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FROM THE TELEVISION CRITICS ASSN.

Current TV offers training

Celebrities, authors and academicians inform amateur producers how to contribute to the new network's content.

January 11, 2006|Lynn Smith | Times Staff Writer

Current TV, the youth viewer-participation network created a year ago by former Vice President Al Gore and Chief Executive Joel Hyatt, has enlisted a slate of celebrities, including Robert Redford and Sean Penn, to help train amateur producers to contribute segments on air and online.

Redford and Penn introduce the online guide, which contains advice on citizen journalism and storytelling from professionals, including Catherine Hardwicke, writer-director of the movie "Thirteen"; actor and screenwriter Bonz Malone; author Dave Eggers ("A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius"); Ira Glass, radio host of "This American Life"; Elvis Mitchell, former New York Times film critic; and Orville Schell, dean of UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. The guide is available at www.current.tv/studio/survivalguide.

In their comments, Redford and Penn say network news needs to make room for more independent voices. Created to "democratize" television, Current founders expected that only a small percentage of its content would be produced by viewers, said David Neuman, president of programming at Current. Now, he said, "we find ourselves at the point where 25% to 30% of our content is being created by viewers." Since it's debut in August, about 100 contributors with varying degrees of training have supplied segments, typically ranging from three to seven minutes, he said. The pay has doubled from $250 to $500 for first- and second-time contributors.

Segments, or "pods," have been created by online participants from Afghanistan, Kenya and Colombia, he said, on topics such as bodybuilding, HIV and street culture.

Current, which was initially greeted with skepticism by the television industry, has gained respect from critics and would-be competitors also seeking young contributors.

Network executives were scheduled to present further details of the guide and some pieces by amateur filmmakers late Tuesday at the Television Critics Assn. press tour in Pasadena. One, a segment by Kikala Diallo of New Orleans, describes the hip-hop "diaspora" created by Hurricane Katrina.

There are no age requirements for contributors, but the content overwhelmingly slants to Current's 18-to-34-year-old target audience. "It's the first generation that's almost as likely to make TV as watch it," Neuman said.

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