Now that the doors are open, lights on and digital media tools humming, our phone lines ring daily with potential members calling to ask, “what is this PhillyCAM all about?” In case you’ve yet to get the complete rundown from a cousin, uncle, friend or colleague, Philadelphia Community Access Media (PhillyCAM) is one of the newest additions to a national network of community media centers. In October 2009, PhillyCAM officially began cablecasting on the city's public access channels and soon thereafter opened the doors of a start-up location to begin offering media production classes, computer access, equipment check out, and special screening events.
Since our initial start up in 2009, we have grown our membership base by 400%, expanded our course offerings, increased the amount of locally-created content shown on PhillyCAM, and opened the doors of a permanent facility conveniently located in the city's central district. PhillyCAM members travel daily from all parts of the city to gain access to computers, digital video production tools, meeting space and production studios as well as submit programs to run on the channels. With its bright colorful hallways and state-of-the-art studios, it’s safe to say that PhillyCAM’s new facility is far removed from the tired Wayne’s-World-basement stereotype that cable access television is all too often equated.
PhillyCAM has undoubtedly made impressive strides during its early years of existence; however, prior to this period of flight there was a 27-year fight that made all of this possible. Led by the Philadelphia Community Access Coalition—a citywide coalition of activists, organizers and independent media makers- the fight for public access television was a daunting obstacle course filled with everything from legal action to politicians being skeptical of how much freedom citizens would have to express themselves on local TV. It is hard to imagine in a city where freedom of speech is so steeped in its history that it took nearly thirty years of continuous organizing, educating and negotiating to make public access television a reality. Nonetheless due to the undying advocacy of the coalition, the community finally got its due in 2008 when the city government and cable operators finally came together and settled on a local franchise agreement that would define how financial resources and cable channels would be allocated to make PhillyCAM possible.
Like most public, educational and government (P-E-G) stations, PhillyCAM has a contract to receive funding to operate the City's public access channels and production facilities. However, PhillyCAM certainly considers itself to be more than another representation of a traditional P-E-G television station. We take pride in being an organization that provides its members services and community-building experiences that extend far beyond putting quirky shows on cable TV. Thus far, PhillyCAM has built up a reputation for being a place where life-long learners looking for career changes can come to develop resume-quality production skills, youth can come to feel inspired as they create media and showcase their talents, and renowned artists and tech professionals can come to share knowledge about their craft.
We are also proud of the fact that in the past few years we have started to live stream online video content from PhillyCAM's studios and on location at community events. Being able to stream live content and post pre-recorded videos via our website is important as it allows us to reach an audience beyond Philadelphia cable subscribers. One of the most recent live stream programs featured a panel of community leaders addressing the implications of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID Law. The concept to create such a program was developed through collaborative work between PhillyCAM, Prometheus Radio Project and Media Mobilizing Project. We believe this is a primary example of the work we are doing to help non-profits and community organizers create to mobilize and educate citizens.
PhillyCAM currently has over 100 organizational members and plans to continue forging partnerships that will uplift arts, culture and civic engagement initiatives throughout the city. We are especially excited about our youth documentary projects such as Pushouts and Project 2012: Education Apocalypse, which were all made possible through our active participation in the Philadelphia Youth Media Collaborative.
At the core of it all, what has really made PhillyCAM successful during its beginning years has been the full engagement and clear vision of the organization's board of directors, the passion and varied talents of the staff, and most importantly the ever-present enthusiasm from PhillyCAM members. In the long term, we look forward to playing an integral role in pursuing strategies that will ultimately lead to the creation of community-driven communications networks here in Philadelphia and other parts of the country.
Antoine Haywood is PhillyCAM’s Membership and Outreach Director. In 2002, Antoine began working in community media at People TV—Atlanta’s public access television center and relocated to Philadelphia in 2010. He has served on the boards of the Alliance for Community Media, Radio Free Georgia and the Peer Review Board for the Youth Media Reporter.