Reed Magazine February 2004
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2004
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Kim Spencer, now 55, grew up in the heartland, outside of Chicago. He was one year into engineering at Purdue when the politics of the ’60s came calling. Spencer found himself wanting to change everything, beginning with his education. He had heard about Reed and when he asked one of his professors, the answer was, “If you can get into that school, you certainly should.” It was the fall of 1968, and Spencer could and did. He quickly became involved with the Reed community, working on the Quest, which gave him dual grounding in journalism and rabble-rousing. By the time of his graduation in 1970, he was a political science major with an affinity for local motion.

“Reed had a big impact on me,” Spencer says. “There was a real sense of community there—and a feeling of responsibility. My politics were formed in that environment. Trying to make a difference became my goal.”

After graduating, Spencer stayed in Portland and went to work with the Multnomah County Community Action Agency. And then it happened: Sony introduced the first small, mobile, and affordable TV camera. Spencer’s agency got one of the new cameras and he immediately began using it to help community groups tell their stories.


Spencer meets with LinkTV's director of development Kathy Pace on his right, and Link TV co-producer Toni Whiteman, left.
 

“Video was so powerful, such a new media back then,” Spencer remembers. “From the beginning, I thought it was a great tool for social change. When the legislature would start talking about shutting down a senior center or a day care facility, we’d make a tape of the people involved and go down to Salem and show it to the legislators. It worked—the centers stayed open.”

After a couple of years Spencer went east to begin a master’s program in city and regional planning at Harvard. When he heard that the media department at MIT needed someone to teach students how to use the new portable video equipment, he volunteered—which led to his joining MIT students at the New Hampshire primary in 1974, producing a video aboard Ronald Reagan’s campaign bus. Spencer was hooked. He left graduate school and spent the rest of the ’70s as an independent video producer making documentaries on clean water, the environment, and other issues. The programs were shown to local governments and community groups—narrowcasting before narrowcasting had a name.

“I was still focused on community organizing,” says Spencer, “and video was simply a tool. It wasn’t about mass media—there was no chance of ever getting these things on the air, because there was such a gap between what we were doing and broadcast quality.”

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Reed Magazine February 2004

2004