If Paul Soglin ever stops serving as mayor, he might want to consider a career as a matchmaker.
WYOU Community Television volunteer Barbara Vedder credits Soglin with the idea for a partnership with the Madison Public Library that rescued the volunteer-run station from the brink of disaster. Before relocating to the new Central Library, WYOU was "near death" says Vedder, who is ecstatic about the new partnership.
Before the library collaboration, the 37-year-old station was eviscerated by a loss of public funding, and the programming limped along with a tiny staff of volunteers. "We had to be so vigilant and we were scraping every month, every week, to make sure we could keep afloat," says Vedder. "It was breaking us."
WYOU still maintains a tiny office in the Social Justice Center on Willy Street, but it now broadcasts its signal from the snazzy new library. WYOU volunteers have access to the Media Lab, which Vedder says offers "a beautiful room, all this top-notch equipment, state-of-the-art cameras, computers, editing software, and a green screenâ€¦they have everything that's needed."
WYOU celebrated its new partnership last Wednesday, Jan. 29 in the library's community room. Mayor Soglin spoke, along with other local and national media stalwarts, including The Progressive magazine senior editor Matt Rothschild, WORT operations coordinator Norm Stockwell, and Capital Times associate editor and The Nation correspondent John Nichols. "At a moment when we are witnessing the collapse of so many old-media platforms, the future of journalism will be defined in cities and rural areas across the country by not-for-profit community media outlets like WYOU," Nichols wrote in an email.
Nichols called WYOU a "raw jewel that has been preserved, thanks to the incredible work of Barbara Vedder and others, as well as the visionary response of the Madison Public Library."
Rothschild highlighted the role of the station in the community. "It's where people come together not only to express themselves, but to skill up. And it's open to anyone. It's a public space, like the public library, which Barbara Ehrenreich called socialism at its finest," he said.
Vedder notes that WYOU is the only truly independent public access television channel in Wisconsin; many others have had to merge with governments, which can compromise the stations' independence. "That's crucial to our democracy, crucial for voices to be heard by others," says Vedder. "It's not just talk, it's freedom of expression."
With the financial pressures relieved, Vedder explains that WYOU is looking to expand its programming. She says the station needs more volunteers and welcomes pitches from interested volunteers.
In this age of media conglomerates, let's not wait until we lose another local news source to cherish and support the ones we still have. I've lived here a long time, and I'm still mourning the losses of Feminist Voices, The Madison Insurgent, The Capital Times daily print edition, The Onion, and Dane101, which is shutting down.
But compared to many communities in this FOX News-dominated land, we are lucky. We still have WORT, thank goodness, and I'm thrilled that WYOU is still here. By the way, if you don't have cable -- like me -- you can still watch WYOU online and on cable.