NTV’s future uncertain after 23 years of providing public access


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.
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:

  • Northfield UMC Adult Forum: A Talk by Jay Walljasper
  • I Cantanti 2003 Concert: A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
  • Twin City RNC Pre-emptive House Raids: What about the Bill of Rights? Produced by Andy Kornkven
  • St. John’s Church Service
  • Dennis Kucinich Rally at Carleton College on Feb. 21 2004
  • 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.
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.

He had come up with a four-page proposal to make dramatic changes in the way NTV worked.


The summary bullet points of his proposal are:

  • 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.


  1. Scott Davis said:

    Hi Bonnie,

    The contract with NTV was discontinued when a new state law went into effect that conflicted with our contractual relationship with NTV. To say the change in state law lead to a decrease in funds is a little misleading as it had nothing to do with funding amounts. Paul could give you the specifics.

    December 15, 2008
  2. Stephanie Henriksen said:

    The prospect of losing NTV makes me sad, even though I do not have a television that is set up to receive it. I used to go to a friend’s house to see Northfield Council meetings that I’d not been able to attend. Also, it was possible on occasion to check out the NTV equipment to record a forum or a committee meeting at the State Legislature, for example, that could then be run on NTV.

    NTV is like a lot of things one takes for granted, then misses when it’s gone.

    December 15, 2008
  3. Thanks Scott, you’re right, I can see how I phrased it could be misleading. The state law did cause the contract to end and hence the funding to end, at least for a time, correct?

    Stephanie–NTV’s not leaving yet by any means, even though there have been some discussions about the city government taking on the task.

    However, NTV could see some dramatic changes if people support Hager’s proposal.

    You can still borrow a tripod and camera from NTV and produce content for them. They also have editing equipment.

    December 15, 2008
  4. Griff Wigley said:

    Bonnie, what’s the corporate status of NTV?  Is it a 501C3?  If so, who’s on the board of directors and are the minutes from the annual meetings available?

    While browsing around the NTV website to try to find the answer myself, I saw the

    Click TODAY ON NTV for today’s broadcast schedule

    which brings up an odd web address:

    There’s an About page there:

    but it’s all about Bloomington educational cable television (BEC-TV).  Strange!

    December 15, 2008
  5. Griff Wigley said:

    Bonnie, the Wikipedia page on public access TV says:

    Local governments are required to contract PEG work to city organizations or private non-profits and funding for these groups are often managed through the municipality.

    That should probably be checked with another source, but that’s always been my understanding.

    December 15, 2008
  6. Griff Wigley said:

    Scott, part of the NTV story from 2005 to the present relates to your role on the Council.  Back in May 2005 I put up this blog post on N.org:

    Scott Davis resigns from NCO board; to head ad hoc group on community media

    That blog post referred to a Council resolution on pages 3-4 of the May 15, 2005 Council minutes:

    The city council of the city of Northfield wants to improve programming and communications to the greater Northfield community including public access television, which serves the cities of Northfield, Dundas and the greater Northfield area. The city of Northfield is required to provide public access television by the cable franchise agreement and this service is funded through cable franchise fees.

    To accomplish this task, the city council of the City of Northfield directs Councilmember Scott Davis to take the lead on the public access and communications information gathering phase of this process. Councilmember Davis shall rely on staff support from a public entity that is directly responsible to the citizens of the greater Northfield area, since this is the area served by cable and public access television. This entity will assist him with designing and implementing the broad based information gathering that is needed before proceeding with direction on delivering these services. The process, when completed, will give the community valuable input on public access television and other communications as well as options to provide the required public access services at a minimum.

    The city council directs Councilmember Davis:

    1) To develop and implement a community information gathering process that may use a variety of techniques for gathering information on citizen interests in all forms of communication including information from potential users of public access for communication purposes (e.g. schools, colleges, Dundas, township residents, Arts groups, students of all ages, etc.), creators of visual media and the customers of public access television;

    2) To develop a list of goals and objectives as a result of this broad based area-wide community input process on community communications.

    3) To research successful models for providing public access communications.

    4) To evaluate the information received from this public input and information gathering process, and to return to the city council by October 31, 2005 with an option or options for delivering improved public access television and communications to the community. These options shall include a recommended composition of members for a citizen’s advisory board to oversee future public access programming and operations, a mechanism for assuring that this model will be efficiently administered to meet the goals and objectives, and a preliminary budget for each of the options for city council consideration.

    The city council will cover the costs of this information gathering process up to the recommendations through its cable funds in an amount not to exceed $20,000.

