Readers have continued to react to the town of Princeton’s decision to stop funding Princeton Community Television:
To the Editor: In Support of PCTV
I am writing on behalf of the League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area because voters are losing a significant public service.
Since 2010, at the invitation of George McCollough, executive director of PCTV, the league has collaborated to videotape and broadcast league forums. We have covered all Princeton mayoral races and Democratic primary races for Princeton Council, races for Princeton Council and school board, the Mercer County Freeholder and County Executive race of 2011, the 16th Legislative District races of 2011, 2013, and 2015, and the 12th Congressional races of 2014 and 2016.
George McCollough not only videotapes the forums but he adds a title and introductory information and then places the name and website of the candidates on screen as they speak.
In March I wrote to the Mayor and Council about the importance of Princeton Community TV to the league’s mission of informing voters about their candidates. Mayor Liz Lempert kindly assured me that she would find someone else to videotape the league’s forums. But she didn’t say whether the League or municipality would incur fees.
The league does not have the money to hire a videographer or rent the camera, sound, and lighting equipment needed to videotape, polish, and post its forums. One of our members, trained by George McCollough, can videotape, but the league has relied on PCTV to loan us the equipment needed at the forum itself and to do the polishing and posting at the studio. And who will train future videographers? It is not as easy to produce a show as Council implies.
Voters want to watch these forums. I’ve received requests for the broadcast schedule before it’s published because some voters are eager to watch a forum in the comfort of their TV room.
Every year the league’s forums rank among the most-watched programs on Princeton TV in October and November. As to the video, we often garner more than 2,000 voters watching a given race, and an astounding 5,000 voters viewed, at least in part, the Lempert/Woodbridge mayoral debate.
Is it unfair to Princeton that Montgomery can see a 16th Legislative District forum or Lawrence view that of a 12th Congressional? Perhaps. But couldn’t we also frame PCTV’s outreach as a public service beneficial to Princetonians? It has greatly increased the Princeton Area League’s ability to educate voters in municipalities governed by the same elected officials as Princeton.
PCTV has performed a public service to voters since it first suggested broadcasting league forums nine years ago. The loss of PCTV will be devastating to the league’s mission of informing voters about their candidates.
Chrystal Schivell, League of Women Voters of the Princeton Area
Regarding Mayor Lempert’s letter published on the June 12 Town Topics, responding to the defunding of Princeton Community Television: She writes: “Princeton is fortunate to have many community non profits doing important work, but these groups are funded privately, not by tax payers’ dollars. Princeton Community Television should be supporting itself through private fundraising.” I find this misleading.
I would like to clarify that the franchise fee is not all taxpayer money; it is cable TV subscriber money, funds generated by those who have cable subscriptions, it is a percentage of their cable bill, a portion of the company revenue, this is where the funds come from.
The reason behind this paying from cable companies is to balance the installation of privately owned cable in the public right of way; public access is open to the population and is not commercialized.
When Princeton Community Television was initially set up these funds were passed on by the township and borough to the station to support public access programming, a provision of the written agreement.
Eventually the federal law was changed and now provides the option to the municipality to retain a portion or to take all the funds.
For years the passing on of funds continued. This year the town is suspending the passing on of this funding that has nothing to do with taxpayer money.
Mayor Lempert and Council member David Cohen speak about the changes in the world of broadcasting. Now one only needs a phone and YouTube, no need for a TV station. I disagree. Actually, it is now when we live days of truth spinning and blatant fabrication of information that we need the balance we can find through public access.
When the contract expired the town offered a new deal of weaning off the funding over several years plus a fixed amount to be paid to the station for filming and televising municipal meetings. Then they decided to suspend the passing on and leave the station to its own devices and fundraising, paying a “cheaper” fee (worth investigating) to film and post the municipal meetings on the town website.
Lempert and Cohen also said that those fees “will be used for other purposes,” so $232,000 annual funding will be used as property tax relief. Cohen said the property taxes are so painful that the use of these funds for a TV station instead of property tax relief could no longer be justified. Let’s all do the math and calculate the tax relief, shall we? Yes, here comes the chuckle, it is $23 per household.
