Leaders of the Evanston Community Media Center say they’re looking closely at alternatives for the group’s future in the face of a sharp budget cut proposed by the city manager.

ECMC’s executive director, Steve Bartlebaugh, says the group is talking with officials at Evanston Township High School about moving into the school’s studio facilities and also talking to the city about possibly relocating to the Civic Center or the Evanston Public Library.

Bartlebaugh says there’s a lot of pressure to find a solution quickly, before the City Council next month adopts a budget for the fiscal year that starts March 1.

The media center now pays $95,000 a year in rent for its offices and studio space, nearly half the $200,000 City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz has proposed cutting from its city subsidy. In all, the center receives about $440,000 a year from the city, nearly 90 percent of its total annual revenue.

Bartlebaugh says the group had talks about moving to the high school before, in 2002, but the new school administration seems more interested in the idea now and one of the school’s media staffers came from Massachusetts, where, he said, such alliances between a public access media group and local school systems are fairly common.

He said talks so far with the library have been rather preliminary, but that among the options being considered are relocating to space on the library’s third floor.

Image from front page of ECMC website predicting doom if budget ax falls. 

Bartlebaugh says efforts to generate revenue for the media center have been hampered by uncertainty about the tax treatment of money it might generate by renting out its facilities.

He says that there’s also concern about whether there’d be a sufficient market among commercial users for the center’s services.

Currently, he said, the group only rents its facility to other non-profit organizations “that share a similar mission.”

“And we don’t to a lot of rentals because of that,” Bartlebaugh added.

He said there haven’t been any rentals of the studio facility in the past year.

The media center’s policies state that “use of the facility is solely for the purpose of creating programming for use on the Evanston cable access channels and ECMC related purposes.”

For the past several weeks ECMC has been letting a privately-owned website, Evanston Online, produce a daily live newscast from its studios at no charge. The program currently does not air on the cable access channel.

Bartlebaugh says ECMC’s board granted a waiver from the rules for the news show, on the understanding that within a few more weeks, once some technical issues are resolved, the program would be made available on the cable access channel.

The board also has highly restrictive rules about advertising or underwriting credits on programs aired on the public access channel that limit its ability to generate revenue.

The rules, far more restrictive than those now used in over-the-air public broadcasting, bar the use of pictures of commercial establishments providing underwriting, the use of company slogans or any advertising copy.

“We’re kind of like what PBS was in the 1970s,” Bartlebaugh said, adding that he “wouldn’t be surprised” to see the board consider some revisions to the underwriting rules as it looks for new revenue sources.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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