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Keeping it Local with Valerie Lockhart

Executive Director
Minneapolis Telecommunications Network

We chat with Executive Director of MTN Valerie Lockhart about the importance of Public Access TV in the internet age.

MN Women In Tech

Reading Time | 6 minutes

Valerie Lockhart is the rare kind of person that doesn’t measure success by awards or trophies, but through the number of people that she helps succeed. Whether it’s as Executive Director of MTN, or through her MN Women In Tech group, Valerie combines her passion for community and technology to create new opportunities for those around her. She is one of the reasons why Nice Moves is proud to be fiscally sponsored by MTN!

Q&A with Valerie Lockhart


A lot of people who come to our monthly meetings at MTN (Minneapolis Telecommunications Network)  maybe don’t know exactly what MTN is, so let’s start with the basics. What is MTN? 

We’re a nonprofit that contracts with the city of Minneapolis to provide public access television channels and we provide training for people to learn how to make media. 

We have three channels that we run. One of them is civic/community focused, one of them is arts and entertainment, and one of them is a spiritual or religious channel. Churches can send us their Sunday sermons. Nonprofit groups can send us videos to air on the channels. Artists, musicians, anybody that wants to have a show basically. So if someone is already making content, they can just send it into us. This year, we’ve built robots that will go and grab your video clips from YouTube or Vimeo and put them on TV. So we’re trying to make it as easy as possible for people to get their stuff on TV.

We also provide training so that they can learn how to make videos, how to use cameras. We have studio space that can be used for really cheap. Basically, we make everything as accessible as possible. 

That’s great. You mentioned robots that download people’s YouTube links and Vimeo links, but you run a TV station. How have you seen YouTube and Vimeo affect people’s interest in TV?

So people aren’t really interested in TV, but they still want to get their messages out there. There’s a couple of things that make public access super different than YouTube or Facebook or any of those. A) We don’t take editorial license over your stuff. So whatever you post on public access TV is yours. We don’t ever say, “You can’t say that.” B) It’s local. You can look at public access and see what your actual neighbors are doing. If you post stuff on YouTube, you’re lost in a worldwide pool of everybody’s stuff. 

With how disconnected we’ve all become, MTN is turning our focus back to local

In the 90’s/2000’s TV was the poster child for tuning out and becoming disconnected. But it sounds like MTN allows you to be more connected with your local community. 

With how disconnected we’ve all become, MTN is turning our focus back to local and actually getting to know each other, what we’re all doing, and working together and at a micro level. And we’ve recently gone through some restructuring to help the community better. We got new equipment, rethought our training program. In 2017, MTN trained about 80 people over the course of the year. In 2018, we trained 1,537 people. We have boosted that up immensely and I think we’re on track to hit even more this year. 

When you’re running a creative nonprofit that focuses on education, how much do you anticipate what you think people should learn versus listen to what people say they want to learn. 

I think probably 40 percent is like me introducing things to them and 60 percent of it is me responding to what people say they want. You know, there are things that people don’t even know they want to know. But mostly it really is just listening to what they want to do and then figuring out what fits for them to learn. That’s kind of my life I guess; trying to fit things together as they make the most sense. 

Nice Moves is a professional organization and we have a hard time balancing not only what to focus on, but who our audience is as well. We want to make sure that we’re helping people that have 10 years experience and we’re helping people that have 0 years experience. 

I’ve found that in my Women In Tech group that I have to be super intentional about creating spaces for people. Maybe every other month or something we’re doing a special event or a special meetup just for a topic that relates to people that have been in the industry for 20 years; just some kind of like refresher or some kind of special awards event or something. What makes them feel like they’re part of the community still and not it’s not all about the new young face. 

That’s kind of my life I guess; trying to fit things together as they make the most sense. 

Okay Val, let’s get to know you a little better! How did you get into this field?

I waited 10 years after I got out of high school to go to college because I just wanted to work full time. So when I went to college, I decided that I was going to get my degree in something that I loved instead of being business focused or whatever. I’ve always been really good at English, grammar, spelling, so I got my degree in writing. At the time, they were just beginning to incorporate web communications and web writing, so that was my focus. I also learned how to code my own websites, CSS, HMTL, and JavaScript. And I’ve always loved photography. Photos were kind of my main gateway drug to media. Pictures and then video. 

I graduated from college, I quit a 15 year year HR career, and my dad died at the same time. 2011/2012 my life was totally upside down. So I started a business, Ninja Media, with my partner Troy. We both try to think about accessibility and universal design as much as we can when it comes to every project that we do. Troy made an app called Guitar Ninja that would teach deaf people music theory. Part of our marketing plan for the app was to have a show on public access called The Emergency Ninja Broadcast Network. There’s this whole like universe that we have created as it relates to this music theory course that we have. We started creating a show because we wanted it to go out to our local market and it’s accessible. And that was how we got introduced to MTN.

It sounds like what drives you can be summed up in two words; technology and community. From what we’ve seen, those two words also describe MTN pretty perfectly. 

What does the future look like for MTN? 

We’re working on a larger five year strategic plan right now for MTN. One specific aspect is growing our ambassador program. We currently have 12 ambassadors; those are people that have completed our training program. Our goal is to hit 149 ambassadors by 2025.

I’m Google Apps certified so I can I can teach people about how to use Drive and the Google Apps suite. It’s free and it’s the most accessible technology that solves so many communications problems. 

What we do is we pair college interns with older workers and have them teach and work with each other. All of our first 12 ambassadors have gotten some kind of job placement out of it. 

Lastly, how can Nice Moves community members get involved with MTN?

Donations, memberships, content, and teaching. If anybody is interested in getting involved, email info@mtn.org


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