Princeton Community Television not only distributes content, it also produces a variety of shows with compelling guests that reach a very diverse audience. The subjects of the shows are health, fashion, senior living, food, autism, college, music, a show in Spanish to reach out the Latino community to inform them of resources and organizations available to immigrants, a talk show for teens hosted by teens, PrincetoniaNow that shows events happening in Princeton, and the list goes on. PCTV also televises the League of Women Voters’ political debates and since 2015 through the Community Partners Project teams up film professionals with community organizations such as Princeton Community Housing and Princeton Youth Ballet to produce documentaries. PCTV offers studio space, training, affordable classes, and community service opportunities.
Mayor Lempert and Council members, let’s back down and think this through. Is the $232,000 going to tax relief or to compensate for the lack of revenue of the first months of the new parking system, to cover the costs of taking down the canopy at Route 206, or to pay the consultants needed to clean up the River Road dumping site? Or lawyers’ fees of lawsuits that we are not even aware of? Just wondering.
Sandra J. Bierman, Grover Avenue
Full disclosure: I’m a Princeton TV member and I don’t live in Princeton—and I’m one of the reasons Princeton no longer wants to fund the cable access station. Yet by paying membership dues and fees for classes, and providing content without compensation, my use is certainly an asset, not a cost (and in line with the original bylaws; PCTV founders sought an inclusive community).
Eons ago I studied filmmaking in college. At the time, unless you had a wealthy aunt or uncle willing to front you six figures, it was impossible to make a film. After 36 years in print journalism, and being downsized as an editor in 2010, I still wanted to use my skills to make the public aware of cultural issues. PCTV, where I’ve taken professional level classes in video editing, lighting and documentary production, has enabled me to make numerous short documentaries that have screened at film festivals, arts centers, historical societies and on the station itself.
PCTV provides a community where I can bounce ideas off others and get important feedback, as well as use equipment and seek guidance when needed. George McCollough and Sharyn Murray have infinite patience in helping the legions of producers who come through the door.
Some Princeton Council members have claimed that cable access is no longer necessary with YouTube and Vimeo, but that is a false assertion. PCTV provides curation of its programming–unlike media sharing sites, where anyone can put up a video, George and Sharyn hone the programming. Where else can you see an in-depth interview with Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora, or a documentary about a Trenton High School program that provides prenatal education and parenting skills for teen parents, as well as daycare for their offspring, to enable the parents to stay in school and be good parents? Or a short film about how a drama program at ARC Mercer enriches the lives of those with developmental disabilities? And yes, these are not Princeton-centric topics–we’re all connected as part of a larger community. As a Princeton-based journalist I know Princeton residents are interested in the world around them.
Princeton TV has cache. When you tell subjects that the video will air at PCTV, they are proud to participate.
At a time when the business model for traditional journalism is broken, I would argue that PCTV’s model of community cable access–giving training, equipment and the right to broadcast– is essential for civic dialogue in a democratic society. The current funding formula, which it is paid for by cable franchise fees and doesn’t cost the taxpayer a dime, makes perfect sense. Rather than pull the plug on this asset, let’s celebrate the cultural capital it adds to the region.
Ilene Dube, Princeton Junction
The writer is a regular contributor to U.S. 1.
At a time when funding for the humanities is under attack in Washington, I find it unimaginable the Princeton Council would decide to eliminate money that supports Princeton Community TV.
I live in East Windsor but have always looked to Princeton as the cultural capital of the area. I spend a lot of time there…at concerts, movies, the college, restaurants, shopping and just hanging around. I support the town with my tax dollars.
Princeton has been a town with progressive politics and I find it out of character the town can’t continue the good work of the TV station.
Because of my 50 year career in broadcast news I was asked to do shows on the station. What are those shows? Most are about Princeton that benefits its residents and voters. If you watched one of the shows you would have learned about contra dancing held at the senior center. I recently went through the neighborhood taping real estate for a show I plan on the local housing market. In the works are shows on the Garden Theater, Princeton athletics and others.
Supporting the station benefits the community in ways that can’t necessarily be measured by dollars and cents. It offers people thoughtful, informative, innovative shows that broaden one’s outlook on life. The best thing college did for me was broaden my horizons and that is what Princeton Community TV does.
Steven I. Guggenheim