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 V.20 No.44 | November 3 - 9, 2011 

Newscity

End Quote?

Public access operator loses its contract with the city after 30 years

Erica Jones, community outreach coordinator for Quote ... Unquote, Inc.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Erica Jones, community outreach coordinator for Quote ... Unquote, Inc.
Friday morning was a bad one for Erica Jones.

She's the community outreach coordinator for Quote ... Unquote, Inc., the operator of public access channel 27 and Encantada channel 26.

On Friday, Oct. 21, city officials showed up at QUQ's headquarters to inventory equipment and deliver a message: The nonprofit had lost its contract after 30 years. "That's how the staff found out," Jones says. "I got to the station and there were people at the door waiting."

Executive Director Steve Ranieri was home recovering from surgery when his employees unlocked the doors for the city officials. "The staff felt like it was being raided," he says. "Some of them felt nervous and scared. I think it was a police mentality, and it's totally unjustified."

The QUQ board discusses the loss of the contract to operate Albuquerque’s public access TV channels on Monday, Oct. 31.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
The QUQ board discusses the loss of the contract to operate Albuquerque’s public access TV channels on Monday, Oct. 31.
The blow came less than 48 hours after QUQ hosted a party offering the public a tour of its new Downtown facility and to celebrate three decades of service. The nonprofit's mission is to protect First Amendment rights and be a media center for the community, according to its website.

On Wednesday, Oct. 26, people gathered at the new studios and walked through the process of making a television show. Guides emphasized that anyone could pitch a show and put in the work to get it on the air.

Every so often, QUQ had to re-apply for the contract to operate channels 26 and 27. The nonprofit made its pitches along with a host of other potential operators. A committee would evaluate the submissions and award scores.

In a review of QUQ’s application dated Tuesday, Oct. 18, the committee argued that the nonprofit made too many promises and loaded up its submission with info. QUQ was also criticized for trying to be so widely involved in the community, and the committee asked whether that goal would take away from quality on the two channels.

Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Usually, Ranieri says, experience is given a lot of weight. He's been with QUQ for 16 years, so he's gone through this process a lot. This time around, the general approach to running the channels was weighted more heavily, which impacted QUQ more than anyone else. The five-year contract was awarded to uPUBLIC, whose bid, according to city documents, was the highest of all the applicants. The company asked for $387,000 for its first year, while QUQ asked for $270,000. Still, those dollar amounts are up for negotiation with the city, even though the contract has been awarded.

"They have zero experience in running a channel," Ranieri says. "And they asked for the most money." He also points out that uPUBLIC has held the contract for Albuquerque’s defunct education channel for about a year but hasn't created any shows.

Rick Metz, project coordinator for uPUBLIC, says the company took over the education channel in January, but there was no equipment or programming for it. He points out that there isn’t any money attached to the contract for the channel, which went off the air after city budget cuts in 2009. He says uPUBLIC went to the city and offered to dust off the idea. So Metz and his team have spent these last months trying order gear for high-definition digital programming.

uPUBLIC has been around since 2005 and does community-based projects in short film, TV and webisodes, he says. Along with other companies, uPUBLIC embarked upon "Rock This Restaurant," a contest for a local restaurant in need of a makeover. More than 60,000 people voted, he says, and the winner was Mr. Powdrell's Barbecue House on Central. In 2008, there was a fire in the restaurant. It was reopened about a year ago, after the project renovated the place. The show aired on FOX.

The company aims to "up the game on quality" for channels 26 and 27, says Metz. "We're going to do highly produced shows," he says, "shows that are local but maybe don't look like they're local." QUQ's done a lot of great things, he adds, but uPUBLIC is ready to "take it to the next level" by bringing in the latest and greatest tools, making use of social media and organizing community events. For Metz, it's about quality and high production value.

For Ranieri, it's about free speech. He says for the last several months, QUQ's been catching flack from the city about content on the public access channel. "They basically don't seem to get it, in terms of who we are and what we do, what our mission is. They don't like some of the programming because it's controversial." Shows have also been criticized for having a low technical quality. "That's not what public access is about. It's about opportunity. It's about being included. It's about everyone being able to say what they want to say." People who want to create shows should be able to do it without censorship from the city, he adds.

Metz says uPUBLIC will help people get programming on the air, too. But the company plans to fill in the gaps of knowledge during the process, he says. "We would like to do it differently. Rather than say, ‘Anyone who knows how to do the basics, you can do a show,’ we'll say, 'Hey, let's do a show and make it awesome.' ” If the quality is better, he adds, more people will tune in.

Ranieri says there were other irregularities in the contract process, and QUQ will appeal the decision. "It was simply a formality," he says. "They had it all set up ahead of time who they were going to give the contract to, and it was uPUBLIC." For instance, he says, QUQ was the only group to meet the submission deadline, so the deadline was extended. Plus, he adds, two people on the committee who awarded the contract also compete with QUQ for funds throughout the year. "It basically makes the whole purchasing process a farce."

 
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