    C. Vohs seconded the motion.

    Grif Wigley, 1016 Linden St. S., spoke in favor of the revised motion and asked questions relating to cable funds.

    Warren Ringlien, 329 Linden Pl., spoke in favor of the revision and made suggestions for improved communications.

    Victor Summa, 812 St. Olaf Ave., spoke in opposition to the school district taking charge of the project.

    Vote on alternate Motion (M2005-0041) as presented. All in favor. Motion carried.

    Over a year later in Sept. of 2006, I published a blog post here on LG titled The invisible community media task force. I wrote:

    The City Council created a community media task force in May of 2005 and put Councillor Scott Davis in charge of it. It was to have delivered its report by Oct. 31, 2005… We briefly mentioned on our Feb. 10 show that the task force had met once recently but I don’t remember any other discussion about it.

    I’m wondering:

    • What have been all the reasons for the delay in the report? Have those reasons been documented and reported to the Council?
    • Who’s on the committee?
    • When and where does the task force meet?
    • Where on the City’s website are the minutes of the task force?
    • How much of the $20,000 budget has been spent and for what?
    • Is the task force suited to study the wi-fi infrastructure issues facing the city? Burnsville, Mpls, St. Paul and now Eden Prairie have all recently launched such task forces. The issues are complex and many. And it’s not just wifi. Wimax and FTTH/FTTP (fiber to the home/premises) need to be examined, too.
    • What’s the status of the roughly $500k that was sitting in the cable TV fund? The City’s new $60,000+ website was funded from it. I seem to remember that the Council authorized a temporary loan from that fund to pay for something else.
    • What’s the status of funding for NTV, the “non-profit organization operating the public, education, and government cable access“?

    Victor Summa and Margit Johnson were on the community media task force… I’m not sure who else. $20,000 was allocated to the task force but I don’t know if any of that was ever spent. Scott, can you provide details on both of those… and then your summary of what happened to the whole effort?

    Full disclosure: As an NCO board member and short-term/part-time NCO executive director back in 2005, I wanted to see some of the cable money used for helping to fulfill the mission of NCO/Northfield.org — and that would have benefitted me, of course. In the early years of NCO (the mid-to-late 90s), we applied for and often received City money/cable access money to help support our web server and connection fees. And for at least one year (possibly two), we received $2-3,000 (not sure on the amount) for hosting community web forums on topical issues. Most of that money went to me as the moderator.

    December 15, 2008
  7. Dean Kjerland said:

    Is the landlord really providing substandard services to its tenant – for shame?!

    It seems to me, from the priorities expressed in ongoing ‘Northfield downtown business’ meetings that real estate held for rent is a key economic driver in Northfield; in fact lowering property taxes (i.e costs) for those owners is at least as high a priority as finding ways to bring more people into the downtown to help another key economic driver – the retail sector. So, with ‘commercial rental’ such a big deal, how is it that this space is substandard? Are the retail merchants approaching their economic niche with substandard goods and services? We don’t have a ‘merchants inspector’ but we do have a ‘building inspector’ ; unthaw the creative energies of Paul Hager starting at the basics.

    I keep rather bizarre hours and treasure the MTV programming at weird hours – Deutsche Welle (sorry, Ray Cox), the poor quality transmissions of the Council Meetings (thanks Susan Hoyt, your public promise to me still is only partially honored), etc, and even the international radio broadcasts between the bizarre church services (bizarre, perhaps, to a non-believer) and good heartedness of the vets programming (as a dissident vet).

    Wait, wait, I’m not a typical user, don’t take NTV away based on me as representative audience served.

    I pay high fees to Charter and in return get generally infuriating service – I rationalize, however, that some of that fee goes to NTV and am partially consoled.

    NTV: Fund it, encourage it, improve it. Goal is a Northfield C-Span IV (Carleton Convocation lectures with a microphone for audience questions). Yes, we can. Hum, live City Council broadcasts…

    Dean Kjerland

    December 15, 2008
  8. Anne Bretts said:

    Why should it be the city’s job to generate interest in something that at its very best would be a shoestring operation with limited programming and even more limited viewership?
    Anyone who wants to produce video of any kind can do so and upload it to You Tube, CNN’s I Report or any number of other sites with global audiences.
    If you have ever watched Twin Cities public access television, you will see an amazing collection of ‘hobby television’ from polka dancing to infomercials to sports commentary. And this is from a talent pool far larger than Northfield’s.
    With plenty of opportunity for people to post their own material globally, or promote them locally through Northfield.org, the News and Locally Grown, there seems to be ample freedom of speech.
    It seems the public money should be devoted to expanded taping of public meetings and eventual live coverage of some, perhaps with the capability of including phone-in or e-mail interaction. The new/expanded library or city hall would be a natural home for a video/production center and small screening room.
    ArTech, the high school and colleges are perfect places for video clubs. Since the days of Wayne’s World, young people have dominated new technology. It is unlikely that there are many 55-year-olds who will spontaneously develop an interest in video production, even with a strong marketing campaign.

