Think Deeper

ThinkTV’s unwavering local
commitment continues


A vital fundraising event, each year sponsors, volunteers, and our viewers join together to make the Great TV Auction a success.

By Tara Pettit

In a hyper-informational decade where society is barraged with media on a continuously streaming basis, the question of whether meaningful, quality content actually exists is a legitimate query; unfortunately, it is indicative of the discredited position media holds today. The shock value tactics and repetitive mainstream messaging of traditional media leave many yearning for something deeper, brighter, and more purposeful to consume.

The “good news” to this story is that good media does exist. You just have to know where to look for it. Although only appearing in pockets across news organizations, insightful and thought-provoking media aimed at “respecting the intelligence of the viewer” is being produced every day in multiple ways and tailored for specific audiences. The search requires a deeper dive into the communities who are delivering and creating public media at the local level.

High quality, intentional media is a public-focused effort; one that is intricately woven into the fabric of unique communities who have specialized interests, people, and reasons for reporting on the more interesting and positive things going on at the local level. It takes introspective, trailblazing communities to forge ahead in a mass media-driven world, speaking up with more meaningful and resonate truths. To mirror the efforts of community intentions, quality media also requires mission-driven, locally focused news organizations who are committed to their community roots with a delivery strategy tailored to local audiences. The results of such efforts work to counter the mega messages of mass media with a more trustful voice of inspiration and intelligence.

Here in Dayton, we are fortunate enough to be connected to a long-standing pioneer organization leading and providing direct access to a breadth of intelligent, well-rounded content. As Miami Valley’s beloved public broadcast station, ThinkTV enters its thirtieth year offering more access than ever to content that is meaningful, relevant, and which resonates with its regional audiences. Today a regional household name, the organization continues inspiring audiences to truly ‘view and think,’ and its mission rings true to its well-recognized and highly esteemed name.

Evolutionary History in the Dayton Community
A presiding presence for education, arts awareness, and informational empowerment in the Dayton community, ThinkTV is an evolutionary result of educational television’s development in the Dayton area from its earliest establishment in 1959 as the Miami University-broadcasted station WMUB on Channel 14. Thirteen years later, WOET Channel 16 began broadcasting from Dayton as a second non-commercial public television station. In 1975, Channels 16 and 14 joined forces under the leadership of University Regional Broadcasting, and the following year marked the stations’ officially community-owned non-profit christening. In September 1988, Greater Dayton Public Television moved to its state-of-the-art facility in downtown Dayton, and 10 years later the station became ThinkTV Network in an effort to better define its purpose and function as an educational network that provided much more than television programming to the Miami Valley.

During its 30-year evolution, ThinkTV has experienced several defining phases that have contributed to its success and invaluable position in the greater Dayton/Cincinnati regions, including: a regional merging with Cincinnati’s WCET to form Public Media Connect (PMC); extensive facility, system, and operational investments; and a blossoming annual outreach campaign with community events such as youth education days, science camps, and the beloved annual Great TV Auction.

Over the years, ThinkTV has had many successes to celebrate, but it’s the organization’s plethora of new ideas and plans to cultivate even more opportunities for outreach that keep its media vibrantly alive and relevant in its pursuit to “inform, educate, and engage” audiences. Guided by a strong leadership vision, the organization has not only survived, but thrived under a continuously forward-thinking and community-oriented strategy.

For 25 of the 30 years of its steady transformation, ThinkTV has been under the direction of David Fogarty, its president and CEO, who has been a driving influence in the overall evolution of the corporation. Over the decades Fogarty has been with ThinkTV, he has had the opportunity to direct the organization’s transformation—including the production facility upgrades, operational efficiencies, and expanding content portfolio—in parallel to the larger experience of having to adapt to new delivery strategies that embrace the evolution of technologies and communication methods.

“It’s an evolution that’s been partly organizational, but more broadly it’s been an evolution in terms of the media we provide and who we are to the community,”
Fogarty says.

When Fogarty came on board with ThinkTV, the organization was just about to open its current facility in downtown Dayton after a long-needed move to a space to accommodate the level of investment the organization was about to make at a time when public television was growing as a broadcast medium, according to Fogarty. As a result, today the organization, now an expanded regional corporation, not only has a more significant regional footprint in terms of financial investment, but “more importantly, creates and delivers content in new ways,” Fogarty states.

“Our evolution has largely been driven because of our public and educational mission, which has prompted us to make choices about what we do,” Fogarty recalls.

ThinkTV’s decisions in terms of content priorities comprise three overarching themes and strategies, which drive the kinds of programming and community outreach the organization has been engaged with over the years. While the organization is best known for its syndication of well-recognized and respected Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) programming, approximately half of the organization’s content never airs on its broadcast stations and is instead filtered through its various education outlets.

Educational Impact
More interestingly, and perhaps less recognized by audiences, is that at least 50 percent of ThinkTV’s production is dedicated to educational programming and content that is delivered in multiple ways and across many platforms. Aimed toward educators and schools, the organization’s education-driven content is connecting learners, primarily early childhood students, to innovative tools and learning methods with the goal of enhancing public education to achieve quality outcomes.

“Early learning is such a major focus for us,” says Gloria Skurski, Chief Content Officer at ThinkTV, and manager of the station’s community outreach strategy. “We do a great deal as far as reaching out to parents, early child educators, and families—and the results of that are evident. We have heard so many stories from people whose kids have become interested in reading for the first time through our resources.”

