Peggy Holman’s Catalytic Conversation with Tony Shawcross

The Potential of Open Media

I just had an inspiring conversation with Tony Shawcross about his work with Denver Open Media. In particular, his passion for putting media in the hands of people to tell their own stories came through loud and clear.

I found great parallels in our stories of the challenge in bringing new ideas to established domains. For him, public access, for me, journalism. We talked about the idea of looking for possibilities when you hit a wall.

Tony spoke of his work, saying:
I wanted to help people be their own voice. Particularly those least engaged with commercial media, I wanted them to have the ability to make their own media, to share their perspectives and values.

He’s pursued that mission for the last ten years, winning a Knight News Challenge and ultimately reorganizing his work into the Open Media Foundation. His latest project, bringing Open Media to government takes his work into a new realm. See his Knight News Challenge entry for a great short video:

About Journalism That Matters-Denver

Tony sees the value of a conference like this partially in its potential for finding new ideas through exposure to smart people doing smart things. Mostly he finds such events an opportunity to build relationships.

He’s got a great approach to partnership, saying that he and his team are specialists in the work they’re doing. Rather than replicating the parts that others are better at, he looks for collaborators who are effective in something that relates to what he’s doing.

It’s a great reminder to me that rather than just hosting conferences like the upcoming one in Denver, the face-to-face hosting skills that characterize Journalism That Matters can be useful when an organization or initiative wants to connect people in ways that are about sharing ideas and strengthening connections.

What’s possible for open media?

Tony’s aspiration is to see a public access network flourish. One in which the best content from across the country can be made available to any public access channel. It has the potential to be bigger than UPN or FOX.

With just a little effort, independent stations could band together to share content and develop best practices. For example, when Somali refugees make a great piece in Denver, if it were visible to public access channels in other cities, rather than 5-10 refugees who are making video and no one is seeing them, they can serve the long tail. Tiny niche audiences can see it. Further, the handful of amazing shows in each location would benefit from a larger audience.

The Open Media Foundation has already developed software to make content searchable. It’s all possible. It just requires finding a path forward that helps traditional stations to transition.

Thoughts about our conversation

I’ve done 16 Journalism That Matters gatherings since Stephen Silha, Chris Peck, Cole Campbell, and I got started in 2001. This was one of the most fun pre-conference conversations I’ve had. I think there are two reasons. The first is that I caught Tony’s passion for what he’s doing. That his work has led to such stellar results inspires me. Secondly, we got started about the same time. Discovering some of the parallels in dealing with the traditional system was oddly affirming. There’s something about staying true to your mission in spite of obstacles that I found refreshing.

Thanks Tony!

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