| Q&A with Rivka Sadarangani, Managing Director, Portland Community Media
What is your primary role as Managing Director for Portland Community Media? The organization has been through a lot of transitions. Nationwide, the industry is going through a lot of transformation. The entire organization restructured to include many new positions. My position as Managing Director is one of the new positions for the organization.
Photo by Maileen Hamto
My role at PCM is to coach and mentor the staff in their work. I administer and oversee a variety of programs, such as government production and media education programs. I cultivate relationships with partners and bring in new partners. I also oversee and provide support to the youth media program, and participating in the management team.
How is the mission of PCM carried out through its programming? We’re a full-service community media organization. We’re part of the cable system in Portland. We have six channels that are dedicated to providing alternative, independent and local news, events, cultural performances – a diverse range of programming for the local population.
Anyone from the public interested in creating a program for television can come to PCM and learn to create programs through our media education classes. For government productions, our production team goes out to cover City of Portland meetings for public affairs programming.
We also have youth programs where youth can engage in making media. Nonprofit organizations can talk about their work, mission and services through Face-to-face Community Matters. It’s a service that we provide at no cost to nonprofits to help people learn about what they’re doing.
We’re trying to serve all members of the public in different ways, so our programs are targeted differently to different folks.
What makes Portland an ideal place for community media to thrive? Compared with other community media organization around the nation, PCM is larger and able to provide more services. Some towns have very limited facilities, or they may have one channel for four hours a day. We have six dedicated channels, 24/7. Part of that advocacy came from the City of Portland, because they realized that the citizens really want access to these services.
I’ve lived in three different American cities: Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland. I’ve done this kind of work in all cities, and Portland is looked at as a model of civic engagement.
The local system of governance in Portland is really inclusive, with the neighborhood system. The access that citizens have to their leaders is impressive. Mayor Tom Potter and the various commissioners make an effort to schedules regular neighborhood meetings.
The city has a frontier, creative spirit. There’s a huge streak of independence in alternative media in all the creative arts. There’s been a very strong sense of creativity, innovation and civic engagement.
What were some of the initial challenges when you joined PCM? The organization was really committed to realigning their services with their mission, and engaging the community and staff to accomplish that. For me, as manager, my priority was being supportive of the staff through the transition. People were getting used to a different system, a different style of management. It was a high-stress time for everyone, and for me, one of the biggest challenges was being the one person that a lot of people went to.
It was also important for us to communicate effectively with the communities that we serve. There were a lot of question marks about the direction PCM was going. We’ve been dedicated to making know our vision and values to the community.
We instituted several strategies to do that. We schedule meetings with the volunteer producer community to meet with PCM management. We provide organizational updates, and invite feedback. That was a completely different approach from what we had before, a very different way of engaging our communities.
We also made an effort to really understanding how to meet the needs of all our constituents. We started outreach to communities of color and other underserved communities. We targeted community-based nonprofit organizations that serve communities of color. We’re inviting people to see what we do and what services we provide to diverse communities.
How is the work of PCM relevant to communities of color in Portland? The whole idea of public access media revolves around free speech. Since its beginnings, the idea for public access was to use the broadcast medium to engage the public, provide information and empower communities. Through education and access to this medium, people can have a programming space that is non-commercial. We are a catalyst for the creation of programs created by the public and for the public.
For communities that are marginalized, which in many cases, are the same as communities of color, community media is an important resource. Commercial media is taken over by the dominant culture and you don’t see communities of color reflected at all. Questions that matter to us don’t get addressed in that arena. We have to have a space to understand, to learn and to organize issues that are important to us.
What made you decide to embark on a career in media production? I started out as an artist: a traditional painter, drawer. As long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I attended school in L.A. and then at the Art Institute of Chicago. I was drawn to the interdisciplinary approach there, especially to the Art and Technology Department offerings.
It wasn’t easy for me to choose to study art. My family wasn’t really supportive of that at all. Nobody wants to see their kids as an artist. I had to pioneer my own path.
I was always interested in technology. I studied video production, multimedia, audio, web design, print design – I experimented in everything. I was creating works in each area. When I graduated, during the Internet boom, everybody I knew were working for dotcoms or advertising agencies. I wasn’t inspired by that. I didn’t want to make advertisements for products I didn’t believe in.
I’ve always been driven by a strong sense of community and social justice. I worked in Chicago for Street-Level Youth Media, a 10-year-old youth media organization that is pretty well-known nationally. I performed almost every job in the organization, and rose up through the ranks. My last role was as program manager, administering all the programs and services offered by the organization: after-school programs, school-based programs, community partnerships. There were about six different programs serving about 1,200 youth every year in the city of Chicago.
I became interested in serving the entire community and broadening the reach of programming. I started looking at how community media could serve larger populations, beyond the youth segment.
I have been part of Street-Level Youth Media’s transformation. When I came to Portland to take on my new role, it also meant being a change agent: creating structures, instilling accountability, and more importantly, supporting staff through all the changes. As we realign our mission and services, we engaged the staff in determining how we want to serve the community, the best way to provide services for and make alliances with the community.
To what do you attribute your commitment to community and social justice? I’ve always wanted for my work to have meaning, not from a personal context, but to have meaning in the context of the larger community.
I grew up in India. It was very clear to me, at a very young age, that there are huge inequalities in the way we live today. Economic, gender and class inequalities were really apparent to me.
I’ve always been a strong believer that giving people access to resources can make a huge difference. I thought it was a good way to spend my time and my life.