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How ACMi News continues to cover the community

Will April be the cruelest month, as the worldwide onslaught of the coronavirus hits Arlington?

ACMi News logo

Local media will let you know. That includes Arlington Community Media inc. (ACMi), which appears to deliver its news and public services without interruption.

Let's look behind the scenes. For years, the cable-TV station has broadcast public meetings from camera setups in Town Hall and Arlington High School. Now that Select Board, School Committee and Redevelopment Board sessions have been replaced by online videoconferencing, as long as the crisis lasts, how has ACMi kept its news delivery flowing?

Among the eight full-time staff and five part-timers, YourArlington asked some of those involved how they keep us informed amid virus restrictions.

Brenda Mahoney, assistant news director, Arlington Public News

 

We are now finding time to incorporate video into the stories so people can see and experience the story more. Besides immediacy, which the internet has allowed print journalists to meet, the visuals and sounds have always been broadcasts strength. As I like to tell my students, “take me there and make me care.” -- Mahoney

Here is my personal perspective of what we are doing at ACMi news during this pandemic:

A few hours before school let out in Arlington on Thursday, March 12, I geared up to start reporting from home. I’m not sure there was any exact thing that had me thinking we would need to operate this way. It hadn’t yet been announced that schools would close.

It was simply that each day a bit more was being shut down, first professional sports, some schools -- even my daughters for just one day earlier in the week due to a case of Covid-19, before the eventual culmination that we find ourselves in now. Before I left, I worked with our media coordinator, Katie Chang, to review how we could quickly get a dedicated page on our website devoted to Covid-19 information.

I then took a professional-grade video camera and some iPhone gear home as I headed to pick up my daughter from school.

I figured I would still be interviewing people and getting information out and about in town, just not coming into the studio, because the stories were so fast and furious, there would be no time to wait to put them out with a weekly studio produced newscast. I had a laptop I could edit from as well.

News Director Jeff Barnd and I report, write, shoot and, for the most part, edit our own stories. Our one editor, Jared Sweet, then steps in to polish and upload them. There hadn’t been a six-feet-away guideline implemented yet, so we figured this is how it would go, just from home.

When schools were closed, it became apparent my job would become that much harder, as a part-time employee and parent of a second grader, I knew we would rely on "JB." That’s short for Jeff Barnd, as we call him, since there is another Jeff at ACMi [Munro; see below], to continue to go out and about getting footage and interviews, while I update the website and post to social media.

I worked my sources and JB worked with his. Having been covering local happening and issues in town for five years with ACMi and having been a town resident even longer, I have developed my own relationships, and JB, having been here for a year and a half, has his.

As the six-feet-away guidelines were implemented and essential businesses closed, we soon both discovered we could utilize the popular Zoom videoconferencing program to interview people from home.

I had used it a bit before for meetings as an adjunct professor of journalism at Emerson College, and ACMi had on occasion used Skype for interviews, so it was the next natural way to still talk to people and allow the public to hear and see what they had to say.

In the beginning, it was important just to get the information out there -- essentially what we call "talking heads" in the business -- a person on camera talking with no video coverage, called "B-roll"; no narration from the reporter.

We are now finding time to incorporate video into the stories so people can see and experience the story more. Besides immediacy, which the internet has allowed print journalists to meet, the visuals and sounds have always been broadcasts strength. As I like to tell my students, “take me there and make me care.”

In the time of Covid, we are realizing broadcast can still do that, we just need a bit more help from those we are interviewing, such as the case of JB’s tour with the medical workers at Arlington’s Urgent Care facility. And my upcoming piece on mask making and spotlighting a photographer who took pictures of every-day people and workers in Arlington shortly after the crisis began. 


"Coping With Coronavirus": Jeff Barnd and Brenda Mahoney
of ACMi News  tell the developing story March 20.

When it comes to government happenings, we are still carrying meetings in full and providing highlights for the news. These are by nature not as visual, but as much as folks such as Bob Sprague of YourArlington and The Arlington Advocate and others report on the discussions, we think it is still valuable to hear what was discussed and the decision-making process.

We have always struggled to get the word out about our news. We don’t’ have the people power to do this and cover all of the happenings in town each week and now on a daily basis at the same time.

But we hope we are a source for folks to come together and see and hear what is happening during this pandemic -- from town and school decisions to the Teddy bears in the windows for kids to “hunt” as they take a break from their seclusion to come outdoors in their neighborhoods. Arlington apart, but together. ACMi News is hoping to be one more place for that to happen.

