Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Somerville Media Center Director Kat Powers: A Born Storyteller brings us the saga of our city on the screen


Like myself, Kat Powers has had a long love affair with the City on the Mystic, Somerville, MA. Kat has a long and accomplished journalistic background, and will continue to bring the saga of our unique burg to the TV screen, through the Somerville Media Center.

Congratulations for being selected the new director of the Somerville Media Center. You are coming in at a time when the station is planning to move, the pandemic has changed the nature of operations. etc.... What is your mission statement--what are your goals?

Thank you! Yes, there’s a lot of change at SMC, but any change means there’s room for opportunity. The pandemic has changed how we relate to each other, and community media has to change too.

SMC has always been the cool place to be, where artists and producers and ideas were thrown together, edited on tape and shared widely. We need to make sure we can support that community with a new center, with new equipment that’s more mobile.

We are all missing that opportunity to bump into someone and learn about the newest project. We’re learning new ways to foster that sense of community virtually, but it will be exciting when we get back to seeing all these producers in person.

My mission is to work with our community to find a path forward, with a new site and stable sources of funding. Community media access centers all over the U.S. are finding ways to adapt to changes in cable funding, but it’s not all doom-and-gloom. Some fund access programming by developing software and selling it to other access centers. Some consolidate into regional centers. Some sell video production services. We need to work together to find our path.

So, that’s a Mission of Message, Members, Money and Moving? Let’s get to work.

You were a reporter and managing editor for The Somerville Journal for a number of years. Community newspapers are disappearing from the map. You will be continuing with community journalism at the Somerville Media Center. Do you think cable/access TV organizations may be the last stand for hyper-local reporting?

SMC has always been part of hyper-local reporting. I’ve been watching the archive process we’re undergoing at SMC. We have hundreds of 20- and 30-year-old tapes we’ve put in our main studio and we’re sorting through what gets preserved for posterity. All those call-in shows? Those local election debates? Those reports from the hot set on local business? That was hyper-local reporting in the 80s before we called it hyper-local reporting. I don’t think coverage of Somerville is going to go away, but I do know it has to evolve to something digital, and SMC is going to be part of that future.

One of the first meetings I had with the Somerville Media Center Board of Directors involved them telling me fantastic stories of what they liked about the Somerville Neighborhood News, and how they’d like it to thrive again. We’ll get there, and we have some pretty awesome partners to work with to build a news network.

You used to live in Somerville, but you are now in Watertown. How does Somerville compare to other cities you have lived in. What makes it unique?

Somerville. It’s magical. Its waters are Mystic.

Somerville, like some of the greater cities of the world, has its land and its streets marked by progress and ambition. Every single group of people in the world have come through and changed it. They chopped hills, burned nunneries, buried the enemy in the street. They planted trees, kilned bricks, set stone, chopped down orchards and built the triple deckers and the trolleys, and then paved their yards to make room for cars. Now those triple deckers are condos and we fight for bike lanes and parks to eat outside.

Somerville is a story of progress – not always good – but every single story in our nation, Revolution to opioid epidemic, had a part of the tale set in Somerville.

I am a storyteller. How could I not love Somerville?

You have a unique knack for picking up jobs. Not the traditional--resume/interview type of deal. Can you talk a bit about this?

I like to build ideas and organizations. I’m told it’s a perspective used in sales … you have a unique problem, let’s reframe in in a certain way and see what solutions fix the problem. For example: I was at the Red Cross and I needed a few volunteers to answer people who reached out to us on social media, and those people had to be nimble enough to also spread the word about what we were doing. No one wanted to be a “social media volunteer.” When I changed the job description to “Twitter Ninja” I had so many applicants I had to turn away free help. I seem to fit in the jobs where you have to take a step back and think about the problem your work solves, and then build the solution.

But yes, I’ve worked for a state senator, I was a journalist leading a newsroom, I was the chief of disaster public affairs for the Red Cross during the Marathon Bombing. But those jobs had something in common: I had to figure out a process to work to move a lot of people forward in the same direction. I also worked as a secretary in a prison and I unloaded trucks at Marshall’s. Those were great examples to me of places that didn’t work, and I saw what happened when people were punished for attempting to fix problems.

You have an extensive background in marketing. How will you market the station? Any new approaches?

Community media is really nothing without its community of artists and producers – and that’s something the pandemic hit. You cannot stick your head into the control room to see who’s taping a show if we all have to stay in our homes. But you take someone like yourself, Doug, or JoJo LaRiccia, folks who have produced shows remotely and engaged others, and it’s just inspiring to watch. Every time I hear a story about a hurdle overcome, or a new member excited to learn, I just want to step up and make sure we preserve access media for everyone.

I’m betting if others hear these stories, others will want to preserve access media too.

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