Martha’s Vineyard Community television undergoes shakeup

Martha’s Vineyard Community television undergoes shakeup

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Both MVTV executive director Julienne Turner and MVTV founder and board chairman Denys Wortman resigned at the October 4 meeting of the 13-member MVTV board.

The resignations of two leaders of the Island’s public access network are tied to an internal debate over the station’s mission and direction, several board members said in recent conversations.

Ms. Turner resigned after 15 months as chief executive. Mr. Wortman helped start the station and served as chairman for the past nine years.

Vice-chairman Ann Bassett is now serving as interim chairman, until a November 1 meeting, at which, she said, a new chairman is expected to be elected.

“I can’t say enough good things about the contributions Denny (Wortman) and Julie have made to MVTV. Denny was a founding force and helped craft this station to what it is today.

“Julie has been a complete professional and accomplished a lot in her time here. We have a candidate who we believe will step in. I am willing to serve in the interim, but I am not a candidate.

“Julie is taking the opportunity to move on to the next phase of her career, and we are moving on as well. We are discussing some changes in the structure of the organization, and we’ll announce them in the next few weeks,” Mr. Bassett said.

Unexpected

“The resignations were unexpected but followed months of turmoil at the station,” Jonathan Revere, an eight-year board member, said, but he refused to elaborate.

Several board members who asked not to be identified, said that turmoil has resulted from an internal debate about whether the station existed to be solely a community resource for programming or if it should take on an advocacy role.

The issues came to a head in connection with MVTV’s decision to produce “We Are The Island,” a documentary series about Island issues, which has yet to air.

As one board member sees it, MVTV exists to provide access, equipment, and training for residents who wish to produce programming. Its mission is not to produce programming or advocate on behalf of issues.

The “We Are The Island” series was a joint project between MVTV and the Donors Collaborative (TDC), a supporter of Island nonprofits. The effort was coordinated by Chuck Hughes of West Tisbury, who recruited volunteer reporters, to work on specific segments.

Peter Temple, TDC executive director and a veteran television producer, directed the shows, which were filmed by former MVTV videographer Carl Holt.

Will the shows be shown on MVTV?

“The completed shows will be aired, certainly. They are important. We don’t know the details now,” Ms. Bassett said.

Ms. Bassett said the board has learned a lesson. “You know, sometimes on the Island, we are casual in our approach to things, and as a result, I’m not sure Julie really knew what she was signing up for, particularly with the ‘Island’ series. Over the summer, we have rewritten our bylaws and policies to be very clear. I think this process has brought us all together. It’s been unifying,” she said.

This week, Mr. Temple agreed that the project had overwhelmed the resources available from MVTV.

“The model we thought would work didn’t work. It was too consuming. So we stopped, finished the three stories we’d worked on. We need to assess how to go forward. It’s a great idea — how to do it is the trick,” he said.

Some board members said privately that a few longtime MVTV friends, volunteers, and program creators had felt marginalized as resources, staff, and equipment used for production of the series became more difficult to obtain.

Great job

Board members, speaking privately, lauded Ms. Turner’s work during her brief tenure, including launching outreach initiatives to expand membership, hosting a series of Island-wide public comment meetings, as well as hiring a public interest consulting group to gather information for the ongoing license renewal negotiations with Comcast, the Island’s cable TV provider.

Mr. Wortman said this week that he had considered stepping down for some time. “I guess you could say Julie’s resignation took the air out of my balloon. And it’s time for someone else to step in and do the driving. I’m 73, and a lot of other things need my attention,” he said.

Ms. Turner gave the board a three-month notice and plans to continue with unfinished projects, including unedited ‘We Are The Island’ segments on housing, food, and senior issues, until January 3, 2012.

“My reasons for leaving are my own, and I ask the community to respect that. The station has made tremendous growth in past 15 years, and with the board’s leadership MVTV will continue to grow as a real resource for the community,” Ms. Turner said.

Ms. Turner said she intends to take some time to regroup before her next career move.

“I’m most proud of the efficiencies we’ve brought to the operation. We are more professional and efficient. We’re a very passionate grass-roots organization, to which we’ve added more professionalism. One of the benefits of efficiency is that operations don’t need more staff,” she said.

With regard to funding, she said, “It looks like the five percent revenue share from Comcast will continue. Across the country, the share percentage has declined precipitously. That puts stations in competition with other fundraising organizations. A lot of stations have gone under. That’s not the case here,” she said.

MVTV formed in 2002. It is funded under terms of the current license agreement with Comcast, the Island’s cable provider. Under the terms of the existing contract, Comcast pays the towns five percent of the cable television revenues it receives annually from an estimated 10,000 Island subscribers. That total has been about $400,000, based on Comcast’s annual Island cable revenues of $8 million in recent years.

The revenues are used by MVTV to operate three public access channels (Channels 13,14, and 15) on the Comcast system here, for public, education, and government affairs. Cable service licensees are required by federal communications law to provide public access channels. Comcast also provides capital funds and equipment to support MVTV and to provide other services, such as remote broadcast locations in the six towns. Massachusetts law requires that the funds may be used only for public access TV.

Comcast and the six Island towns are in the final stages of negotiating a 10-year license renewal. While the terms of the deal are not final — they are expected by mid-November — Comcast to date has agreed to provide five per cent of its annual Island cable revenue for use by MVTV. That amount, currently at $400,000 a year, is estimated to double during the contract term as prices and the customer base increase.