LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Preserve Services Provided by WestfordCAT

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It has come to my attention that the Westford CAT (WCAT) Board of Directors is taking drastic action to reduce or eliminate leadership staff and current news coverage activities. A brief one-page status letter from Daniel Bush, Jan. 8, provides few answers and leaves many questions. I do not want to see WCAT’s operations cut back. If anything, WCAT should be building on past successes to further increase its value as a town resource.

I hope and trust that the Select Board and Town staff will help influence the WCAT Board, via the Select Board’s voting liaison member, to assure the town, its residents, business and organizations, the continued level of service we currently enjoy – and also to protect the following:

  • Focus on local news. Many residents have turned to WCAT over the last decade, as the
    traditional print media (Eagle, Sun, Patch, etc.) have reduced their focus on local events.
    While many residents conclude that news is already covered in the Memorandum of
    Understanding (MoU), the WCAT Board apparently doesn’t agree. To minimize any possible confusion, a clear statement of the importance of maintaining quality news coverage should be added. For example, change item (10) on page 3 of 11 to read:
    “(10) Produce and assist Users in the production of Programming of interest to Subscribers and focusing on Town news, issues, events and activities…”
  • Responsiveness to Westford’s needs. Strongly encourage the WCAT Board to implement an open decision-making process. Specifically, urge them to take input from the WCAT voting membership and from open meetings of Westford residents before making major changes in direction that will impact the level of services to be delivered to the community. I am especially concerned, as it does not appear that there was much, if any, discussion between the WCAT Board and either the WCAT Membership or Westford residents before making decisions to terminate the Executive Director and News Director, and to reduce the scope of operation to the items included in the MoU.

WCAT’s founding Articles of Organization as a 501(c)(3) organization specify they have a broader responsibility to the public than just what is included in the MoU with the Town.

  •  Article II, 1 (1) Produce community programming for the residents, institutions and
    organizations of Westford …
  •  Article II, 1 (4) Conduct public information, educational, cultural and social activities.
    I have personally benefited from WCAT’s professional news capabilities numerous times over the last decade: working on committees seeking Town Meeting approval for several zoning bylaw “fixes” and section rewrites (e.g. Radio Telecommunications Facilities and Signs) and for SLIDTR proposals. Having access to news professionals that consult, organize and produce the TV segments provided a huge benefit to the town via getting the messages out to residents.

I’m sure many others on committees, in town departments, businesses and members of non-profit organizations have benefited significantly from their news skills as well. Downsizing these valuable resources is a step backward.

What about fundraising?
Since reduced license fees seem to be a major issue, there is apparently insufficient WCAT Board focus on fundraising. In the 2018 WCAT Annual Report, the President’s Letter states: “In 2019, we plan to initiate ways that the community can assist in budget shortfalls, through membership drives, increased underwriters, additional donation requests, other fundraising events and activities.”

What’s happening? What hasn’t been tried? How can the community help?
Relevant models for successful fundraising are plentiful. Most public television and radio stations have sustainable models. Many non-profits or “Friends” organizations don’t have the luxury of ongoing license revenues; however, they successfully raise funds in many ways to achieve their public service objectives, and have done so for many years.

Westford’s Select Board can help:
 Work individually with our representatives in state government to actively support
legislation such as the “streaming bill” (H4045), which may help replace declining cable based revenue. Our representatives are not currently on the petitioners list.

 Encourage and support the WCAT Board in its efforts to design and conduct fundraising activities that complement and leverage other town fundraisers. There is potential synergy that could benefit all fundraisers in town.

Westford is a generous town, as demonstrated by its long-term support of many Friends
organizations. There must be a way to help preserve the level of service we currently enjoy and expect from Westford Community Access Television. — Paul Fassbender, Westford