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Media Center vet says its time has passed

John Wefler, a former board member, staffer and volunteer at the Evanston Community Media Center, says the center’s public access function has "just been slowly sliding off people’s radar" for years.

John Wefler, a former board member, staffer and volunteer at the Evanston Community Media Center, says the center’s public access function has "just been slowly sliding off people’s radar" for years.

Wefler says when he started volunteering at the center in 1989, "the whole purpose of public access was to provide editing facilities to people who couldn’t afford their own editing suite."

But now "every computer comes with some kind of video editing software, so it’s much easier these days to create a finished video production."

Wefler says people also used to use the media center as an outlet for their personal creativity and to generate publicity for themselves or an organization they cared about.

"But those functions have mostly been replaced by the web," he says.

"Social media and the internet in general have let a lot of people be creative." Wefler says. "They can blog and post their pictures very easily without having to go through the rigamarole of ECMC."

Wefler was an ECMC staff member from 1999 to 2003.

He says when he was monitoring the service and taking calls from viewers he’d frequently get complaints about problems with picture or sound quality on showings of City Council meetings on the municipal channel.

But nobody ever called to complain, he says, about similar problems that occurred on the public access channel, leading him to conclude that far fewer people watched public access than the government channel.

The government channels, he says, still seem to have relevance. "It’s good to have those channels."

But Wefler, who was on the ECMC board from 2003 to 2008 before resigning because of illness, said the technology for meeting coverage has been made so easy thanks to technology changes that one hourly worker could put the meetings on the air.

Wefler says there was a bit of a craze for public access in the early 1990s when the movie Wayne’s World, about two guys trying to promote their public-access cable show was in theaters.

"But then the YouTube thing happened, with people doing shows in their living rooms, putting on live streaming video to the web. That seems to be the method now, and there are so many more voices available."

Wefler notes that the city is in dire financial straights now, considering cutting funds to mental health services, among other programs.

"You can’t cut those in favor of keeping a public access television station," he says.

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