State-level C-SPAN: WisconsinEye Develops Fanbase

The anti-corporate uprising in Wisconsin continues. Much credit is due to WisconsinEye for showing the inner workings of a corrupt state government with such depth and clarity.
Since 2007, the nonpartisan public-affairs network has live-covered the business of the Wisconsin Legislature and Supreme Court, and features a wide variety of original programs produced around the state. It’s available to most cable television subscribers in Wisconsin and also streams online.
About two dozen states currently have similar networks that mimic the C-SPAN motif, but unlike the rest WisconsinEye receives no government subsidy for its production and distribution.
It’s not cheap to maintain fiscal and editorial independence, but WisconsinEye runs lean; the network relies on a five cent per subscriber fee from cable companies for carriage and private donations.
Billing itself “reality TV that matters,” the network’s operational mission is ambitious and profound: “Citizenship-building information accessible to all in our modern society is lacking. Yet we know that public trust requires public participation. Ethical leadership requires access to leaders. Invigorating citizenship requires an invitation to all to become participants.”
Amen to that. But WisconsinEye could do much more to promote its viewership and the larger mission of empowering the state’s citizenry to take their government back.
A good start would be to stop filing copyright-infringement complaints against people who post video clips to sites such as YouTube. If the public’s business is really the public’s business, it’s kind of hypocritical to put a private stamp of ownership on it.
Nobody is pirating WisconsinEye’s live-feed and/or making DVDs for sale: those people are fans doing free marketing. They spread word about the network’s existence and entice people to tune in. That furthers its mission.
Relatedly, WisconsinEye could use the Internet for a lot more than a streaming platform. Not like there’s tons of money lying around to hire a press corps, but Twitter is super-handy for getting out real-time information on government happenings that can be otherwise difficult to follow by someone who tunes in mid-stream.
Sometimes a static caption just isn’t enough, and a Twitter feed should be more than a regurgitated schedule.
Twitter has been used by avid WisconsinEye viewers over the last the few months to track, decode, and discuss the majority party’s plans to privatize the state – as it happens. That’s participatory as hell, which also advances the network’s mission.
The fact that Wisconsin has its own version of C-SPAN is pretty remarkable; that it’s a tight, lean and thoughtful network is exemplary. In the world of media convergence, though, public-affairs TV has to extend beyond the television. WisconsinEye has real potential to be a portal for the sort of civic engagement that we all wish the mass media would work harder to foster.