    December 16, 2008
  9. There are many successful models for community television operation for a city like Northfield, and there are many possible partners to help Northfield success here in Minnesota! Please let me know if we and other community television operations can help.

    December 16, 2008
  10. Griff Wigley said:

    Mike Wassenaar! I’m thrilled to have the Executive Director of the Saint Paul Neighborhood Network chiming in here. You must have a Google Alert set. 😉

    I see that SPNN “is a non-profit, 501 (c) 3 charity, supported by a major operating grant from Comcast Cable.”

    Is that grant money separate from the PEG $ that you get from the City of St. Paul?

    December 16, 2008
  11. I’m glad Mr. Wassenaar chimed in, too. He sent me an email this morning to call him and we talked for half an hour about how he might be able to help in getting NTV to thrive. He plans to talk to Mr. Hager soon. I’m going to write up what Mr. Wassenaar and I talked about.

    Oh, and Griff, NTV is a 501 (c) 3 and has one other person besides Mr. Hager on its board of directors right now.

    December 16, 2008
  12. Bright Spencer said:

    I have loved Channel 12 since we came to Northfield. It has been my best link to the community, the colleges. I know that some Northfielders are unaware of its existence.
    It is a very good substitute for those of us who cannot always make the meetings, parades, etc which are full of great content and some nice fluff. I even saw Griff on there two nights ago at a talk from the UMC. Thanks for NTV!

    December 16, 2008
  13. Anne Bretts said:

    Mr. Wassenaar, could you give just a couple of examples of these communities, how they are structured and the cost involved?

    December 16, 2008
  14. […] 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 […]

    December 16, 2008
  15. Bruce Anderson said:

    I think that Griff and the community deserve a response to his questions for Councilor Davis in his comment #6. I realize our council members are busy folks, but it seems that there has been no follow-through on the City Media Task Force, even though it was authorized to spend up to $20,000 in 2005, and has apparently never even reported back to the Council.

    I also think that the expenditures documented in the NTV IRS filings Griff provided in comment #15 are a bit eyebrow-raising, specifically the salary/benefits totals of $48,000+ in 2002 and $44,000+ in 2003. I’m not saying there is anything inappropriate going on, I just think it’s valid to ask if we’re getting full value for these expenditures as a community, especially since the City videotapes Council meetings, etc.

    Finally, $766,000 in the Cable TV Fund (end of 2007 total; fed by about $100,000 in annual franchise fees and $15,000 in PEG fees) is a HUGE chunk of change. Jaci Smith, in her Northfield News commentary, asks, legitimately, I think, whether the community shouldn’t be looking at creative uses of this money in these hard times.

    December 17, 2008
  16. Griff Wigley said:

    Bruce, I’m not 100% clear on what the cable franchise fee funds can be used for vs. what PEG fund fees can be used for. I hope Bonnie will enlighten us!

    I do know that each cable subscriber gets charged $.75 extra per month for PEG. (Has that amount changed?) Since a large percentage of Charter Cable’s revenue comes from their Charter internet service, I think it’s legit for the city to use the same percentage for internet-related civic use. Hence, my suggestion that the NCO board submit a contract for services, just like NTV submits a contract for services. Now that would be a creative use of PEG fund money, don’t you think?

    December 17, 2008
  17. Griff Wigley said:

    Here’s a photo of attachment C of the Feb. 2003 contract with Charter… “Ordinance #778”:

    It reads in part:

    The city turns over 75% of the franchise fee and 100% of the access fee to NTV, which staffs, equips, and operates the public educational and government services, throughout the city. Here is a summary of fees and distribution since 1993.

    December 17, 2008
  18. Griff Wigley said:

    Bonnie, here’s more background on the discussions that led up to the creation of Community Media Task Force. This is from Page 4 of the May 2005 Council meeting minutes:


    Hannah Puczko, Northfield School District reported that the Community Education and Recreation Advisory Council approved a motion to have the Community Education and Recreation Division of the Northfield School District explore further the possibility of providing coordination and administration of public access television.

    Paul Hager, 110 Maple St., suggested the formation of a cable access advisory board that could provide partial funding through grants.

