The Stage is Set for TVW

The final decades of the 20th century saw many changes in news coverage of government and politics. C-SPAN blazed the trail for unedited gavel-to-gavel coverage of government deliberations when it was created in 1979 to cover the federal government. During the 1980s and 90s the federal government transferred many major policy decisions to the states - yet, at the same time, television news departments were making sharp cuts in their coverage of state government and politics, to say nothing of local/national politics. A study by the USC Annenberg School for Communications illustrates this trend:

  • Out of 4,333 news broadcasts viewed during the 2004 election cycle, only 8% covered news about a political race or issue.
  • Only 32% of those stories talked about the issue (vs. the "horserace") of the election.
  • Eight times more coverage was dedicated to coverage of accidental injuries and 12 times more coverage went to sports and weather.

TVW's Founders

The leaders who founded TVW shared a vision to fill the void left by traditional news media's waning coverage of the state capitol, and, like C-SPAN at the federal level, give citizens unbiased, unfiltered access to state government deliberations. TVW was the brainchild of Denny Heck, former legislator, House chief clerk, and chief of staff to Gov. Booth Gardner, and veteran government official Stan Marshburn. Heck and Marshburn worked with other state leaders, including TVW's first board chair, former Senate Majority Leader Jeannette Hayner of Walla Walla, to found TVW in 1993. Heck was TVW's president from its founding until 2003, when Cindy Zehnder - like Heck a former chief clerk of the state House of Representatives - joined TVW as the organization's second president and CEO.

TVW: Bringing the Public's Business Before the Public

TVW made history with the first-ever televised state court proceeding when it went on the air April 10, 1995, televising a death penalty case being heard by the Washington State Supreme Court. From the start, TVW has covered all three branches of state government - legislative, executive, and judicial - as well as public policy events of statewide significance. Some facts about TVW's programming:

  • TVW produces 2,000+ hours of original programming annually.
  • About 40% of its programming is legislative coverage; 25% is state agencies, boards, and commissions; 15% is non-governmental public policy events; 15% is elections and miscellaneous events; and 5% is Supreme Court.
  • About 55% of TVW's programming takes place in Thurston County, the seat of state government; 25% in King County; 10% in other areas of Western Washington; and 10% in Eastern Washington.
  • In 2004 TVW covered more than 100 election-related events on both candidates and initiatives, from debates and forums to editorial board interviews and a video version of the state voters' pamphlet.
  • TVW has produced award-winning civics education videos used in Washington schools. While most of its programming is unedited gavel-to-gavel, TVW produces several produced programs including Inside Olympia, Olympia On-Call, Legislative Review, The Faces and Places of Washington State, The Docket, and Pacific Northwest Technology Tour.

TVW's Organizational Structure and Financing

TVW is a 501 (c)(3) non-profit corporation, not a government agency. It is governed by an independent board of directors. The majority of TVW's operating cash - approximately $2.5 million per year - comes from the Legislature via a contract-for-service through the Secretary of State. TVW receives more than $11 million per year in the form of in-kind contributions of channel space from Washington's cable television industry.

TVW's Camera Operation

At one time the largest robotic camera facility in the world, TVW maintains 39 robotic cameras in 4 buildings on the Capitol Campus in Olympia, including the Legislative Building, Temple of Justice, and House and Senate office buildings. In addition, TVW has three vans containing mobile production units which cover events in all corners of Washington. TVW, with the help of its first engineer, Phil Mudgett, was a pioneer in proving that robotic cameras can be quite small and unobtrusive yet still capture television-quality video. Every day, TVW's cameras quietly capture government deliberations - in fact, meeting participants often comment they "forget the cameras are there."

TVW Viewership

  • TVW is a cable-only network which can be seen in 99% of the cable households in Washington - approximately 3.5 million viewers, or 55% of the state's population - and is on 24/7 in most locations.
  • All of the events covered by TVW are available in streaming video and/or audio on TVW's website, TVW's website attracted over 1.8 million visitors in 2006.
  • 2006 and 2007 statewide polls of registered voters by Elway Research show that 22% of registered voters in Washington State, some 800,000 people, had watched TVW within the last 2 weeks.

The New TVW Jeannette C. Hayner Media Center

In 2006 TVW moved into a new Media Center at 1058 Capitol Way South, just across the street from the original headquarters (and former bowling alley!) TVW had occupied since its inception. The new building, named for former Senate Republican Majority Leader and founding TVW Board Chair Jeannette Hayner, serves as TVW's new headquarters and serves to enhance other media organizations' coverage of state government. TVW's move to the new Media Center included a major overhaul of all equipment from outdated analog systems to digital technology, made possible by a $3-million appropriation from the 2005 State Legislature and a $3+ million capital campaign that paid for the physical structure through private donations.

Support for NAPAN

TVW supports the mission of The National Association of Public Affairs Networks, which has been conceived to help establish and expand in all 50 states noncommercial television networks devoted to providing citizens with fair, balanced, and unfiltered access to their state governments: to foster and nurture the institutions that will help create the informed electorate that will shape our democracy in the years to come. NAPAN is committed to the launch and viability of networks in all 50 states by the year 2015. Learn more about NAPAN.


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