Research has shown that news consumption can be detrimental to mental and physical health. The 24-hour news cycle tends to bias toward sensational reporting of negative events, which can fuel feelings such as anxiety and sadness.
When Russ Ocker and AJ Anderson started the Iowa Media Network in Centerville last year, they settled on a decidedly different approach to delivering content. Their goal is to provide positive, community-based news through their internet television station, The Pitch.
Russ Ocker and AJ Anderson“We see ourselves as ambassadors to the community. Our programming is all about the positive side of Centerville,” says Ocker.
Eight years ago, while working for KCOG radio, Ocker started a local high school sports show called “The Pitch.” He paid for airtime and kept the rights to the show because he thought it had great potential. When the radio station automated a few years ago and Ocker’s job of 22 years was eliminated, he saw an opportunity to start a multimedia company with his sports show at its foundation.
Ocker had a wealth of broadcasting and programming experience but he needed someone with videography and production expertise so he reached out to A.J. Anderson — a friend of his daughter and a young Centerville native who graduated from Iowa State University and had been working for Iowa State’s Cyclones.tv.
“I heard he wanted to come back and get into broadcasting so I reached out to him to see if we could partner up on this since he would need broadcasters and I would need people to do video. It seemed like the perfect marriage,” explains Ocker.
Anderson agreed and the pair co-founded the Iowa Media Network in June of 2018. Ocker serves as the company’s financial officer and director of broadcasting. Anderson serves as CEO, producer, videographer and editor. Both partners handle sales and help create original content.
The Pitch provides live streaming coverage of local sporting events like high school football and volleyball games as well as community events such as festivals and city council meetings. Some content is free and the rest is offered by subscription. Members pay about $5.99 per month for access that includes archived video content and photos.
In addition to events coverage and news, the Pitch is working on original programming. “Your Story” profiles the life stories of residents who are of retirement age and is hosted by Centerville Mayor Mike O’Connor, a veteran broadcaster. “Mind Your Own Business” is a series that features locally owned and operated companies.
The station is more than a business venture. Ocker points out that it’s a valuable tool that can be used by the city council, local chamber of commerce, Appanoose Economic Development Corporation (AEDC) and other organizations to help promote the community.
The Pitch and AEDC are collaborating to create a series of videos featuring AEDC members. Ocker is also consulting with AEDC on the “Mind Your Own Business” series.
While The Pitch doesn’t have a 24-hour broadcast feed, it’s a goal they team is working toward. Anderson has envisioned such a channel since he was in high school. Within the next year, they aim to have programming from 6 a.m. to midnight.
The company hopes to be able to add permanent employees in the future as well. Currently, The Pitch relies on a number of independent contractors who help with broadcasting, photography, videography and editing.
“A lot of business leaders help us on a regular basis. We have a lot of community involvement, mostly on a volunteer basis,” says Ocker, noting that residents see how valuable The Pitch is to the community and want it to succeed.
The station’s popularity is growing. It now has about 100 subscribers and hopes to reach 300 over the course of the year.
Ocker is pleased with the community’s positive response to the venture. “People stop me to talk about The Pitch. I get calls almost daily from people. It’s really grown way beyond what I expected at this point.”