    Grif Wigley, 1016 S. Linden St., spoke in opposition to the motion as presented. He felt that there are other ways of providing electronic communications.

    Victor Summa, 812 St. Olaf Ave., agreed with Mr. Hager and Mr. Wigley and asked that the Council reconsider the motion.

    A motion was made by C. Davis to amend motion (M2005-0041). Change the proposed motion to read as follows: The city council of the City of Northfield directs the administrator to work with the Community Education and Recreation Department, Northfield City Council, and NTV to explore ways that the City can provide expanded community public access television and other public communication media including…

    C. Bond moved to TABLE motion (M2005-0041) until the May 16, 2005 meeting. C. Nelson seconded the motion. All in favor. Motion carried.

    December 17, 2008
  19. Griff Wigley said:

    Here are NTV agreement extension details from p. 26 of the Council meeting minutes/agenda on Nov. 21, 2005:

    ITEM: Consider approval of NTV agreement extension

    SUBMITTED BY: Bill Bassett, Interim City Administrator

    SUMMARY AND ACTION REQUESTED: The City Council is being asked to approve an extension of the interim agreement with NTV26 until May 31, 2006. There is currently in place an interim agreement with NTV 26 that was to end on October 31, 2005. Since no arrangement has been made for a successor agreement, Mayor Lansing, Councilman Davis and I met with Paul Hager to negotiate a continuation of the interim agreement.

    Mr. Hager agreed to continue providing local access cable television functions as provided in the Interim Agreement until May 31, 2006, which should give us sufficient time to review this program and make a new arrangement. The funds that had existed in a reserve that NTV 26 had built up will be expended in December.

    We would recommend that the council approve an extension of the interim agreement until May 31, 2006 and the City would provide from the Cable Television fund $2,000 for the month of December, 2005 and $2,500 for each of the first five months of 2006, such payments to be made in advance of each month.

    PROPOSED MOTION FOR CONSIDERATION: _____________Motion _____________Second

    The City Council of City of Northfield hereby approves an extension of the interim agreement with NTV26 until May 31, 2006, with payments from the Cable Television fund of $2,000 for December 2005, and $2,500 for each of the first five months of 2006, such payment to be made in advance of each month.

    December 17, 2008
  20. Griff Wigley said:

    On pages 12-13 of the City of Northfield’s 2008 Special Revenue Funds document (PDF), there’s a summary of the Cable TV Fund. I’ve inserted a  screenshot of the financial grid here but it’s just as easily read as part of the PDF.

    Section III – Special Revenue Funds
    Page 12



    The cable TV fund collects franchise fees from the Charter cable franchise agreement. The franchise agreement provides funds for public access, currently through NTV on one of 3 available local stations. It also provides funds for communication and for equipment beyond the NTV needs. NTV broadcasts council meetings and planning commission meetings with plans to expand meeting broadcasts with our new equipment that was installed in the fall of 2007.

    cable fund operating summary

    The City of Northfield currently contracts with NTV to deliver programming services over one of the 3 available local access channels. Though the current contract is has expired, NTV and the City of Northfield have agreed to extend services on a month to month basis until a formal arrangement is developed with NTV or another service provider.


    NTV continues to provide service until City of Northfield makes different arrangements. NTV currently receives $2500 per month for these services. The Cable Access Task Force is currently working to define expectations and creating an RFP. A new programming arrangement is expected sometime during 2009. ·


    Performance measures will be developed as part of defining the expectations of a new arrangement for providing cable for public access in 2009.


    The City of Northfield upgraded the audio/visual equipment in the council chambers in 2007. This has allowed for improved voice and image distribution over local access cable channels as well as expands the availability of programming options being developed at city hall. The new systems were added to during 2008 to further enhance programming. During 2009 the systems in place will be reviewed for additional modifications and expansion, if needed or desired.

    December 17, 2008
  21. Griff Wigley said:

    Huh? The document above says “The Cable Access Task Force is currently working to define expectations and creating an RFP.”

    I had no idea there was such a task force. Who is/was on it?

    December 17, 2008
  22. Anne Bretts said:

    It would seem that it’s imperative that Locally Grown, the News, KYMN, NCO (Northfield.org) the Convention and Visitors Bureau and NTV need to create their own task force to create a proposal for dealing with at least some of the cable funds. It’s time for a central center where the community can create content for what increasingly are overlapping media. A true media center should be part of the library plan. Each organization can remain autonomous, but there could be ways of sharing technical staff to make content more accessible in all formats and help the organizations become more compatible in moving and sharing material. It also would at its core be responsible for helping the city broadcast/podcast/stream more meetings and eventually make at least some interactive access to City Hall.
    The idea is similar to a new service, like a mini Associated Press, where partners share content and other resourses (AP is in trouble, I know, but the idea remains strong).
    With each organization operating on limited resources, cooperation is long overdue.

