Partners in Storytelling: UMBC, Retirement Living TV and the Charlestown Digital Story Project

Partners in Storytelling: UMBC, Retirement Living TV and the Charlestown Digital Story Project

William Shewbridge (University of Maryland, Baltimore County, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-623-7.ch028


In 2006, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) entered into a unique partnership with Retirement Living Television (RLTV). Initially driven by the practicalities of bringing a new broadcast network to air, the relationship came to influence the role of new media technology in teaching and learning on the UMBC campus. The Charlestown Project brought university students and senior citizens together to create short digital movies. The project also became a catalyst for creating human connections beyond the campus and across generations. Along the way, students formed new attitudes towards aging and community, and the campus attained an increased awareness of the power of digital storytelling.
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NMS’s work in this area occurred at a time when a relationship was forming between UMBC and RLTV. Founded in 2006 by John Erickson of Erickson Retirement Communities, RLTV is a national cable network targeting an audience of 50 and older. As a start-up network, RLTV faced a number of formidable challenges, including the need to find production and master control facilities quickly. This was due in large part to an initial distribution opportunity with Comcast Cable, which required the network to be on the air in six months (E. Beimfohr, personal interview, February 4, 2010).

Erickson had an established relationship with UMBC, which is home to the Erickson School. In part because of this relationship, the campus was considered as a possible base of operations for the new network. After touring the campus’s aging television production facility, which is managed by NMS, RLTV suggested that if it were upgraded, it would meet their immediate needs. An agreement was reached by which RLTV would fund a complete re-equipping and remodeling of the UMBC television production facility in exchange for use of the space for a period of 18 months. During this period, RLTV would build a permanent facility in UMBC’s research park, including corporate headquarters, master control and production studios. RLTV planned to relocate to the new building, when it was completed, leaving UMBC with the updated facility. In addition, the presence of RLTV on campus promised to create internship and job opportunities for students. These opportunities were of particular interest to UMBC’s fledgling Media and Communication Studies program.

RLTV hired a former UMBC employee, Kathy Raab, as campus liaison. Raab was charged with coordinating the many details of the partnership, from arranging Studio tours and internships to securing parking on campus for RLTV employees. Raab’s institutional knowledge of UMBC was invaluable in providing a conduit for communication and pulling the relationship together (E. Beimfohr, personal interview, February 4, 2010). NMS worked closely with Raab and others at RLTV to support the partnership.

Early in the process, RLTV asked the NMS to explore ideas for involving viewers in content creation. Drawing on its previous experience, the Studio proposed a project with the nearby Charlestown retirement community, partnering students with seniors to create digital stories. Out of subsequent discussions, the Charlestown Project was born. Former network vice president Ed Beimfohr remembers his initial impressions:

I looked at this proposal and said, “This is fascinating.” A chance to not only produce some unique programming that would fit nicely into our roster but also . . . enable [seniors] to capture some of their own history . . . and of course empowering them in the process. (E. Beimfohr, personal interview, February 4, 2010)

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