Portland Community Media Chief Executive Officer Sylvia McDaniel (right) and PCM Chief Engineer Ray Larson (left) show off television equipment housed at its cable-access facility. Photo by Jake Thomas
By Jake Thomas
In the minds of many, cable access television is an outlet for quirky and amateurish programming, lacking many of the filters associated with more commercial media outlets.
But Portland Community Media wants you to know that’s it gone beyond that.
Over the last half decade, the local non-profit organization has been working to make sure that no one is left behind in the digital age.
According to a report from the Pew Internet and American Life Project, African Americans and Hispanics are less likely to use digital technologies like the Internet than their white counterparts, which could put them at a distinct disadvantage.
Sylvia McDaniel, PCM’s chief executive officer, explained that this disparity poses a serious impediment to disadvantaged communities as society becomes increasingly reliant on technology. Only communities who have access and understanding of how to use digital tools will prosper, while others are left behind, she said.
“When it comes to jobs, who’s going to get the jobs?” said McDaniel. “The digital divide affects those under-served populations much more than they do anyone else”
McDaniel notes that PCM has a strong youth focus, so that kids who might not have computers at home have opportunities to learn media basics, and perhaps take them home to their parents.
Of the four cable channels PCM operates, one specifically highlights shows produced by kids aged 10-18. While working on the shows, the youth are exposed to software and technology that could help them land jobs in the future.
After young people have completed an introductory cablecast course, kids interested in pursuing a career in media are put on a track to develop specific skills like script writing, and digital editing.
PCM also offers coursework for people wanting to get skills relevant to our increasingly technology-saturated society. People can learn how to use animation programs and other visually-oriented technology to produce features for the web and television. They can also learn about new media technology like Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, and other highly-used Internet mediums.
“We’re really needed more than ever in this economy,” said McDaniel, who has seen people wanting to pick up new skills while the economy is in a slump.
In order to help further bridge the digital divide, PCM aims to bring down the barriers between it and the community it serves. It recently landed a grant to partner with six community organizations like Central Northeast Neighbors to establish “SmartAccess” centers.
McDaniel explained that PCM’s SmartAccess program is meant to directly address community media needs, rather than just assuming PCM knows what those are and hope people will come to them.
At each SmartAccess site, hosted by the community organization, people will have the opportunity to get training in digital technologies and multi-media.
McDaniel points that many of the classes, which range from $65 to $150, are typically more affordable than many other institutions of higher learning.
PCM Chief Engineer Ray Larson stands in the production studio where many of the non-profit’s programs are produced. Photo by Jake Thomas.
“It’s one thing to have a masters in communications, it’s another to have your hands on a camera,” said Ray Larson, chief engineer at PCM.
Larson said that he tries to get people to focus on one aspect of television production that they’re most comfortable with, and work on becoming proficient.
“We try to do more with less,” said Larson of PCM’s facilities, located at 2766 N.E. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which he points out aren’t as huge a commercial television station, but are still up to snuff.
McDaniel explained that many businesses, both for and non-profit, are increasingly relying on new media, particularly video, to get their messages across to the public.
“People want visual communication,” said McDaniel. “Video is what really tells the story.”
McDaniel didn’t have numbers on how many people who have taken classes have gotten jobs, but noted that they would start tracking that in the future.
Mindy Clark, marketing director for Children’s Justice Alliance- which works with the children of incarcerated people, experienced the benefits of PCM first hand. She took a course in multi-media to help revamp her organization’s website with a video telling the stories of three fathers in local penitentiaries.
“It was a huge help to get our organization up to another level,” she said.
Reporting contributed by Amanda Grear