Accessing the future of community television | AspenTimes.com

Accessing the future of community television

Lupe Hernandez films classmate Daniel Tellez during a class at Cardondale Middle School. (Jordan Curet/Aspen Times Weekly)

Steve Kaufman thinks television as we know it is a dinosaur.It’s an odd revelation from a man who founded a community access TV station in the midvalley just three years ago. But instead of being bummed, Kaufman is embracing the media revolution that is starting to percolate.

Kaufman is executive director of Access Roaring Fork, a nonprofit organization dedicated to media arts and education. He believes the future of community access is via the Internet, not television.That message rang clear at a recent national conference for community access TV officials, where the message there was: “Keep TV in your rearview mirror,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman needs little coaxing. His organization undertakes a variety of projects designed to help people in the community spread their message. Right now, one of the most visible outlets is Channel 17 in the Basalt and El Jebel area. The station airs Basalt Town Council meetings, local civic and sporting events, and provides an outlet for other local programming as long as it fits local standard. Kaufman also tries to mix in outside programming that provides a voice not as easily accessible in mainstream media.”What you see on the TV station is left of center because the [Bush] administration is right of center,” he said.Channel 17 is on the air 24 hours per day, seven days per week. But airing shows and TV itself isn’t really where Kaufman’s heart lies.”Even though we run a TV station, it’s not part of our core mission,” he said. “Right now it’s a financial drain.”

Kaufman believes the Internet will play an increasingly important role as a forum for people to deliver messages, even on the local community access level. Life today centers on tapping into information on demand, be it the latest news about the war in Iraq to more trivial matters such as your favorite baseball team’s offseason maneuvers. Many kids today spend less time watching television and more time messing around with their computers, Kaufman said.So Access Roaring Fork pursues a mission geared toward kids. It tries to teach them the skills they need to get their own messages out; for kids who are really interested, the organization provides training that helps them produce commercial-quality multimedia work.Some kids in Basalt and Carbondale are happy just learning how to use a video camera for a pet project, like filming their friends pulling off sick tricks in the Buttermilk terrain park. Kaufman trains them on camerawork, downloading video, editing the film, mixing in music, and then posting the completed piece on the Internet. Kids can film at the terrain park during the day or record a special event at school, and post it that night so their friends can check it out on demand.

The brightest kids even have an opportunity to earn money through work Access Roaring Fork undertakes. Realtors, for example, are calling with increasing frequency for video clips that showcase property, which they use on the Internet as a sales tool.In a different project, Kaufman oversaw a team that filmed local singer, songwriter and storyteller Tom Paxton at a recent Spellbinder performance, which teaches young kids about the magic of storytelling. Kaufman estimates his crew spent 15 hours filming, editing and downloading what will be an eight-minute performance on Google video.Access Roaring Fork melds together a couple of ideas in the pursuit of its unique mission. It wants to provide an after-school alternative, and it wants to give kids the tools they need to get their message out.Kaufman said mountains of research show that kids who remain idle after school are more likely to get into trouble. In Carbondale, in particular, he noticed a large number of kids with nothing to do after school because their parents are working.

So Kaufman started an after-school program in cooperation with the Carbondale Middle School. Access Roaring Fork purchased 10 digital cameras and five digital video cameras for the class. The students use photo- and video-editing software, as well as Internet communications software.They use 10 computers that were built by Basalt and Carbondale students trained by Access Roaring Fork.The after-school program, called Bridges, has a large number of Latino students. Kaufman hopes it helps build cultural understanding by inspiring kids from all backgrounds to use the technology to share their cultures.Access Roaring Fork works with kids in a variety of other ways, but the mission is always the same – providing kids with an alternative activity and giving them the chance to learn new skills that can be used to express themselves.

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Kaufman trains kids to use video cameras and then pays them to film Basalt Town Council meetings. At any given time, Kaufman has two dozen kids who can help with camerawork and video production. Half of them are good, and half of those are “very good,” he said.He hires the good ones to help on the projects like video clips for real estate agents and artists. It’s a great alternative to slinging burgers at Wendy’s. “This is a great earned income side,” he said.The Access Roaring Fork lab in El Jebel, a room jammed with an impressive stock of computer equipment, is generally always open to kids working on video projects. Kaufman said he seems to live there, and he is always available to help.In addition to the Bridges program at Carbondale Middle School, Access Roaring Fork leads a similar program at Basalt Middle School and a class at Basalt High School, which is tailored to Latinos who are learning English. Kaufman is teaching the classes with Walter Gallacher, a former dean at Colorado Mountain College, and Matt McBrayer, a recent high school graduate whom Kaufman considers one of the most brilliant technological wizards.

According to Kaufman, Access Roaring Fork depends on grants and private donations to sustain its programs; the organization is trying to raise an additional $50,000 this year to cover increased administrative costs and the new computers, cameras and materials, as well as college scholarships for the organization’s student volunteers.For more information about Access Roaring Fork, contact Kaufman at 963-5646 or e-mailing arfork@gmail.com.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is scondon@aspentimes.com