Friday, July 20 , 2018, 2:16 pm | Fair 75º


Noozhawk Talks: Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down with Hap Freund

Local TV's man about town discusses the future of print and broadcast media and his extensive community involvement

Certainly the hardest working man in (local public access) television, Santa Barbara Channels executive director Hap Freund took some time out of his busy day to talk media matters with Noozhawk’s Leslie Dinaberg.

LD: How did you get started in public television?

HF: I moved to Hawaii in 1980 with my wife, who had a clerkship in the Hawaii Supreme Court. I got a job with the mayor’s office. I was in the office of human resources and I was in charge of special projects in social services, but I wasn’t supposed to spend any money and all I had to do was monitor a bunch of federal grants and it was totally boring. Somehow it came to me that there was this access channel that if you produced television for it you could get your programs on TV.

I got together with some friends of mine and we did a documentary on homeless in Hawaii. And after I made that documentary, I then went to the Junior League and I got a $50,000 grant to produce TV programs, to do the video training and to produce local documentaries on social issues. Over the course of about two years we did 18 half-hour documentaries. So I did that through my job working for the mayor’s office.

It was kind of a back door. I had never done television. I had been a lawyer and a community organizer and done a lot of work in social issues, but because the mayor didn’t want to spend any money, I could do anything I wanted pretty much in social services as long as I didn’t spend money. So I did this and didn’t cost her a cent.

So that’s how I got into it. Then I moved to Ashland, Oregon, when our son was about a year and a half and I did independent work. I did a documentary for NOVA that took a year. I wrote an article for Sports Illustrated on a wildlife forensic lab in Ashland ... it was in the swimsuit issue, so the joke was it was in the most widely read Sports Illustrated of the year, except nobody read my article. (Laughs) But part of that, I took that article and I wrote a grant to do a film on wildlife forensics.

LD: And you were in Seattle before you came to the Santa Barbara Channels when it switched from belonging to Cox to being a nonprofit.

HF: Yes. We became a nonprofit in January 2003 and I started up a couple of months before that to set up the bylaws and the policies and personnel plan.

One of the things I really like is what’s happened in video is it’s democratized, even more so now because you can shoot a video with your phone. It’s been an incredible leveler and it’s just democratized so much, and YouTube helps, too. You can get the word out. What we do is so you don’t have to have a network to get the word out. And that’s one of the things I like about this (public television) is it’s a vehicle for people to have their opinions. ... I think that’s the cornerstone of democracy is having diverse opinions and people hearing things that are uncomfortable.

I always think we feel a real niche with cable. Channel 17, that’s the public access part, with Channel 21. I have a very broad definition of education, so I look at anything that’s culture or arts also as educational.

LD: You are also doing things with nonprofits.

HF: Now we have a grant from the Orfalea Foundation to do short spotlights on nonprofits that are out in the field, and we’ve got a grant from the Santa Barbara Foundation where we’re trying to focus a lot on doing production work for nonprofits. I think if there’s a direction we want to go in, we really see ourselves as being the media arm for nonprofits.

LD: That’s great. Especially because I know everybody is struggling with money to spend on things like that.

HF: Yes, and we’re inexpensive and we give them something they can multipurpose because it isn’t just going on TV, we have a video-sharing site called, and we have all these videos. They can link to it, they can send e-mails out. 

LD: I hear you’re moving into the old Univision buildings in Goleta?

HF: Yes, it’s very exciting. I mean, I love to be downtown but the Univision building in the long run, and even in the short run, saves us money and it’s a bigger facility for less money. And it’s a better studio. ... We can have an audience of 49 people and so one of the ideas I have is, we want to market this to nonprofits and say if you’ve got an event if you want to have a town hall or a forum, why don’t you do it at our place because you can put it on TV live, you can have people calling in and interacting.

Also, the other part is that I think our major mission is to facilitate and make it easier for people to get their content out. So we look at that in terms of both the media that we offer, it’s both the production and the distribution. Because a lot of people just bring us content more and more ... they don’t have to produce it here to get it on the air. I am happy to have all of that stuff.

LD: Do you have any favorite moments since you’ve been here?

HF: I could write a novel about this place. (Laughs) It’s never dull ... My favorite moment was we were producing something in the smaller studio for the film festival with the film festival people and the police were getting ready to do a program in the other studio and they brought some drug dogs, drug-sniffing dogs in who went nuts. I saw all of these people looking around kind of nervously and what it was, was they had also brought in some marijuana to hide behind the couch to show the dogs off, but I think a lot of people were starting to get nervous.

But really one of my favorite things is just knowing that people watch. When somebody comes up to me and says, “thank you so much for showing the youth symphony. It was so wonderful for all those kids to see their hard work on television.” That appreciation that goes a long way.

LD: That’s great. With print media struggling, do you see an expanded or different role for television?

HF: That’s a good question. I think the print media people who are sending the reporters out with cameras, like the Ventura County Star, I think they get it. I don’t think we compete with print media. I think the more information people have the better. I think there’s going to be some convergence. But I think what we need is more good reporting and so I think the people who do print media, it’s really different than bloggers.

Bloggers can just repeat rumors. With journalists you get both sides of the story and I think we’re losing some of that. That’s what I worry about the Internet, you can have an opinion and people treat it as fact. ... I would hate to see print journalism gone, but I hope that what we need is good reporting. I think unbiased reporting, both sides of the story, get the facts straight and let people make up their mind. I think that’s what’s most important.

LD: What else do you do when you’re not working?

HF: I like to spend time with family, watch basketball, exercise and travel, though it’s getting harder to afford. I’m a huge basketball junkie, especially Duke.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

HF: Enthusiastic, issue-oriented and upbeat.

Vital Stats: Hap Freund

Born: July 31, 1943, in St. Louis

Family: Wife, Claudia Chotzen, sons Zach (age 22 and a senior at Stanford) and Willy (age 18 and a senior at Laguna Blanca)

Civic Involvement: “This takes a lot of my time. This is not a 40-hour-a-week commitment, so I would say that my civic involvement really is through work and trying to get organizations in the door and caring about what they do.”

Professional Accomplishments: Santa Barbara Channels executive director, former lawyer and community organizer, award-winning documentary filmmaker

Best Book You’ve Read Recently: Shining City and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle 

Little-Known Fact: Freund was once one of the leading experts in the country on lead-paint poisoning in children. He also holds the patent on a design for a carrot-shaped flashlight.

Noozhawk contributor Leslie Dinaberg can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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