    December 18, 2008
  23. Anne Bretts said:

    Sorry, the Community Education department of the schools and the colleges also should be involved, and space issues could be addressed at NCRC or the new Carleton arts center.

    December 18, 2008
  24. kiffi summa said:

    Bonnie: I think you’ve been co-opted by Griff, whose story it seems to be.
    Griff: what exactly is your goal here; you seem to have an ‘agenda’ ?

    I think everyone who cares about having good local information cares about all the possibilities for providing good info, good news, good opinion, etc.
    I certainly would agree that the huge $7ooK plus fund just sitting there is money wasted , or at least inactive.

    I can tell you, from years of going to council meetings,this is not a subject that has caught the councils’ imagination, or spurred any recent council to any sort of real action. Unfortunately.

    Your point might be that some of that $$ should be used to fund other e-media such as this… is that what you are getting at?
    What about funding an alternative news source that does in-depth reporting and analysis which is not what I term ‘selective’?

    What’s your focus, Griff?

    December 18, 2008
  25. Griff Wigley said:

    Kiffi, I don’t have any professional agenda on this issue.

    Neither Locally Grown nor RepJ should try to tap the cable access funds, since LG is private and RepJ aims to test a different funding model.

    I do think NCO/Northfield.org should go after cable access funds, as I’ve said over on that discussion.

    I’ve done some work to dig up public records to show Bonnie that this issue has been in front of the council and staff for a long time.

    I don’t think the citizens have gotten their money’s worth from NTV in many years, and I think the Council has been negligent in overseeing the product/service.

    I’d like to see that changed, which is why I’ve been blogging about it for years, including it our podcasts, and yes, showing up to speak at open mic which you’ve nagged me to do!

    December 18, 2008
  26. Anne Bretts said:

    The city should not be in the business of competing with local business, in this case the News.
    I can see this stash of cash creating a real problem as lots of agendas get pushed forward. The city needs strong leadership on this.

    December 18, 2008
  27. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, would it make sense to focus on a shared platform or technology that would allow all the different media to produce their own content, but be able to transfer and share it?
    For example, the city might produce the video and audio feed for a city council meeting, but everyone could choose to use it as they wish. And someone who wants to announce an event or write a story could post the information and art once and let the various media pull it into their sites.

    December 18, 2008
  28. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, do you mean if Northfield.org gets funding from the City cable fund and then does things on its website similar to what the News does on its website, then that’s unfair because it’s “competing with local business”?

    If so, I’m not sure that argument works for community information/civic interaction.

    For example, the News put candidate videos on its website this fall, something that NTV has done in the past.

    It could then be argued that NTV should no longer do that since they’re funded with City money and they’d be competing with a local business.

    I don’t see how one could draw the line.

    December 18, 2008
  29. I have just scanned over all of these posts. One thing that comes to mind is all the money that was spent on media equipment for council Chambers. If NTV does not air the council meetings, what was the point of all the new equipment? Was not NTV airing a motivating force to the decision to fund the equipment? Am I missing something here?

    December 18, 2008
  30. Anne Bretts said:

    Griff, I haven’t done research on what the limits are for the cable funds. My point is that I’m thinking the city shouldn’t be supporting Northfield.org content (or anyone else’s) with tax dollars. I could see the city funding the technology to allow broad public access, but it shouldn’t be choosing which content provider gets tax dollars.
    For example, NTV has the studio, equipment and air time, but everyone has capability to do shows (at least in theory). I see the city’s role as supporting the technology to allow access, but not supporting the content, in the same way the city provides the parks, but doesn’t pay staff to run the soccer program. It’s the same way I believe the city should provide the ability to sell liquor through licenses, but shouldn’t be in the liquor business.
    Having said that, I could see a media board that creates an acceptable system of grantmaking.
    I think the key is to have all the content providers and potential content providers provide put their wish lists and ideas on the table and see which have public support.
    The situation is different than when all the technologies were in their own little categories and there were no other ways for local people to produce television programming. Now there’s plenty of opportunity, and with limited cable subscriptions in town, cable television isn’t really a broad community source of information. The whole idea needs a new approach. In the two decades so far, there has been no groundswell of public demand for this and I am leary of providing tax money for something that nobody really cares about.
    I’ll do more research and see if I can find a more clear model.

