Column: What to Watch – Budget Work Session

Channel 16 broadcast of council session May 11 at 7 p.m.

At the May 4 city council meeting, amongst all the public commentary on Mack pool, the Leslie Science and Nature Center, the Ann Arbor Senior Center, Project Grow, the transportation plan, and the airport runway extension were some remarks about the Community Television Network.

In the context of the current budget discussions and the closing of the Ann Arbor News, Paul Bancel went to the podium and asked city council to think about ways to make CTN relevant. One concrete suggestion he had was to make sure some public bodies who do not currently meet in front of CTN cameras have their meetings recorded: Downtown Development Authority board (they’re working on it), the library board, and the public art commission. The board of the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority could be added to the list.

But part of making community television relevant entails an understanding by the community of what it offers. If council has a role to play in making CTN relevant, then so does the community.

For readers who’d like an analysis, a CTN case study by University of Michigan student – and occasional Chronicle commenter – Matt Hampel is compelling reading. For readers who haven’t watched anything on CTN in a while, or who’ve never watched an episode of an Ann Arbor City Council meeting, we’d suggest that tonight’s a good night for viewing.

On Channel 16, May 11, at 7 p.m. CTN will broadcast the city council’s work session on the city budget. Their vote on the budget will take place the following week, May 18.

Last week, live broadcast of public meetings was interrupted due to a cable cut related to the new municipal building construction.  However, Greg McDonald, assistant manager for the city government productions at CTN, spoke to The Chronicle early this afternoon (Monday, May 11), and reported that the connection had been restored. Though there is no signal to the monitor inside the council chambers, the feed out to CTN studios on South Industrial is again working.

After watching the meeting live or later online using CTN’s video on demand feature, perhaps Chronicle readers will be in a better position to think of ways to make CTN more relevant.

Here at The Chronicle, we’re contemplating a slightly different way to approach our meeting coverage to make it somewhat more timely. Tonight at the work session, instead of taking notes on a local laptop hard drive, we’ll try Twittering them live on A2ChronicleMeet. One possible result is that the meeting’s Twitter feed, when cleaned up – but with time-stamp entries left intact – could provide useful time codes for finding content in CTN’s recorded broadcast. It could be a way for viewers of the online stream to orient themselves and find specific places in the video when action at council occurred  – that feature is not currently provided with CTN’s video on demand feature, which allows viewing of the meetings over the web.

That feature might be provided soon by CTN itself. According to McDonald, efforts are underway to integrate the meeting minutes information into the video stream. The technician in charge of the meeting already inserts the subtitles of agenda item numbers into the stream. Making it easier for users to navigate the online video would be a good step forward.


  1. May 11, 2009 at 6:11 pm | permalink

    Paul Bancel has a great idea. We should demand from our elected officials that all public meetings are recorded. Government is as good as what were are willing to accept. Watching committees might open some eyes on how much volunteer work it takes to effectively run the business of the City.

  2. By Susan
    May 11, 2009 at 9:26 pm | permalink

    Dang it. Are you going to make me sign up for Twitter? I’m old and stubborn and I’ve been refusing to tweet.

  3. By Dave Askins
    May 11, 2009 at 10:37 pm | permalink

    Re: [2] While you maintain that you are old and stubborn, your use of a Gravatar undermines that contention. ;-)

    It’s not our intent that you must sign up for Twitter. You can view the stream without having an account. And the idea is that we’ll take that Twittered description of the meeting and clean it up for publication — turned around relatively quickly.

    Tonight’s effort: FAIL. Twitter has a limit, which I exceeded. We may have to rethink that, or else give a coarser-grained description than what I did tonight.

  4. May 12, 2009 at 12:02 pm | permalink

    CTN is a great service, but they’ve fallen behind the curve. In the last two years, they haven’t paused to consider where they’re going with their $1.4 Million budget. In my report, I put together a series of recommendations (, including:

    1) Creating a full-featured video distribution system that lets us download the videos of our City Council meetings for reuse and redistribution. Among many other uses, this would let groups like the Chronicle store clips in their meeting reports. (“want more detail? click play to hear the full dialog”)

    2) Consulting with City officials, staff, and local experts to develop a long-range plan to direct CTN’s actions online and offline. Currently, no such plan exists.

    3) Creating a citizen’s advisory board that provides the City as a whole with expert advice on all matters relating to information technology and digital government.

  5. By Alan Goldsmith
    May 12, 2009 at 2:05 pm | permalink

    1. Matt I read your study and it’s fascinating you have lots of great points, including abolishing the commission since there seems little left for them to do.
    2. I hope the CTN makes the move to spend the funds needed to make the system link with ATT Uverse.
    3. $1.4 Million on the surface seems to be a great deal of money but I need to take a look at their budget before I have any thoughts.
    4. And it would be valuable if the Arts Commission meetings were broadcast.

  6. May 12, 2009 at 3:36 pm | permalink

    The majority of the budget funds the time of some great, talented staff: link. It takes a lot of hours to make sure meetings are covered, schedule programming, etc.

    My concern is that cable TV is no longer the best mechanism for distributing the content CTN has. It’s an inherently limited resource, don’t want to work my schedule around to see some important but boring city meeting.

    Instead of operating four such channels (most of which are filled with repeats, for several reasons), I hope that CTN will redirect their energy to more current fields: understanding how people get their information about the city, and then producing fewer but more targeted programs to fill this need.

    There’s a lot more that can be done beyond broadcasting meetings. If content restrictions become lighter (that is, if the city releases the videos under, say, a Creative Commons license), citizens can make some of these things happen. Other pieces will need to come from CTN or (more likely) the AADL. Some possibilities: link2 or link3

  7. May 12, 2009 at 11:23 pm | permalink

    Having just read the New Media post about Larry Kestenbaum’s rejoinder to the Michigan Press Association, I have this question: is there any realistic way that the city can post notices that is available to people without use of the internet? If CTN could somehow facilitate this, it would be a big leap.

    I get the city’s emailings. But I have a friend who doesn’t use the internet. She has always used the Sunday paper as the major source of information about agendas, etc. It has been failing her anyway since so many rapid changes take place before the meeting and after copy goes to the newspaper. She needs a low-tech way to get this information. I doubt that the new “paper” will get much printed circulation and don’t know whether she would bother with it. The idea of AADL coordinating with CTN on this is intriguing. Of course, the council agenda could be added to scrolling announcements on cable too.

  8. By LauraB
    May 16, 2009 at 11:37 am | permalink


    A2 lacks television news now and is losing the daily newspaper.

    Could CTN take on the task of being a local television news station that has a reporting staff and daily news programs?

    The morning 8:00 AM and evening 7:00 PM News?