April 1, 2011

Connecting Youth & Community: The Spirit of CAN TV

Jeff McCarter
Founder & Executive Director
Free Spirit Media
The beauty of CAN TV is that it’s local, so you get local feedback. At Free Spirit Media, a youth media training organization, we value that interaction.

Since 2001, our youth have produced a show called HoopsHIGH that runs on CAN TV’s Channel 19 every Saturday from 8 to 10 PM (check it out!). HoopsHIGH features live-to-tape, multi-camera, announced coverage of local high school and park district sporting events. Besides the games coverage, HoopsHIGH serves as a youth journalism vehicle for Free Spirit Media. Students share the hundreds of public service announcements, documentary shorts, and news stories produced in our programs each year.

HoopsHIGH’s two hours represents just a sliver of the 150 hours of local original programming that are produced at CAN TV every week. That’s fifteen times more per week than Chicago’s second-place producer of local original programming, PBS affiliate WTTW.

Just about every day, a young person comes to our program with a story of someone on the bus, at the grocery store, or the like that saw his/her show on CAN TV. Generally, the student has heard encouragement for his/her young talent or gratitude for getting an untold story out. Sometimes s/he hears constructive criticism, like, “you need to enunciate more.” This engagement with the public is one of our greatest teaching tools because it demonstrates to our students that their work is being seen and has the power to impact their world—they know they are not alone.

CAN TV stands apart in its inclusivity. I began my media career in mainstream commercial TV and film production. After some years, I became dissatisfied.  I realized that many voices—whole communities—were being excluded, not just in coverage, but in the whole process of making media. Only part of America was on TV, and rarely was the coverage inclusive—on both the representation and producer sides.

So I decided to go a different direction. I founded Free Spirit Media to help give underserved youth an opportunity to make their own media. Rather than setting them apart, the work of our students connects them to their world. This vibrant exchange between producers and consumers—in the spirit of community, education, youth development, and grassroots communication—is the beauty of CAN TV. It is vital to Free Spirit Media's mission and vital to Chicago.

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