of the City Council’s discussions on the matter, but I’m confused about why the council would consider making city workers take on the public access station responsibilities. I imagine there could be cost savings but I’m not sure how. I wonder, too, if the city would cease to fund NTV altogether, and what would become of the station in that situation?
Hager pointed out that if the city government controlled the station, and someone produced something controversial, the government would then have control over when to air the program (perhaps during a time when no one would watch it). Right now, Hager has ultimate control of the programming schedule.
But are people producing content that challenges the government, or any other institution for that matter? Would they if Hager’s proposed model were adopted?
Update: 12/15 7 p.m: I forgot to put Kathleen McBride’s full name and title when I first referenced her in the story, so I fixed it.
Also, I wanted to note that you can still borrow a camcorder and tripod from NTV and use the station’s editing equipment to produce video content for the station.
Peterson is facing one first-degree charge of selling heroin, two second-degree charges of selling and one count of possessing heroin.
His bail is set at $100,000 and he has been in jail since the last week of October, when the Rice County Drug Task Force arrested Peterson and seven other young people for suspected heroin dealing.
Peterson said he probably could not say much about his case, and he kept that resolve throughout our conversation.
I sensed that he still wanted to talk, but that could have been because I kept thinking how a visit with two nosy strangers (my fiance Josh Rowan was with me) might be the most interesting part of his day.
Peterson looked me in the eye. He didn’t move from his chair or take the telephone from his ear as he looked at me from behind the soundproof glass. He wore a gray sweatshirt beneath his orange jumpsuit. Josh and I, wearing our thick, winter coats, barely fit in the visitor’s booth across from him. There was one other booth next to ours in the tiny concrete room. There, a man told another prisoner he looked tired and asked if he was getting any sleep.
“Not really,” that prisoner replied.
I struggled to think of a question Peterson might be able to answer. I told Peterson I had spoken with some of his friends. I told him they said they still cared about him very much.
“How’s it going for you in there?” I asked.
“Not good,” he said. “Everyone thinks I’m this big drug dealer but…” he trailed off, looking downward and shaking his head.
“How does it feel, when you’re up there in court, in front of people?” I asked.
“Embarrassing,” he replied.
Peterson’s next pre-trial hearing date is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m. in the Rice County District Court.
Before I left, Peterson made a suggestion. He told me to write him a letter with a list of questions and he would write back.
“It would give me a chance to respond more wisely,” he said.
I would like to know what questions the readers here would like me to include in my letter to Peterson. When and if he replies, I will post Peterson’s response on the blog.
The Representative Journalism Project founded in Northfield, Minn. could see more nationwide support after project collaborators Bonnie Obremski and Bill Densmore facilitated a discussion about the initiative last week at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Mo. The noontime “Lunchstorm” session was a part of a three-day conference centered around another experimental project called Information Valet, which Densmore is working on at the university.
The video below is an edited version of the hour-long talk during which media professionals from around the nation and students from the university’s top-ranked journalism school grilled Obremski and Densmore about RepJ’s progress and future plans.
One of the only unanswered questions was how the RepJ project would gain financial support from community members who are willing to invest in the next generation of community journalism. However, the founders of the Banyan Project and Kachingle.com made some interesting suggestions.
Tom Stites of the Banyan Project suggested a co-op style funding method, or to simply “put out the tip jar” to see what would happen. Kachingle, founder Cynthia Typaldos explained, would be a way for Web site owners everywhere to easily solicit funds from fans. In essence, “Kachinglers” sign up to donate $5 per month toward the sites they would like to support most. To distribute some of the $5 to a site, the Kachingler pushes the Kachingle button installed on the site. Typaldos would like to launch Kachingle in January.
In the video, the questions asked appear in type at the bottom of the screen while Obremski and Densmore answer them.