"I'm making a living, I'm getting props from my neighbors, my mom is proud, I have lots of toys to play withI'm working with people who feel like allies in building something special, I work in an environment that is built to enable others to self-actualize, which feels great."-- Tony Shawcross, in an MGP interview, in May 2009
Photo Linked From: http://www.31415926535.net/kf/knc-photos2008/tony_shawcross.jpg
Written by MGP student researcher Nora Crocker, May 2009
In 2008, Shawcross received a $380,000 John S. & James L. Knight Foundation grant.
In January 2004 Tony Shawcross did an interview with Apogee Magazine, entitled "Advice to an 18 Year-old" Through personal anecdotes, he advises those who are contemplating what and who they want to be, to do what they love, regardless of financial pay-off. Shawcross has learned this though trial and error. He now does what he loves and the pay-off has been greater than any sum of money.
Shawcross is the executive director of Denver Open Media, an organization that operates three Public Access TV channels in Denver, Colorado. Through this organization and Deproduction, the video production company that created Denver Open Media, Shawcross works to put the "power of media and technology into the hands of the people."
However, it took some time for Shawcross to realize that he not only should be working in film and television, but that he could be working in film and television, while also making a living. Even though he wanted to study film in college, he and his parents both decided that it would be a better idea for him to study marketing and business administration. He got good grades and in 1998, and when he graduated magnum cum laude from the University of Colorado at Boulder it was with a degree in marketing and business administration.
After graduation, Shawcross started a successful career, managing marketing for an IT company. He spent most of his time working for this corporation and his remaining time spending his pay check. He began shopping for a car and looking into home ownership.
But then the corporation began to go downhill and Shawcross was stripped of the security he had worked so hard to gain.
After a brief panic, Shawcross realized he had two months of severance pay and six months of unemployment checks to re-discover who he was and what he wanted to do. He returned to what he initially wanted when he began college: film.
He began volunteering with a local photographer and took an unpaid internship with a non-profit documentary production company. And even after the unemployment checks stopped coming, he continued to do the same type of work, squeezing money-making into the weekends.
Soon enough, Shawcross was getting paid to do the things he had chosen to do for free. The local photographer gave him some paying gigs and the non-profit documentary production company eventually found room in their budget to pay him for some of the work he was doing. Shawcross had begun making a living doing what he was passionate about.
With equipment from some of the different organizations Shawcross had been involved with, including Free Speech TV, Little Voice, and Denver Community Television, he and his friends began to make some films. The first one they made, about an Iraq war protest, was screened at a few film festivals and aired on Free Speech TV.
After some time running from place to place trying to borrow equipment from various organizations and friends in order to make the films, Shawcross applied for a grant from Free Speech TV asking for an editing system. In 2003, with $5,000 from Free Speech TV and office space donated by Little Voice, the Denverevolution Production Group, now Deproduction, began.
In 2004, Deproduction moved into PS1 Charter School and began teaching the students how to use video. They also formed a board of directors and began working to become a 501C3, which is a tax exempt charitable corporation. While working on the bylaws, Shawcross and the rest of Deproduction formed their mission statement, to put the power of media into the hands of the community; the tools and systems of Deproduction have always been available to the community.
When Denver Community Television began to loose funding, Deproduction took over all of their education programs. And when Denver Community Television was shut down in the fall of 2005, Deproduction answered the Request for Proposal (R.F.P) for non-profits to resume public access television in Denver. In January of 2006, Deproduction began developing a new, practically self-sufficient model for public access television in Denver.
Denver Open Media now operates three Public Access TV channels and is almost entirely run by the community. It is one of the first public access television stations to embrace the user-automated, many-to-many model, made popular by the Internet. Shawcross and a small staff merely set up the tools and resources that the public needs to make Denver Open Media work for them.
Once people are trained in how to use the equipment, they are allowed to use any of the systems and tools provided by Denver Open Media, enabling them to produce shows on their own. Producers can load their digital projects onto a kiosk, which are then transferred to DenverOpenMedia.org. Once on the site, videos are categorized and rated by the community. The videos with the highest ratings are shown on television; shows with the most votes are given premier time slots.
Through Denver Open Media, Shawcross works to challenge mainstream media, whose only job, according to him, is to "draw eyeballs and sell them to advertisers."
"The market has entirely taken over, and that leaves us with a void for media that is truly in the public interest," said Shawcross.
Denver Open Media, by providing training and equipment to the entire community, gives voice to segments of the public that are underrepresented in the commercial media of today's American society. Through Denver Open Media, the community is given the power to determine the public interest and then serve that interest.
Shawcross believes in this type of media system- one that "engages all communities" and "gets everyone participating in the conversation."
"That involvement in the conversation is the first step to engagement in the rest of social life," said Shawcross, also noting that impacting this conversation, the one that takes place through media, is the best way to bring about change.
All Denver Open Media material is released under a Creative Commons license, which is a perfect fit for the type of content the organization aims to support, which Shawcross said, in an interview with Creative Commons, is "noncommercial content aimed at exposing alternative points of view to as wide an audience as possible."
A Creative Commons license allows material to be freely sharable as long as the artists are properly credited, reproductions do not have a commercial intent, and any derivative projects are also released under a Creative Commons license. Shawcross accredits the efforts of Creative Commons as fostering participatory democracy or community in new or innovative ways.
Denver Open Media remains financially viable with the help of public-access and government monies (known as PEG fees) from Comcast, community fundraising, membership fees, and class fees, but relies mostly on donations and grants. Last year, they received the Knight News Challenge Grant, worth $380,000, to introduce their new model to public access television channels in cities across the U.S.
Shawcross and his colleagues have been invited to present the model at every major public access gathering and conference in the country and even at some internationally. He hopes to continue building and developing a network of user-driven stations that focus on engaging communities in the greater social conversation.
"The network we are building is unlike any other before, it's a network the communities can really own," said Shawcross.
Shawcross says the main pay-off of working with Denver Open Media is that he's taking an active role in molding the world into a place he wants to be, but that there are many pay-offs.
"I'm making a living, I'm getting props from my neighbors, my mom is proud, I have lots of toys to play withI'm working with people who feel like allies in building something special, I work in an environment that is built to enable others to self-actualize, which feels great."
Shawcross has taken something he is passionate about, something he cares deeply about, and has turned it into his career. It seems like he has taken his own advice.