    December 18, 2008
  31. Thanks for everyone’s help on this one so far. Mike Wassenaar gave me contact information of people I could talk to about running a thriving public access station on a shoe-string budget. I’m interviewing as many of them as I can this morning.

    Also, the data request I submitted to City Hall last week is ready today and I’m going to look at the information this afternoon. Hopefully the files will contain some answers to a few questions posted here.

    December 19, 2008
  32. Anne Bretts said:

    Housekeeping question: are we continuing the discussion here or on the new thread?

    December 21, 2008
  33. Griff Wigley said:

    Anne, in each of her new stories, Bonnie wrote “You might want to join the existing conversation on this topic” which links to here.

    December 22, 2008
  34. […] 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 […]

    December 22, 2008
  35. kiffi summa said:

    Not sure where to put this, but I have noticed that someone seems to monitoring Ms. Obremski’s stories for small corrections, punctuation, etc.
    I find the posted updates on these small insignificant corrections to be distracting to the larger issue at hand, and would hope that the writer(ms. Obremski) is not being compelled to do this by her grant process, or some parallel procedure.

    I very much appreciate the depth, and investigation of issue which is presented by the “RepJ”; after all we don’t get anywhere near this sort of process from our local newspaper, and it is distracting to see that an update may only be a small ‘editorial’ correction.

    Sorry if this is in the wrong ‘place’; not sure where it would be most effective.

    Thanks again for all your really excellent work, Ms. Obremski.

    December 22, 2008
  36. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi Kiffi Summa:

    You wrote:

    I find the posted updates on these small insignificant corrections to be distracting to the larger issue at hand, and would hope that the writer(ms. Obremski) is not being compelled to do this by her grant process, or some parallel procedure.

    I am the professor behind the grant and I agree with you.

    Bonnie and Linda Seebach, her copy editor want to be fully transparent. I say only point out critical stuff like a name misspelling, stuff that would go into a correction box in traditional media. But alas this is not traditional media. So we are learning as we go. Your comments are helping with the process.

    Plus thanks for this too:

    I very much appreciate the depth, and investigation of issue which is presented by the “RepJ”…

    December 22, 2008
  37. Anne Bretts said:

    Wouldn’t it be cleaner and simpler to have Ms. Seebach do the editing first and then post the finished story? None of this is breaking news, so time isn’t a factor.

    December 22, 2008
  38. Hi Anne,

    Linda edits my work before I post it. Rarely, Linda misses something. More often I make a mistake when I’m fixing the story after Linda has emailed me her edits. Either I accidentally skim over one of the edits as I’m reading her revision, or I type in a word or sentence as I’m correcting and type it in wrong.

    So, maybe before I hit that “publish” button I need to send the final, final copy to her first for a final revision. Thanks for the suggestion!

    I agree that the way I’m posting some changes to some articles isn’t working and we’re thinking about doing it a different way, like putting a strike-through mark on the mistake and then writing the correction.

    December 22, 2008
  39. kiffi summa said:

    Hey Bonnie: I like the ‘strikethrough and then correction next to it’ idea, and then it’s an obvious correction and doesn’t require an update notice… great solution.
    Try it ! I bet you’ll like it!

    December 22, 2008
  40. Anne Bretts said:

    OK, so the city has left this on the back burner, Mr. Hager hasn’t developed an organization or a constituency and there’s no churning public pressure to make this a priority. Fortunately, the lack of action in the past has left the city with a lot of good options for the future.
    Once again, this seems like the perfect time to create an information/media/technology task force, with a timeline, a purpose, public input and a final report with real recommendations and budget projections.
    The city should be looking at web, television, radio and print communications and interaction with the public, how much the city can afford and how that money should be spent.
    We shouldn’t be spending money to duplicate what can be done now on YouTube or hulu, or to broadcast school concerts that could be downloaded from the school district website. And we as taxpayers shouldn’t be recruiting people to create random creative content when we have public information that needs to be shared more easily. We shouldn’t be funding private media, but there could be ways of providing information that would allow all the media some savings in equipment and staffing costs.
    No sense dwelling on building a cable television production system that’s already obsolete when we can have a multi-media platform all can use.

    December 30, 2008
  41. Ray Cox said:

    I have to admit that getting accurate information about our local TV station work is, or at least, has been, very difficult. In 2003 while serving on the House Regulated Industries committee I thought it would be good for me to get information about our local station to understand local issues better. It was impossible. Then Administrator Susan Hoyt sent me a contract that was over 10 years old, but it was the ‘current’ contract. I asked for approved budgets and the year end financial review….again no luck. I asked for lists of assets….again no luck. I kept up on this through the change to the next administrator and ended up giving up.

