With PhillyCAM, Gretjen Clausing channels community imagination

    1982. Tom Brokaw becomes the anchor of NBC Nightly News. David Letterman debuts. So does Vanna White. “Police Squad!” launches, and crashes. And a handful of activists begin an effort to get public access television in Philadelphia.

    It took 27 years. And a corporate giant.

    The money came in large part from Comcast, which agreed to support public access TV in a deal the cable company made with the city of Philadelphia. The tireless enthusiasm came from Gretjen Clausing.

    “We’re not just a channel,” said Clausing. “We’re about creating a space where folks can come together through the production of media. Getting it on the channel is just the end result. What’s more interesting is the process of getting there.”

    In 2009, the newly minted PhillyCAM (Comcast 66, Verizon 29/30) began in a studio space at the Painted Bride, Second and Vine streets, a space it immediately outgrew. Last month, the operation moved to a much larger building at Seventh and Market.

    “We can now do two things at once,” said Clausing.

    We turned the tables on Clausing by making the director the subject. We put a camera in her hand and asked her to record herself during the final weeks of building renovations and move-in.

    Wouldn’t you know it? She turned the tables back. She used that camera to inspire other people to pick up cameras and make their own TV.

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