Pensacola, Florida
Tuesday September 17th 2019

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So Many Stories

By Jeremy Morrison

With her partner John Singley loading up the last of the equipment into the car, Teresa Hill pauses briefly, squints into the sun-drenched September afternoon and considers the future.

“Who knows where this is going?” Hill shrugged.

The reflection is fleeting. There’s no time for that now. Too many stories to tell. Maybe eventually they’ll map out the future for ECW Live, but for now, it’s off to Perdido to talk with fishermen about the environmental impacts associated with International Paper.

“A lot of these nice-to-haves or should-haves fall victim to the tyranny of today,” Singley noted earlier inside the studio. “You know, we’ve got a story that needs work today; she’s got a video that needs editing today. What you see is what you get here.”

Since beginning their venture about a year ago, ECW Live has found no shortage of material. The Escambia County region has a wealth of stories to tell. It’s just a matter of deciding which ones to chase.

“Every bit of investigating we do raises a dozen more questions,” Singley said. “A lot’s going on here. Which path do we take, and when do we take it?”

Filling the Void
When Hill moved back home to the Belmont-DeVilliers neighborhood from college, she decided to start a zine. It was a homespun publication called the Belmont Underground. And people ate it up.

“It was just amazing, because no matter how many I printed, people wanted them,” Hill recalled. “Clearly, there was a need for that story. And I think that’s where it hit me, that that first-person, human-interest kind of story, people connect to it.”

Over the next few years, Hill became an active participant in community affairs. She grew comfortable navigating the social media landscape, diving into issues like the city of Pensacola’s protection of historic structures and then later honing those online communicative skills working on her mom Ann Hill’s successful run for the District 6 seat on the Pensacola City Council.

That was when Singley took notice of Hill. With a media background and retired from a career working public affairs with the U.S. Navy, he had realized of one of the region’s lopsided equations—too much news for too little news organizations.

“I was thinking, you know, this is a little bit dysfunctional around here, what’s going on in city government and county government; it’s really weird,” Singley said. “And the media organizations are shrinking; they’re cutting back. So, I said, there’s a huge void.”

Singley felt that filling such a void would require a guerrilla-esque approach built to thrive in a social media world. In Hill, he saw a master of such domain.

Before long, Singley invited Hill on a journey, “Why don’t we take your know-how and create this niche? Let’s use streaming media to fill the void left by fewer reporters in the newsroom, less money being spent on newsgathering. And she said, ‘Hey, I’m game. I’m good with that.’”

Initially, the pair set up shop in a room at the downtown public library, where they would conduct no-frills, sit-down interviews with the area’s relevant players about whatever topic seemed to be lighting up the community at the moment.

Then Hill suggested the operation broaden and begin live streaming government meetings so she and Singley began taking their cellphones to meetings.

Realizing they needed a venue on Facebook that could deliver the largest possible local audience, Hill and Singley chose to use Escambia Citizen’s Watch, where locals dissect local issues, especially those concerning local government.

“If we stream from a group like this,” Singley remembers thinking, “it goes immediately to all 6,400 members. That’s pretty good circulation from the get-go.”

Of course, operating out of the realm of social media does have its challenges. For starters, it’s meant that Singley and Hill have had to overcome any negative associations people attach to the wild-west environment of Facebook.

“There’s been a growing curve with institutions around here about who we are, what our street cred is and what it is we’re really doing,” Singley explained. “Social media carries a certain stink with it because of its rambunctious nature, not just here, but everywhere—unfiltered—so a lot of organizations that are rightfully careful with their reputations approach social media very carefully.”

The Next Phase
From the beginning, ECW Live has had a mission reminiscent of C-SPAN.

“It was all about informing the citizen without being an editorial page,” Singley said. “I thought the cleanest, safest, smartest way to do this was to be a C-SPAN—wall-to-wall, uninterrupted video streaming of meetings, interviews, boring mostly, of newsmakers, authors, scientists, whatever, in the middle of the night, giving the viewers more information than they really probably needed.”

Gradually ECW Live has evolved, venturing outside of meetings and the studio to do on-site explorations into issues like education, water quality, pedestrian safety or police relations. The feedback has been reaffirming.

“Our content has been on a vector of a 45-degree angle almost, you know, our reach, the impressions, all the metrics that Facebook loves to give you,” Singley said. “Facebook floods you with data. And we catch ourselves like sitting at Sardi’s restaurant after the play is over and  waiting for the New York Times review. We are data crunching on whatever we did the day before.”

Recently, Singley and Hill have decided to springboard their work to another level. They have launched Studio 850 Productions that will tackle longer form, documentary projects. Their first documentary concerns the environmental impacts of the International Paper on Perdido Bay. So far, the response to online previews of the project has been encouraging.

“We’re noticing that the edited film documentary that we’ve just started doing is blowing away everything else, as far as reach goes, we’ve done by hundreds of percentage points,” Hill noted.

It’s uncertain where exactly Hill and Singley are headed with this venture. For the moment, they’re way too busy to figure it out. Hill smiled, “It’s hard to know where it’s going to go.”

Check out ECW Live’s work at facebook.com/ecwlive.