ThinkTV’s educational track has seen great success in helping to improve learning experiences, and, as a result, learning outcomes for early childhood students and schools across the Miami Valley. For example, one of their pilot parent engagement projects, Reading Expands All Children’s Horizons (REACH), sent students in north Dayton communities home with Chromebooks loaded with educational tools that were developed in partnership with PBS to assist with at-home reading strategies and foster parent-child relationships. By connecting parents to at-home development tools that provide interactive learning experiences designed to help youngsters learn and become excited about reading, REACH has helped contribute to outcomes of increased parent-child at-home reading as well as improved school reading scores with children who were furthest behind making the greatest improvements.

“While we can’t pin increased outcomes to our program, we have definitely been a piece of the success in helping children learn to read,” Gloria says. “It has been a terrific engagement project and very exciting for us.”

The REACH project is one of the examples of ThinkTV’s mission-driven activities that Fogarty points to as being one of those projects that “didn’t win an award and didn’t make our broadcast” but stands out as some of the work most representative of ThinkTV’s mission. It is in the retelling of such a project, translating into the type of stories the organization strives to bring back to the community, that is indicative of the positive changes happening throughout the region.

“We don’t just tell stories, but try to tell stories well,” Fogarty says. “It comes back to the basics starting with the quality of the work we do, the frequency in which we do it, and then the impact of that as we retell it. That is what’s important to us.”

In addition to its focus on educational programming and content, ThinkTV has cultivated an expertise and esteemed reputation as a frequently sought-after source for local arts and culture content. Through extensive partnership and investment with the deeply rooted arts and culture organizations in the Dayton and Cincinnati areas, they now offer a dedicated arts broadcast channel that features the work of local artists and is available throughout the region.

Community-Driven
Although its regular broadcasted and specialized educational and arts and culture programming is how the organization connects with the community on a daily basis, ThinkTV also maintains an ongoing physical presence in the community and can be seen actively participating in and hosting events in partnership with local libraries, schools, and other educational venues. Gloria points out that ThinkTV is “not just behind the TV,” but is very dedicated to its community outreach with a vision for expanding that footprint. As such, the regional Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) schools and education programs are a primary avenue for ThinkTV’s educational programming and content.

“We currently maintain a large number of individuals—22,500 parents and kids—that we physically reach by hosting and participating in community events,” Gloria says. “You can see us all throughout the community, at Science Fest, at Tech Fest, most
STEM events.”

The Great Auction: Community Engagement with a National Footprint
One pinnacle event representative of ThinkTV’s ties to community engagement is its annual participation in the national Great TV Auction event, a week-long endeavor focused on engaging partners and community members in a collaborative fundraising event to generate and invest community-donated dollars toward the local
programming platform.

ThinkTV’s annual auction is actually linked to a national network of Great TV Auction events originally starting in San Francisco in 1967 after it became apparent how the support of many local businesses was essentially the financial model for public broadcast media. Fundraising efforts leveraging this local support, in conjunction with the idea to engage audiences to support their local stations, became the foundation for the auction events, which today only occurs in a handful of public media studios nationwide with ThinkTV representing one of those.

The auction is a time-consuming and resource-intensive event that, over the course of a week, unfolds with high-energy activities and volunteer staff that are committed to the mission of the organization.

“This is an opportunity to get between 800 and 1,000 people to come into our studios to answer our phones and get to know us as an organization,” Fogarty says. “We are in a medium where you don’t get that opportunity very often, as for the most part, our audiences connect with us from the comfort of their home. But whenever we have contact with people, we gain from that. And this is one way for our partner businesses to show support that is accessible for them.”

The auction has drawn the support of many local businesses over the decades ThinkTV has hosted the event, and attracted hundreds of volunteers into the studio to take part in the broadcast, assisting with anything from technical support to answering
phone calls.

Tiffany Shaw-Diaz, a former auction volunteer and active Dayton community member, fondly recalls her experience writing hundreds of 30-second auction scripts for the event, glad to have been able to lend her creative talents to an organization she says has “inspired her artistic side since she was a young child.”

“It’s not often one has an opportunity to work behind-the-scenes for a large-scale television event, so I felt incredibly honored that ThinkTV entrusted those scripts to my care,” Diaz says.

Diaz, like many ThinkTV viewers across the community, believes in the mission of the organization and has personally been influenced by its programming.

“I cut the cable in 2010, so when we watch TV in my home, it’s usually one of ThinkTV’s many channels,” Diaz says. “The quality and integrity of the programming is unparalleled, and it never ceases to enlighten my family.”

Diaz’s sentiment demonstrates not only the impact of locally-focused, mission-driven public media, but its measure of success. The bar for public media has been set far beyond ratings as local news organizations tune into a frequency that transcends the mundane, the mad, and the mainstream. Fogarty tends to describe the frequency as one that “respects the intelligence of the viewer—the fact that they are members of the community and learners with a variety of interests.”

“We do not view our audiences as a consumer of a product, but they are learners,” Fogarty says. “We aim to give them that opportunity to learn, whether they are six months old having their first Sesame Street exposure, or whether they are 65 years old watching a performance. What this organization reflects is that media can make a difference—it matters, and it’s the people hearing and learning about stories that impact their lives that we strive for.”

ThinkTV celebrates its 30th year as Dayton’s premier educational broadcast network. ThinkTV’s annual Great Auction event will take place April 16–21 at ThinkTV studios.

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Tara Pettit
Tara Pettit is a regional journalist and communications specialist with a focus on the arts, social/environmental justice issues, and community activism. She is passionate about cultivating intentional community and engaging in collaborative creative projects that make healthy community possible. Reach her at TaraPettit@DaytonCityPaper.com.

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