Recently I got the chance to speak with longtime Electronic Frontier Alliance member Cambridge Community Television (CCTV). Their membership is growing, they’ve got a new Associate Director of Community Relations, Maritza Grooms, and exciting projects are coming down the pike! Maritza took some time to share with EFF how things are looking for CCTV, their upcoming advocacy work, and how people from across the country, not just Massachusetts, can plug-in and support.
Can you share how CCTV Cambridge got started?
Cambridge Community Television is a nonprofit community media organization that formed through the origination of cable television in Cambridge in 1988. CCTV’s mission has evolved over time from providing resources to residents, businesses, and organizations in Cambridge through telecommunication tools and services, to our current mission of nurturing a strong, equitable and diverse community by providing tools and training to foster free speech, civic engagement, and creative expression.
What have been some of the issues you've concentrated on and what were some of your early successes?
Digital equity, access to media training and resources, and giving people a platform to voice their thoughts, feelings, or ideas, have been the issues since the start of PEG (Public, Educational, and Government) Access Media. We implemented a Youth Media Program where teens get paid while developing the skills to become professional media artists that is still going strong today, and have a Foundational Technology program for elders and others who struggle with technology.
Can you shed light on your work through the pandemic and how it impacted the community?
Being fully remote was a challenge for everyone. We kept people informed through our programming, providing the Zoom room for local leaders to address Cambridge residents and businesses, and streaming live town halls and community conversations that provided information about the ongoing pandemic. We provided hotspots, laptops, and iPads for our young people in our Youth Media Program which ended up benefiting entire families who may not have had this technology at home. We continued to provide media training via Zoom as well as our Foundational Tech Lessons for our seniors to help them get situated online in the “new normal.”
Can you tell us about some of your current projects?
Right now, we’re working with community partners and the City of Cambridge to host two new Digital Navigators in 2024.The aim of these Digital Navigators is to assist in bridging the digital divide in Cambridge by assessing the needs of our community and acting as something like a technological social worker. We’re lucky in Cambridge that we have lots of tech—laptops, cameras, hotspots, etcetera—spread around many great local organizations such as CCTV, the Cambridge Public Library, and the Cambridge Senior Center. What we can do better is outreach, assessment and community connection. The navigators will be focused on wellbeing—how can we improve your access to tech in a way that would improve your life and your family’s well-being? We see people getting by with what they have; we want to see them thriving.
Other current projects include expanding access and education around our podcast studio. We’re also expanding our programming and outreach to people who speak languages other than English, like offering media production classes in Haitian-Creole. Finally, we’re working with funders to establish more paid opportunities for creators aged 18-24.
Are you looking to do more advocacy in the future?
We are a big advocate for digital equity in Cambridge and will continue to be a hub in that area. We are also a main collaborator in an advocacy group called CREATE Cambridge. This group of arts and culture organizations got together, and applied for and received ARPA (American Rescue Plan) funding to advocate for the arts in Cambridge. We will regrant directly to artists and creators, and CCTV will lead the effort to create awareness around the challenges artists and arts organizations are facing, such as high rents, lower ticket sales, etcetera. The arts are one of the things that make Cambridge cool so we want to make sure people know how to support and engage with it. Finally, we are always looking for ways to advocate for the community media sector. The revenue model for the sector has always been based on cable subscriptions—with the steep drop in subscription happening across the country, community media needs to find new ways to survive and thrive. We’re doing that work at CCTV and also advocating and educating for the whole sector and the communities who love our spaces and resources.
What are the technological challenges for CCTV Cambridge?
Our infrastructure is aging out. Our last capital campaign was about 12 years ago, so we’re working with cameras, lighting, and other studio technology that is starting to break down. Our playback system that brings programming to our cable channels needs updating, and that will cost multiple thousands of dollars. We’ve continued to invest in certain mobile technology like the equipment our members borrow, but the studios that are also available to our members are becoming outdated. We don’t own our building, so a challenge we face is whether to invest in new technology infrastructure, like lighting grids, studio cameras and other non-sexy systems. If so, where do we find the funding?
Do opportunities exist for people to get involved? How can people contact and support your work?
There are always opportunities for folks to get involved! We’re hiring Teaching Artists for our Youth Media Program which are two newly funded positions through the Shout Syndicate. You can become an intern or apprentice, depending on your skill and experience level. You can become a member with our pay-what-you-can fee structure. And of course, people can always support by making a donation at cctvcambridge.org/support. Follow us on social media @cctvcambridge!