The Unexpected Benefits of the JAG Awards

by Geoffery Belinfante, West Milford

Up here in the highlands of New Jersey, we at WM77 have been lucky to win two JAG “awards of excellence” in the past two years, one in the category of “Fairs, Festivals, Car Shows and Arts and Crafts,” and one for single camera coverage of our Town Council meetings.  While it’s always nice to be recognized for outstanding work by your peers, for a small station like WM77 it has meant a lot more than just a pat on the back and a trophy for Town Hall.

For a small station that is run entirely by volunteers, the recognition has definitely raised our profile within the township, both with the residents and, more importantly, the town council.  Up until this year, we had only received a small stipend for the station that came as part of our cable franchise agreement.  The $4800 we receive annually paid for license fees for our TelVue products, with a few dollars left over for miscellaneous expenses which we spent mostly on things like cables, expendables and our JAG membership.  We have operated the station for almost 10 years now with no additional contribution to our budget from the township.  Winning the JAG Awards changed everything.

The first thing we did was to submit a press release to the local newspaper.  We strategically included photographs of our council liaison presenting the awards to the mayor who was surprised by the presentation.  The publicity generated by the media exposure got the attention of the town council who finally authorized an expenditure from General Funds to cover some badly needed switching, monitoring and communications equipment.

More importantly, we have managed to change the way residents and the town council members think about the channel.  While we are constituted as the West Milford TV Commission, up until now the folks on the council seemed to think of us more like a club.  Now they are taking our contribution to the town much more seriously.  We have even been approached by several other organizations in town to help them publicize and/or document upcoming events.  It’s taken a while, but now people think of the station, along with the local newspaper and posters in the local supermarkets, as one of those places you go when you are looking to let people know about an event.

For many years, we have been asking for a room to house our equipment and a small space to use as a studio.  Suddenly we now have two locations to consider.  The township has even invited us to participate in conversations with a new media consultant they have hired to improve communications with the residents.  We are covering more events in town than ever before, which is challenging to our small volunteer staff.  The Recreation department has even assigned a township employee to help cover some daytime events as part of his daily activities.  We, in turn, have trained him on the operation of our camera equipment.  This is something that was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Every story needs a moral and the moral of this one is: enter the JAG awards.  Even if you don’t win an award of excellence, use the certificates you receive to generate publicity for your channel.  As you can see, small channels like ours have really benefited from the recognition.  Tell anyone who will listen about your accomplishments.  Use the awards to engage your town council members to appreciate your work.  Use the local media to tell your citizens about your success.  Then parlay that publicity into more support, both financial and creative for your station.  Use your success to recruit new members, promote the channel to your residents and gain the respect that we all deserve for the role we play in communicating important information to the residents of the communities we serve.

As a result of our efforts and the new respect we gained from our mayor and town council, JAG recognized West Milford with the Community Recognition Award.  The award is given annually to a Municipality that has demonstrated support for strong communication between a township and its citizens.  It was presented during the luncheon at our JAG Conference this year.  After almost 10 years, we have finally gained the respect that we deserve for the role we play in communicating important information to the residents of the township, and all this came from winning a couple of JAG Awards.  The Jersey Access Group was pleased to present the West Milford Town Council, and in particular Mayor Michele Dale and council liaisons Ada Erik and Marilyn Lichtenberg, for their continued support of their municipal channel WM77.  West Milford launched its channel just 10 years ago, but since the beginning, the council, the mayor and the liaisons have supported the activities of the all-volunteer staff to keep residents informed on township activities.  While WM77 is one of the smaller stations in the organization, it would not be able to continue its mission without the financial support and encouragement of the council, and for that reason we are pleased to present them our Community Recognition Award.