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Celebrating the Legacy of Charles Benton

A friend to the community media field and a champion of public interest communications passed away this past week. Many members of ACM are saddened to have heard the news of Charles Benton’s death this past week. He was a distinctive, generous and passionate advocate for our field and for numerous causes that benefited the public interest in telecommunications in the past forty years. His legacy lives with us all, and should be remembered and championed in years to come.

I met Charles as a result of Benton Foundation’s interest in building community partnerships in media to better health outcomes in the U.S. – and to better public media’s commitment to community service. I was still working in community radio, and because of his and Benton Foundation’s devotion to the idea of putting the public back in public media, we found ways to improve the lives of immigrants and refugees in the Twin Cities.

That work continued and expanded when I came to work in St. Paul community television, and those principles of partnership with other organizations to meet the needs of communities not being served by major media institutions shaped our work at SPNN. We were lucky enough to work with him again as a result of Benton’s New Routes to Community Health initiative, and created media on mental health in the Somali community that helped refugees in Minnesota and across the U.S. – and in 22 other countries!

Charles began to work on a series of community media summits around this time – an idea that still has validity – gathering diverse community media producers and institutions to explore common goals and possible collaborations. In 2008, a series of these summits led to the creation by a groundbreaking report by our colleague Fred Johnson on the state of community media in the United States. The report is still useful today (and you can find it on the Benton Foundation site here).

Charles was a regular speaker at ACM’s conferences, and he had a desire to place our work in the context of other public interest communication struggles. And if you look at battles in the last two decades about the access of low income and marginalized Americans to the digital economy, you can find Charles everywhere. Digital Literacy and the Digital Divide. The Digital Television transition. Municipal Broadband access. Prison phone costs. Preservation and expansion of the Lifeline program to ensure communications for low-income groups. Preservation of E-Rate to insure schools get access to broadband. Promotion of BTOP to expand digital access and literacy in America. The list could go on, and it’s because of Charles Benton’s generosity of spirit, his expansive vision and his passion for the public interest and service to community.

Thank you, Charles. I will miss you as will many people in our field. I owe you a debt that I seek to repay in my work every day.

-- Mike Wassenaar, ACM President

Alliance for Community Media
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