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C-SPAN brings 50 Capitals Tour to Charleston

By RUSTY MARKS

The State Journal

CHARLESTON, W.Va.  — Joel Bacon gathers about a dozen George Washington High School students into a fancy interview room on a high-tech bus in the school parking lot and asks them where they get their news.

C-SPAN representative Joel Bacon said the bus is fitted out as a mobile broadcast studio, with access to C-SPAN’s content.
(State Journal photo by Rusty Marks)

The bus, operated by cable news network C-SPAN and outfitted as a traveling broadcast studio, is on a 50-state tour of state capitals, with Charleston being the sixth stop. Bacon, who has been with the traveling bus tour for the past four years, wants to spread the word about what C-SPAN is and what it does.

The students, many dressed as superheroes because it’s homecoming week at George Washington High, told Bacon they get their news from CNN, MSNBC, ABC or Fox News.

“I’ve got a very important question,” Bacon says. “Do you think those networks have a viewpoint they want you to believe?”

The answer is an unequivocal “yes.” The students think each network has its own particular bias or position on political issues.

But what if there were a network that didn’t have a political ax to grind? A network where presenters just broadcast what was going on in government?

Bacon suggested that network was C-SPAN.

Formed in 1979 as the Cable-Satellite Public Affairs Network, C-SPAN is funded by the cable industry with money from cable subscription fees. The network does not accept advertising or donations, and its content is controlled by neither the government nor the cable industry.

“We’re able to be anti-sensational,” Bacon explained. “It shouldn’t matter what a C-SPAN employee thinks about an issue for you to get your news.”

C-SPAN created its niche by broadcasting gavel-to-gavel coverage of government, unedited, warts and all. Bacon said C-SPAN 1 broadcasts the U.S. House of Representatives, C-SPAN 2 covers the U.S. Senate and C-SPAN 3 covers various government hearings and other political content. C-SPAN also operates a radio station and websites of historic programming and archived information.

The network also operates a video library containing about 230,000 hours of video that is free to the public. The network operates on a budget of $65 million to $70 million a year.

Bacon said the intention is to provide viewers with raw, unfiltered coverage so they can make up their own minds about political events. “We don’t just take 30-second clips and run them over and over,” he said. “We cover gavel-to-gavel.”

Bacon said the 50-state tour of state capitals will take 14 months and end next year in time to commemorate C-SPAN’s 25th anniversary.

On Monday, the C-SPAN bus visited St. Albans High School, South Charleston High and George Washington High before ending the day at the Salvation Army Boys and Girls Club on Charleston’s West Side.

Bus crew members were to interview Gov. Jim Justice and West Virginia Senate President Mitch Carmichael, R-Jackson, early on the morning of Tuesday at the state Capitol Complex. The bus was then to be opened up for the public before heading to visits at Capital High School and the University of Charleston.

Bacon said C-SPAN is trying to get the word out about the network and its place in the news world. He said the network is also sponsoring a documentary contest for students.

Students are asked to make a five- to seven-minute documentary, using C-SPAN footage, based on the U.S. Constitution.

Bacon told interested students they could look up the StudentCam competition on the network’s website, www.c-span.org.

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