For This Town Hall Meeting, Most of the Audience Stayed Home—Florida
What if you invited a quarter of a million people to attend your underage drinking
prevention Town Hall Meeting and even a small percentage agreed to attend? Where
would you seat them? The answer is: on their own sofas and easy chairs, in the comfort
of their own homes.
A collaboration among the Florida-based LiveFree! Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition
of Pinellas County (LiveFree!), the Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida,
and Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) television stations WEDU-Tampa Bay and WGCU
in Fort Myers provides an annual opportunity to invite a potential audience
estimated at 250,000 in a 16-county area. Since 2005, WEDU has worked with LiveFree!
and others to produce Florida Kids and Alcohol, a series of live, local Town Hall
Meetings in April about underage drinking issues in Florida. WEDU has broadcast
events from its Tampa Bay studio and from different high schools in Pinellas County.
These televised events have built public support for environmental prevention and
law enforcement efforts to stop underage drinking.
The 2012 Florida Kids and Alcohol Town Hall Meeting, which explored the connection
between alcohol and drugs, made full use of local PBS resources as well as new social
media and communications technology. On April 3, 2012, nearly 100 youth and adults
gathered at Pinellas Park High School in Largo, FL. WEDU taped the production onsite
and collaborated with WGCU to include 50 audience members from Fort Myers. There
were two televised panels of experts: One from Pinellas County, including the Pinellas
County Sheriff’s Office and Operation PAR, Inc., and one linked in via Skype from
Fort Myers, featuring representatives of the Lee County Coalition for a Drug-Free
Southwest Florida Board, Drug Free Collier, Florida Gulf Coast University, the Florida
National Guard, and the Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco.
Students in Pinellas County and students in Fort Myers registered in advance to
attend the taping in response to a Facebook invitation and a series of Tweets that
began on April 2, 2012. Both audiences included parents and representatives from
schools, law enforcement, Explorer Scouts, and health and human service agencies.
Representatives who participated via Skype from the WGCU studio in Fort Myers included
Lee County Sheriff’s Department deputies and Explorer Scouts, Fort Myers Police
Department officers and Explorer Scouts, families from Collier and Lee Counties,
Edison College students, and representatives from the Florida Gulf Coast University
Institute for Youth and Justice Studies.
WEDU quickly edited the taped footage, with input from the two coalitions. The result
was a prime- time, 1-hour high-definition special presentation that aired on April
19, 2012. WEDU rebroadcast the show on a Sunday morning and a Wednesday evening.
It also aired the show on its digital channel on a Saturday and a Sunday evening.
Multiple airing at different times made it possible for people to listen at their
The broadcast was only one of WEDU’s contributions to public outreach: the station
also produced a 25-minute webcast of additional material from the program and posted
it on its website, which also
houses the archived 1-hour Town Hall
Meeting. Sixty-two pro bono promotional spots were aired during many of
the station’s most popular programs, ranging from Nova to the PBS News
Hour to The Lawrence Welk Show and This Old House. WEDU
had promised LiveFree! more than $7,000 of in-kind products and services: The station
actually delivered nearly $44,000 worth.
The Florida Kids and Alcohol series is one of the longest running Town Hall Meetings
in the country and is proving very successful in terms of continuing community interest
in underage drinking prevention. Key to the success of the series is the efforts
of the community partners that make up LiveFree!
Another positive outcome is the possibility of Town Hall Meeting broadcasts tailored
to the Fort Myers audience. The Coalition for a Drug-Free Southwest Florida sees
a clear need for information about underage drinking issues specific to that geographic
area and already is working with WGCU to plan its own future Town Hall Meeting broadcast.
According to Steven Covey, the author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,
“More people watch television and get their information that way than read books.”
Exploring opportunities to reach community members where they are—even if it’s on
their couches at home—may be effective in sharing information on why and how they
should be involved in underage drinking prevention.