Program Report: The People’s Channel – Chad Johnson

When Carver Weaver introduced Chad Johnson, the Executive Director of The People’s Channel and Durham Community Media, I admit that I was a little skeptical about the viability or necessity of “public access” television. The mission statement offered states that “For a democratic society to function properly, citizens must participate in their government, be educated to think critically and be able to freely communicate their ideas.”

Who could disagree with that? The trick is to combine and encourage all three. The technology of communicating has advanced so rapidly that any fool with a smart phone or an ipad, can shoot video, edit it, put it on YouTube and through sheer outrageousness draw more attention than really critical thinking. Besides, who’s teaching that?

The interesting thing about public access television though is the very openness of it. This runs counter to the trend in TV where channels focus on very narrow niches. In politics MSNBC has a devoted audience on the left and Fox News has a very devoted audience on the right. If you watched a half hour of one and then a half hour of the other you would think they were broadcasting to two different planets. There are channels for every niche, cooking, fashion, shopping, science, history, whatever. On the other hand Mr. Johnson described their motto as “First come, First Serve, First Amendment” which means you could see just about anything, anytime.

So how do you sustain an operation like this? Mr. Johnson described their model as “Learn, Create and Watch.” The learning part comes in the form of using the equipment and software in their studio to teach people how to shoot and edit video that can be broadcast. The prices are reasonable and it caught my interest because a coming trend in real estate, my field, is creating property videos, especially for high end properties. These are prominent in Australia and on our west coast and are moving this way. A blog I follow on real estate photography now discusses video as much as still photography. Costs for these services at The People’s Channel studios are reasonable and can be offset by volunteer service.

Their studios and equipment can also be used to create the productions. It also turns out there are niches that Mr. Johnson has found worth approaching, especially non-profits or other organizations that can only afford or only need a limited amount of exposure. When I turned on the Durham channel while writing this, it was rocking with gospel music that was followed by a sermon. The camera wasn’t especially steady but the music sounded great and it probably serves the purpose of bringing the community of this church closer together, which is not much different than what we’re trying to do by invigorating our website and other communications tools here in the Rotary Club.  In introducing Mr. Johnson, Carver mentioned that Durham Tech was exploring use of this channel.

It’s kind of a shame that the audience was unusually small for this presentation because we had been warned that Vice President Biden’s rally across the street at the Armory might disrupt traffic and parking.  Now if I’d thought about it, I would have taken the camera I used to shoot this picture, set it to record video and posted the results on YouTube or given the file to Mr. Johnson to broadcast and everyone could have watched it at their leisure. It’s getting that easy.

Mr. Johnson mentioned the organization’s new website at Like our new website there are still some rough spots and it seems to work better in Internet Explorer but it provides plenty of information about their background and role in a democratic society.


 Submitted by Jay Zenner

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