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Our View: Pulling plug on city’s broadcasts reasonable

Following a June 25 story in The Durango Herald on the City of Durango potentially scrapping its DGOV broadcast services, one commenter wrote: “Lip service to transparency is just that.”

Transparency in government is, of course, essential to democracy. It’s a given. But the city’s inevitable decision to pull the plug on DGOV isn’t a matter of transparency. It’s one of delivery.

The city livestreams City Council meetings and study sessions on its YouTube channel, its website, and viewers and public participants may enter virtual meetings on Zoom. But this won’t mean squat to someone who has never joined a Zoom meeting or even knows what Zoom is. Ditto for someone who has not spent much time online or viewed YouTube.

Citizens can also attend public, in-person meetings at City Hall.

Unquestionably, the citizens who get their Council news from watching via cable or rabbit-ears antennas will be severely impacted. These viewers include our seniors, our most vulnerable residents, and those without the means or skills or interest in accessing the internet. Tuning in to TV has been their best way in. Ending DGOV means cutting this channel of information to those who need it most.

But in the end, it’s a numbers game. The number of people watching Council meetings on TV is relatively very few. Based on phone calls, in-person conversations and survey responses, the city estimates this group totals 50 residents. Fifty pales in comparison to pageviews on the city’s website - 1,596,123 in 2021 alone - the 10,000 Facebook followers, 6,000 Twitter followers and 3,000 Instagram followers. The city has continued ongoing messaging on DGOV, asking viewers whether they are still watching. And, mostly, no one is calling.

“The demand just is not at DGOV right now,” said Tom Sluis, Durango’s director of media and community engagement. “There’s a really low demand for over-the-air broadcasts because it’s an antiquated technology, essentially.”

Delivering Council news in every imaginable form is, ideally, the best practice. It also falls under that fundamental caveat of life, which is “up to a point.”

The expense to continue DGOV is not feasible. Plan A was to hire a new Broadcast Specialist. But candidates won’t log on for less than $100,000. Plan B to hire a contractor came in at $250,000. This kind of money can’t be justified to the rest of Durango’s citizenry, who we imagine would be outraged if the city were to spend so much on a limited return. And it’s unreasonable to strong-arm the city into doing it.

Other ways to get the news. Join the city’s email “Notify Me” email list or sign up for the “City Currents” newsletter or subscribe to The Herald (sorry, couldn’t resist).

These options don’t replace the ease and comfort of citizens turning on the tube – at 5:30 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays – to hear the city’s goings-on while making dinner. But they do show the city’s deliberate attempts at being transparent.

Back to the delivery part of the equation. As a call to action, without DGOV, how can we help people cut off from Council happenings? Can we give them a ride to meetings? Can neighbors bring over a handheld device to view YouTube? Could a friend help seniors learn the ropes to access a webpage and open a link or join a Zoom meeting?

How do we lend a hand to community members who, in any way, feel isolated?

Meetings that show how government is working is out there for all to see. Helping neighbors access them is our next best step.