    It is my understanding that there is a substantial reserve amount in the cable TV fund. I’m not sure if that is what Paul Hager is referring to, or if there is some separate other fund. I know a significant amount of money flows into the city from cable fees each year. I do not know how the council is handling the contracts, expenditures, etc.

    December 31, 2008
  42. Griff Wigley said:

    Looks like Burnsville and Eagan have been rethinking their public access TV.  (Thx, Ray, for the tip.) See the announcement on the Burnsville/Eagan Community Television website and this article in the Dec. 17 PiPress:

    Burnsville/Eagan / Cable access channel goes away; Two new Comcast stations set to replace BECT

    Hear that ticking?

    It’s the clock running out on Burnsville/Eagan Community Television, which will go off the air Friday. After 23 years of conjoined existence, don’t expect to see any more city council meetings, high school sports or concerts in the park broadcast under the BECT call letters.

    Fans of community and local government programming need not worry, however. Comcast cable customers will notice little, if any, interruption in service, according to the organizers behind two new cable stations that will take BECT’s place by mid-month.

    Rather than continue to co-produce shows with Burnsville, Eagan officials have decided to run Eagan Community Television from the basement of a building on the Thomson Reuters campus.

    The new locale will be “a first-of-its-kind public access facility on a corporate campus,” said city spokesman Tom Garrison, a former KSTP newsman who is heading up the endeavor.

    Garrison said that while BECT had primarily shown events-driven programming, such as park concerts, E-TV aims to attract brand-new programs created by community volunteers, with special emphasis on young people.

    “With an E-TV channel, it would be more participant driven, resident driven,” he said.

    The $443,000 budget for the Eagan station will be covered by Comcast subscribers through public access fees and by Comcast’s franchise fees, which are paid to the city for using public rights of way.

    Burnsville, too, is interested in reinventing its community television, though with more of a student focus.

    Burnsville will broadcast from a new studio under construction at Burnsville Senior High School, allowing greater participation and audio-visual training for student volunteers.

    A new community cable line-up for Comcast channels 14 through 20 began Monday.

    Depending upon which city they live in, Comcast subscribers can watch E-TV or Burnsville programming on Channel 20. New programming from Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District 191 will air on Channel 18.

    January 5, 2009
  43. Griff–Just a little info: When Mark Hotchkiss of the Burnsville/Eagan station spoke to me, he made it seem like the main reason the station was splitting up was because the two city governments hardly ever agreed on the kind of programming they wanted to air. So, the reason for changes at that station might not be the same reasons that could push our station to change.

    The post where I spoke to Hotchkiss: https://locallygrownnorthfield.org/post/7299/

    January 5, 2009
  44. Will Craig said:

    Burnsville’s new studio will be operational by mid-January.

    January 5, 2009
  45. Griff Wigley said:

    I’m copying/pasting a comment by John Thomas to this message thread

    What if some of these Cable TV funds were utilized to buy another server for the city, as well as a couple of digital video cameras that could be checked out by residents.

    All of this digital video could be stored on the cities server, along with city council meetings, and any other meetings. Mary and council members could do videos to their constituents, (ala Obama and You-Tube) and folks could also put up School concerts, sporting events, and other content.

    NTV could be linked to pull and run content on a schedule. Enable the community to utilize and develop content for community television.

    The high schools and ARTECH could get involved in television production, and edit and assist with programming.

    There are so many resources that could be recorded and presented.

    I challenge you to take a look at Channel 12 and Channel 16 NTV and compare it against what LakeVille does on Channel 22. The model is similar, but Lakeville has a better infrastructure, and more folks producing low or no cost content.

    Since it would be in digital format, it could be broadcast, or as it is sitting on server, media resources or websites, or blogs could link to it as well.

    Think about these things:

    1. Welcome to Northfield videos.

    2. Tourism videos

    3. Video press releases

    4. Community events for shut ins.

    5. Video classes for seniors.

    6. Library programs, language classes.

    7. Gardening classes, composting classes, how to classes.

    8. Public Works video how to’s

    9. Explanations of various ordinances.

    10. Involvement of the NCRC and Senior Center for classes, etc.

    11. Video tours of “Shovel Ready” development sites.

    I am just shooting off the cuff, but think of the content that could be put out there.

    These things could also be on the city website, and viewed on an “On-Demand” basis.

