My Turn: KTOO strives to serve state, improve service

Posted: Friday, April 04, 2008

The Empire story titled "Network cuts back Capitol broadcasting" on April 2 raised some important questions about Gavel to Gavel Alaska and 360 North.

KTOO has produced C-Span-style television coverage of the Legislature since 1994. From humble beginnings when we broadcast the Legislature only from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays, the service has grown and expanded so now we provide as much as 13 or 14 hours a day of legislative coverage, seven days a week. With major financial support from the community of Juneau and an ongoing investment in new technology on KTOO's part, we reach nearly every Alaskan on cable, satellite and broadcast television, and a worldwide audience on the Web.

In addition, KTOO streams the audio from virtually every meeting in the Capitol. The audio is archived so that the public can listen anytime. This Web service is drawing a very large audience - 21,678 unique users since the Legislature convened in January.

We're also investigating a number of new initiatives to improve our current service. In the past year, we've added DirecTV and dish viewers to the service, and started offering 360 North on free over-the-air TV channels in Anchorage and Juneau. We're looking at ways to expand our coverage of state boards and commissions, as well as how we can add coverage of important events in communities other than Juneau. On the technology front, we're looking into providing faster and better webcasting service, multiple online video channels, video on demand and two-way video between Juneau and other Alaska communities.

As one of these new initiatives, we launched "360 North" last December as a pilot project to provide a wider range of Alaska programming to statewide viewers. Gavel to Gavel Alaska is the centerpiece of 360 North, and our goal is to complement Gavel to Gavel by surrounding it with public policy, public affairs, history, science and cultural programming. Until last December, the Gavel to Gavel channel went dark in most communities as soon as the Legislature adjourned. We are working hard to build a year-round channel that draws in new viewers, many of whom will stay around to watch Gavel to Gavel.

We have not reduced our coverage of the Legislature. Our policy is to run as late at night as we need to present live and first-run recorded legislative coverage, and repeats when the schedule allows. We are pre-empting regular programming almost every day to present full legislative coverage. We have chosen to do fewer repeats of legislative coverage to allow us time to present other programs of high interest to Alaskans, such as coverage of the Alaska Permanent Fund trustees, the World Affairs Council, science lectures, Native programming and other shows of interest to Alaskan audiences.

360 North's Gavel to Gavel programming is aimed at a statewide audience. The programming is designed not only to serve people who live in Juneau and work at the capitol, but for the general public across Alaska. Our goal is to make 360 North and Gavel to Gavel Alaska household words, and to present a year-round schedule that's easy to find on TV and draws a large statewide audience.

Gavel to Gavel was a bold experiment in 1994, and we will continue to experiment with projects to reach more viewers and to become more important to Alaskans. We've heard from many who love the new Alaska programming, and from some who would like to see more of the legislative meetings repeated. In an effort to learn what Alaskans really want from this new channel, we're launching an online survey at www.ktoo.org/gavel, and within the next two weeks an Anchorage research firm will conduct independent research through a statewide poll and a series of focus group meetings. With that information, we'll adjust our schedules to try to accommodate all Alaska interests.

KTOO plays an important role in connecting Juneau to the rest of Alaska, and we take that role seriously. Our mission calls for us to use innovative technology to connect our community and to promote civic participation. We look forward to working with Alaskans to make the service even better in the years ahead.

• Bill Legere is president and general manager of KTOO.



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