Jeff Barnd, news director

 

With just about everyone working from home and practicing social distancing -- including the media -- to flatten the curve, I think news-gathering in these times is akin to landing an airplane and relying more on its instruments than just peering out of the cockpit window. It is definitely a learning experience that poses new challenges everyday-- Barnd

Here are just some thoughts I have had in recent days in trying to get the stories out there.

I have been in the business for 38 years, having worked at TV stations in Massachusetts, Maine, Pennsylvania and Maryland. I was a weekday 10 o’clock anchor at WLVI-TV 56 “The Ten O’Clock News” in Boston for nine years, weekday anchor at WBFF-TV in Baltimore for 18 years and a general-assignment reporter at WPVI-Channel 6 Action News in Philadelphia for three years.

As a TV anchor/reporter, I’ve covered tornadoes, hurricanes, blizzards, the 2nd Gulf War, 9/11 and its aftermath. But the Coronavirus is a different beast altogether.

With just about everyone working from home and practicing social distancing -- including the media -- to flatten the curve, I think news-gathering in these times is akin to landing an airplane and relying more on its instruments than just peering out of the cockpit window. It is definitely a learning experience that poses new challenges everyday. 

But it is definitely worth it -- considering there are so many stories to tell in the midst of this pandemic -- and many people relying on us for much-needed information.

I AM becoming more familiar with videoconferencing methods like Zoom, and that’s a good thing. It’s something I always wanted to learn anyway in my pre-Covid-19 world.

I still feel more comfortable grabbing a camera and a microphone -- and meeting people face-to-face in order to get the “complete picture” in storytelling.

But given these extraordinary times, we work with the tools we have, I'm just grateful that these online venues exist. They allow us to keep telling our stories and getting information out (while keeping safety in mind) until this crisis passes.

Once the Covid-19 is in the rear-view mirror -- I hope sooner rather than later -- it will also be nice for me to personally meet and thank all of those extraordinary people I had the pleasure of interviewing on Zoom and Skype in recent months.

Think we’ll shake hands? 


ACMi News toured Arlington’s American Family Care Urgent Care
to see how health-care workers test patients for the coronavirus.

Jeff Munro, operations manager

With Arlington community TV for 20 years, Munro started with Media One, AT&T Broadband and then Comcast, before nonprofit ACMi took control in 2006. He explain some of the technology.

Jeff Munro, ACMi
Jeff Munro:

"Just recently, ACMi made significant upgrades to include cloud services as part of the master-control system."

The service and resources of ACMi's cable channels rely on a powerful and robust playback and distribution system located within master control at 85 Park Ave. Here we distribute ACMi community PEG channels -- the letters stand for Public, Education and Government -- to each of the town's cable providers -- RCN, Verizon and Comcast. Special servers are designed to push the content to ACMi.TV for on-demand replays and live-stream viewers.  

The combination of network, audiovisual equipment and servers contain many terabytes of community program files, programmed and curated into daily playlists by ACMi Staff.

For a live show, meeting or event, placeholders with a router switch are programmed into the system. Normally, these signals originate at Town Hall, Arlington High School or Studio B (at 892 Mass. Ave. across from Arlington High), but in the current conditions, we needed to explore new solutions.

Just recently, ACMi made significant upgrades to include cloud services as part of the master-control system. These live-stream receivers and transmitters allow us the ability to connect to live streams from outside the ACMi network, in this case Zoom, but we could connect to streaming content from various services.
 
To avoid any signal interruptions and bandwidth distortion, called datamoshing, which is very unpleasant to watch and hear, I have been creating a hard-lined backup from inside the studio.

By participating in the Zoom meetings on an ACMi-connected computer hard-wired to the playback equipment, the quality can be improved.  I can also use some of the powerful features inside our control-room switcher. When those in a broadcast are not quite centered, I can crop, zoom and reconfigure the scene to accommodate the viewers at home.

We hope to continue to work with member producers, and new members as they become comfortable in their homes and begin to find stories and create content to share on the Arlington channels.

James Milan, communications manager

Once we realized that we would not have access to our various studios and our usual equipment, we immediately started brainstorming among ourselves about how to use resources like Zoom and other such software to continue to cover the meetings we always have, but also to support the town in any way possible as another conduit by which to get important messaging out to Arlington residents.


 March 26, 2020: ACMi seeks video stories ... from you


This news feature including the personal views was published Wednesday, April 8.  

 
Town of Arlington to LGBTQIA+ students: You belong
 

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