Chad Johnston,The Peoples Channel and Durham Community Media
Chad Johnston is the Executive Director of The Peoples Channel and Durham Community Media, a nonprofit community media center and public access TV station serving Chapel Hill and Durham, NC. He has been with the organization for 7 years and was also a board member of the Alliance for Community Media in Washington, DC for 3 years. Chad is a media activist and advocate mainly focused on the development and protection of Public, Educational and Government Access Television. However, Chad also advocates on issues such as LPFM radio, development of broadband for community use, media reform, and network neutrality.
What drew you to this work?
I came to public access when I was about 14 and my mother took me to an access station in Columbus, Ohio. I started making skate videos and filming my friend's bands. I ended up going to Antioch College and studied media and theater. Through Antioch I was lucky enough to have two mentors with a long history of working in Public Access and working towards social justice and change. I interned with an access center near Portland, OR and sometime during that experience, a light-bulb went off and I started to realize the deeper importance of communities having access to the media. I returned to school calling myself a "media activist" and the rest is history. There is nothing more exciting than watching someone learn that they have a voice and that it's just as authentic and important as any of the news pundits. Though I love to produce media, helping to create a space where people can learn to produce for themselves really moves me. When an intern returns years later with a film degree or a community member tells me how a program they saw opened their eyes to a new perspective, that makes all the hours of difficulties and challenges wash away.
What keeps you engaged with this work?
Learning. I was not trained to be a leader; I was thrown into it. I had a passion to evolve access television, but I didn't know the first thing about the complexities of managing a staff or growing an organization or working with a board of directors. And even though I've gained a ton of skills over the years, I am still challenged every day with a new quandary. I also feel very fortunate to have a ton of support from others who work in this field. I have mentors and friends who are always there to share ideas and help me see things from a different perspective. There is such a wealth of knowledge in networks like NAMAC, it's inspiring.
What was the most pivotal moment of your leadership journey?
I believe it was the leadership institute with NAMAC that really changed my perspective on how I was doing work. I had become really frustrated with the way things were (not) working in my organization and I was ready to throw the towel in. Then I was lucky enough to be able to attend the institute and wow, it was amazing. There were so many "ah ha!" moments in that retreat and I came back with a huge bag of tools and strategies to try. Since then, I have been working very differently and though I'm still not 100% sure of what I'm doing all the time, I feel much more confident taking risks and facing challenges head on.
What are your strengths as a leader?
Patience. Nothing happens quickly. I think I try very hard to give staff members that I work with the freedom to try new things and to take risks. I feel if I don't have a team of colleagues that don't feel empowered in their work, then our work over the long haul won't be as powerful. Helping staff to learn their own leadership skills and grow takes a lot of patience and a great deal of making sure everyone has the tools they need to feel successful.
How do you stay on top of your game?
Reaching out to my friends and colleagues helps me a great deal. It's so easy to feel stuck on an island and running an organization can make me feel a little isolated. Being able to pick up the phone and talk with someone else and vent really gives me perspective. I also try to be as honest as possible with the people that I work with so that they understand when I'm struggling or don't feel totally prepared for a task. I've learned that by doing that, I get much more support from them, which helps me stay on top of my game and feel good about my work.
What are you working on that gets you excited and inspired?
We opened a new community media center in May of 2009 and it is not funded like traditional access centers. Trying to think creatively about how we engage our community in a different way, so that we are financially supported by them has been both a struggle and really exciting. We are also hoping that with the new LPFM licenses opening up, that we might be able to build community support for also encompassing radio in the work that we do.