    Community television is created by the community, for the community, and should be funded with the taxes paid by the community. These funds should not be going to the general fund, or just sitting in a bucket for years and years, waiting for a project to come along.

    Instead of keeping NTV minimalistic and run by a single source, lets give him some content, and some assistance to grow! 😎

    The technology is here. The bandwidth is here. We have a great IT director, and we have funds in the cable pool. All we need is a concept, a plan, a goal, and some approvals… and it can happen.

    There are lots of geeky people in this town that I am sure would like to serve on a council appointed board to help this project move forward.

    Its not all about blogs, or websites, or any one media… its about putting content out there, and allowing the city to engage its residents while leveraging new technologies. Northfield with its academic community and Internet2 infrastructure running through town should be a LEADER of technology utilization…

    January 7, 2009
  46. John S. Thomas said:


    The company I work for has contracted with a third party storage vendor for all of its digitial video and training material storage.

    The storage space is massive, the bandwidth close to unlimited, and the price is ridiculously low. The “dashboard” even provides metrics as to what was viewed, how often, and from where.

    This might be a second solution instead of Northfield owning its own streaming media content server. All that would be needed is a purchase order, and a good upload connection for the FTP upload.

    There are SO many ways to do this. It would just take a group of folks to go into a room, do a design session, and come up with a plan.

    Thanks for posting this over… I completely forgot about this thread when I was posting to the other discussion.

    January 7, 2009
  47. John S. Thomas said:

    Eagan is moving thier CTV to the T-R campus? VERY interesting collaboration. That is like a very small minnow swimming with a very large whale.

    Thompson West was already a very large company, and now with the merger with Reuters, Thomson Reuters is the world’s largest international multimedia news agency.

    The technology infrastructure for that location has to be massive. It will be interesting to see what Eagan does with this pubic/private relationship.

    January 7, 2009
  48. Leonard Witt said:

    Hi All:

    When I first came up the with the Rep J concept, I thought that the journalist might do pure journalistic reporting, but at times do a White Paper.

    Is it time for Bonnie, to start collecting solution oriented material with the community feeding her information as Jerry did in #47?

    Have a few alternative solutions that might help everyone involved better understand the possibilities for NTV.

    Then Bonnie writes her conclusion, but others might offer their own alternative conclusions.

    January 7, 2009
  49. Leonard Witt said:

    Oops, meant John in #47.

    January 7, 2009
  50. With this story the “problem” is not clear cut and so the solutions even less so.

    It seems the community has some decisions to make about NTV and the use of Cable TV Fund dollars, but there is almost nothing pressing the City Council or Paul Hager to make those decisions pronto.

    I would like to believe that I am one part of moving interested members in the community toward decision making by gathering information for them and stimulating discussion.

    However, by doing my job as a RepJ reporter, I am just one part of a larger process. It’s up to strong supporters of public television (are you out there?) and, to some extent, the city government to set priorities and goals and a plan to reach them.

    As Melissa Reader, IT director for the city, put it to me this morning, oftentimes efforts like public access television stations rely on a “champion:” One energetic soul who is skilled at building and maintaining volunteer support. Paul Hager told me he would be willing to hand things off. Any takers?

    January 8, 2009
  51. Anne Bretts said:

    Bonnie, as I said on another thread, I think the first step is for the city to provide a short summary of:
    1. what the city is doing now in its website, NTV, etc. and what that costs.
    2. what money is available each year from the cable access money and how it can be used under the law.
    3. what is on the city’s IT and communications agenda for improving or expanding its operations.

    If people know what can be done, they might be interested in working on the possibilities. There are few things more frustrating than asking people to step forward and then telling them that there’s no money or no legal ability to move forward.
    I think waiting for one person to come forward runs the risk of one vocal but narrow view to control what should be a community process. The summary could be sent to Northfield.org, KYMN, the News, the League of Women Voters, the colleges, anyone who’s already involved in communications/media. That’s certainly not the whole solution, but it’s a good start.

    January 8, 2009
  52. Anne Bretts said:

    BTW, this really isn’t a ‘problem’ but a wonderful opportunity. The lack of an established NTV bureaucracy and inventory of equipment and studio space makes it even easier to really create something new and wonderful incorporating all kinds of media and all parts of the community.
    It’s all very exciting.

    January 8, 2009
  53. Agreed Anne. Melissa Reader gave me some answers to those questions today…more to come.

    January 8, 2009
  54. Oops, I’ve been misspelling her name, it’s Melissa Reeder, two “e’s.”

    January 8, 2009

Leave a Reply