For most of my adult life, I have been a walking billboard for media access. A week doesn’t go buy that someone stops me to tell me a story that ends with the question: “How do I get my story on TV?”
Some of the stories are heartbreaking. Some of the stories expose government oppression or judicial injustice. Some tell the story of fear in a crime-ridden area. They are stories that should be told.
But at a time when TV news ratings are at a record low and managers are trying to figure out how to hold on to every viewer, these stories don’t get told.
I can’t tell you how many times I have pitched stories about the homeless, or the prison system or a failing school only to be told that a mom in the suburbs doesn’t care about those stories. The fear is that someone in the key demographic, women between the ages of 25-54, might click the remote if they see a story that doesn’t affect them. And so TV news is filled with weather, health, celebrity and consumer news with little room for neighborhood and personal stories that need to be told.
I don’t explain that every time someone asks. I give the number of a television assignment desk with full knowledge they will probably get an intern who will listen but never pass on the story.
But things have changed. The Internet has leveled the playing field. We all can be journalists. We all can write, produce and publish our own stories for the world to see. There is a revolt in the world against the select few who control the media. Frustrated with state controlled and/or incompetent media, citizen journalists have risen up through the web in Asia and Africa armed with the truth and unafraid to tell it.
There is no reason that cannot happen here. So now when someone asks me how to get his or her story told, I have a simple answer: Tell it yourself.
If you are intimidated by the technology or don’t posses the equipment to shoot and edit a story that could potentially go viral, there is an incredible resource in Philadelphia called PhillyCAM, which stands for Philadelphia Community Access Media. For the modest membership fee of $25 a year, you get training, access to workshops, access to a studio, cameras, lighting and Final Cut Pro editing. Everything you need to package your story and get it heard.
PhillyCAM is the most amazing resource in Philadelphia that most people don’t know about. Laura Deutch, PhillyCAM’s education and production coordinator couldn’t be more proud that she is apart of a non-profit that gives a voice to those who need to be heard. “We get calls from people who say ‘you are an answer to my prayers.’”
In the past year, young and old have come to PhillyCAM to produce stories on violence in North Philadelphia neighborhoods; students who didn’t drop out, but were pushed out of Philadelphia Schools, and the ridiculously high incarceration rate of black teenagers. The stories are powerful and passionate, often told in poems and art from those directly affected. They are stories that would never make it on commercial TV news. (See PhillyCAM's Vimeo page for examples of their work.)
PhillyCAM’s studios are at 699 Ranstead Street. The window front is on Seventh Street between Market and Chestnut, a block away from the Liberty Bell. As the name indicates, PhillyCAM also has access to cable channels on Comcast and Verizon. You can submit the idea for an interview show, a documentary or a story. There are also workshops on how to showcase your work on the Internet.
Many of the people who take the workshops are working journalists who need to learn new skills in the new multimedia landscape of the Internet.
But everyone has at least one story to tell. Now you can write it, shoot it, edit it, publish it and market it yourself. I am looking forward to the next time someone pitches me a story. Instead of giving them the number to the dead end of an assignment desk, I will give them the number to a path forward: PhillyCAM, 267-639-5481.
If you have a story to tell, tell it yourself.
Follow @LarryMendte on Twitter.