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Thursday, April 22, 2021

TSD Q&A: Sharon Baker on Delaware Storytelling

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TSDhttps://new.delawarelive.com/townsquaredelaware/
TSD: Delaware’s best take on events, community and local life

Our friends at Content Delaware are celebrating their first anniversary of producing video shorts featuring stories and people from across the First State, covering everything from arts to business to politics to the non-profit sector. For much of that year, TSD has been pleased to post many of these terrific videos on our site, a collaborative arrangement that is a hallmark of the Content Delaware’s approach. TSD caught up with Content Delaware founder Sharon Baker to learn more about the vision behind this new media effort, and their plans for the future.

TownSquareDelaware: So what was the inspiration to create Content Delaware?

Sharon Baker: Wow, so after 35 years of working as a Delaware-based storyteller and what felt like a lifetime of observing the state being treated like the poor cousin of regional media outlets, I think I’d had it. I remember coming in one day and saying to our group, “We can do this.” While we have good, solid radio reporting here in Delaware, diverse sources for web-based reportage and opinion, lots of interesting community-focused print journalism, and our good old statewide daily, the world’s communication tool of choice is fast becoming videos. With WHYY down to one weekly report, broadcast quality visual reporting in Delaware is largely reduced to “murders and festivals” coverage. Ugh! The other reason? In a fractured media environment where even the giants are trying to figure out how to attract and retain market share, bad news always sells. So I saw an opening to contribute to what journalist Al Neuharth describes as a “Jounalism of Hope” that can not only explain complex problems but offer solutions. This is largely how we see ContentDelaware.org, and it would never have been possible for a small, non-profit media organization to create a new kind of Delaware Channel before the advent of the Internet. Finally, all stories are freely and fully shared for re-posting with anyone who wants to do it. This is about building community. Maybe our slogan should be, “Delaware: hey, who knew?”

TSD: How long did it take to get this effort off the ground?

SB: Looking back, it was about three years. Remember “bad news sells.” We had a LOT of show-and-tell to do here…various stages of web design, presentations, writing, re-writing, etc. before we felt we could really effectively describe what it was we wanted to do, and why it was and is important for Delaware. A big turning point in mounting the site was partnering with SSD Technologies here in Wilmington who figured out an economical way to do the back end of the site. Also, Serviam Media Inc., our non-profit, has terrific board expertise. Board Members really put this over the top with their recommendations and support. But if the truth be told here, it took a lot of grit and sacrifice to realize this project. Our team has a strong social mission and we were determined to give this a fair chance to succeed.

TSD: Are you aware of other, similar efforts in other states?

SB: You know earlier this year I attended the Knight Foundation’s conference on Community Engagement. I saw presentations from a range of Community Foundations across the country, much of it really innovative, and each using digital media platforms to more fully engage their communities. I saw pieces of what we are doing with ContentDelaware.org, but I saw no one else doing dedicated, statewide video coverage of people, places, and best practices like CD.org is doing. In all fairness, it is one of the advantages of living and working in Delaware. That said, I would like to have the franchise rights: ContentCalifornia.org?!

TSD: Tell us about the people of Content Delaware — how many individuals are on your team?

SB: The power of this team is that individual members are really expert at playing multiple roles. Julie Pfeifenroth, Senior Video Editor, has been here for 17+ years. She is great with graphic design and our go-to person for in-house IT issues. Pascal Dieckmann and I have filmed all over the state, country, and world for 15+ years. He is the finest lighting cameraman I know and we are joined at the brain. Dan Collins, a producer, writer and editor here for 10+ years, is a virtuoso at narrative storytelling. Elizabeth Lockman arrived as an intern 9+ years ago and is now our in-house social media and analytics go-to, among her many other project responsibilities. With the start-up of CD.org we added two additional staff members. Dan Rosenthal, line producer and scheduler is now doing the outreach and logistics of scheduling, assisting on shoots, then uploading and cataloging hours of digital recording files. We job-share Carl Kanefsky, an experienced news reporter, with media partner WDEL News. For CD.org, Carl edits all of the Public Affairs programming and assists with writing. We also have a number of “adjunct faculty” who work with us on a per diem basis in sound, grip, and other production roles.

TSD: You have actively partnered with many different local media players — that collaborative approach is fairly innovative. Do you think that because we are such a small community in Delaware that kind of engagement is a critical element of success?

SB: It is not only critical it is just plain smart and the way of the world nowadays.

If “content is king” then collaboration is the rule of the land. This state is full of accomplished and talented writers, reporters, and digital media makers. We took the chance that many of them would appreciate participating in a Delaware-centric platform. So now when we post a video story about a topic, our media partners can enhance our video documentary element with collateral radio reporting, writing, opinion, or just plain re-posting. We are also now soliciting community-made videos for CD.org’s Community Camera channel. They are streaming in!

TSD: How would you rate your success against the targets you set out to achieve one year ago?

SB: We are approaching our 300th posting and still working hard every day to build. Not too bad for a no-capital start up, notwithstanding the sweat equity from TELEDUCTION that supports CD.org using the White Dog Café model. We give a lot of credit to our initial funding sources that made a leap of faith in the project and are now all returning+. The good news is CD.org is a non-commercial enterprise and will never have ad space for sale. The bad news is that CD.org is a non-commercial enterprise and will never have ad space for sale. But seriously, the non-commercial framework means that we have to secure funding to sustain the site in other ways: grants, program sponsorship as in the PBS model, co-ops, and story sharing.

TSD: Over the last year you have done so many stories on such a broad range of topics; are there any that you are particularly proud of?

SB: I know it sounds totally corny but it’s true: We have really enjoyed further combing this state to discover the many terrific people creating community-based arts programming, really high caliber stuff, and mirroring organizations like Art Therapy Express. I liked giving a voice to state site supervisors who have devoted their careers to building the quality of Delaware’s historic attractions—they take it personally! We’ve met teachers in classrooms up and down the state who are truly inspiring their students to be their personal best, day in and day out, with no hoopla. We have gotten a lot of great information from dozens of Public Affairs interviews with non-profits, policy makers et al. Hey, who knew? I’m honestly proud of the whole thing, and it is only going to get better. We welcome story suggestions, too.

TSD: What does Sharon Baker like to do when you aren’t deep into a million media or community projects?

SB: I love to cook for my family and friends, then to sit with them and eat, drink, and be merry. I like to modestly garden, although I am about to lose it with a groundhog who once again is devouring my zucchini. Remember Bill Murray in Caddyshack? I love to sing and to write stories. I love the salt water. I like to travel to new places but there’s no place like Lewes.

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