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Hive Media Lab’s new green doors next to an old “On the Air” sign. (GeekWire Photo / Frank Catalano)

If you’re going to have your lunch eaten, perhaps it’s best to have some say about the table setting.

That could sound like a cynical interpretation of the launch of Cascade Public Media’s new Hive Media Lab in Seattle. Located inside the Seattle Center building that also houses public television station KCTS-TV and the digital news site Crosscut, Hive Media Lab is billed as a “collaboration and production” space.

It’s an open innovation lab — in other words, not just for use by Cascade Public Media’s two media outlets. It’s designed to be a place for media and technology organizations to wrestle with the challenges facing media’s future.

But Brian Glanz, the Hive Media Lab director, has no illusions about what’s on the plate.

“Tech has been eating our lunch in the media for decades,” Glanz said as we toured the new facility, citing as an example many newspapers’ decline in circulation, reporting staff, revenue, and influence. “Part of Cascade Public Media is that 60-plus year-old TV station,” he said. “What happened to newspapers may very well happen to TV stations before too long. Instead of just reacting to all of that technical change, we want to get together and innovate our way through all of these changes.”

The new Hive Media Lab at Seattle Center. (Image: Cascade Public Media)

Thus Hive Media Lab, which is being held up as a one-of-a-kind innovation space for tech and media nationally. At its core, it’s basically a place — two rooms, really: a converted television studio once used for public TV pledge drives, plus a conference room that was once a green room, totaling more than 2,000 square feet. It features a high-end technology infrastructure, from huge LCD displays and a laser projector to dedicated gigabit broadband circuits and WiFi. And if all goes as envisioned, the Lab will host collaborative events and programs, organizations and projects.

What kind of projects? Glanz said one of the first is creating a series of broadcast public service announcements, or PSAs, to help fight “fake news.” Think of teaching people basic media literacy — like how to read a headline. While PSA campaigns are nothing new, Glanz said the broader team approach and bigger aspirations to reach viewers beyond KCTS’ audience makes it a favorite Lab project of his.

Hive Media Lab’s previous life as a TV studio for pledge drives and more. (Image: Cascade Public Media)

“The Society for Professional Journalists, the national organization in D.C., has endorsed the project and they are partnering with us to find distribution partners all across the country,” Glanz said. “The University of Washington’s DataLab will be handling the evaluation of how these pieces work or not.”

The plan is to run the PSAs as an experiment during this year’s elections. “If we figure out exactly how to move the needle on reducing the spread of fake news, then we’ll go big in 2020,” he said. “And if we don’t then we won’t, because it’s an innovation lab and you should measure if things are working and when they’re not, you should stop doing them or find a better way.”

Other uses for the Lab space and technology may range from hosting regular podcast producer meetups for sharing tips, to workshops, screenings, community listening sessions, and organized media hackathons.

Hive Media Lab Director Brian Glanz at the grand opening. (GeekWire Photo / Frank Catalano)

While it’s true that many companies and universities have innovation labs, Glanz pointed out that “all of them are exclusive. You use that lab, you can use those facilities if you go to school there, or if you work there.” While the Hive lab began as an internal lab, too, he said, “What we’re doing here is opening it up to other media outlets, to the tech community, and to just the community.”

That open approach likely wouldn’t have been possible without significant outside support from Comcast. Linda Farmer, Comcast’s communications manager, told GeekWire, “We’ve committed nearly a million to the Hive, including $475,000 for improvements to the lab space and programming in addition to another $500,000 in technology support.” That in-kind tech contribution includes the broadband internet, WiFi, voice, and Comcast’s X1 cable TV service.

At the Lab’s grand opening this month, Cindy Parsons, Comcast’s vice president for market planning and strategy, said that while this is the eighth of a dozen planned innovation centers it will underwrite nationally, Seattle’s is the only one for media and tech. (Another, the new CoLab18 in Pittsburgh, is focused on serving as a community digital classroom and meeting space.)

At Hive Media Lab’s opening, an open invitation to collaborate. (GeekWire Photo / Frank Catalano)

Glanz would like to see the lab become the nerve center for projects that cross traditional news media and technology boundaries, generating new projects with the scope and impact of #SeaHomeless, which brought together more than 20 digital and traditional media outlets.

“What I would love to do is find other things like homelessness where we all should cover that together in the media — and we’ll have a much better impact if we do — and use Hive Media Lab partly to organize a lab team where we identify those stories and decide how we could possibly best cover them,” Glanz said.

In the meantime, plans for additional uses of the space still appear to be relatively open and flexible, like Hive Media Lab itself. Glanz said, for now, he’s personally being pitched with ideas for events and projects.

It seems appropriate. Both Hive Media Lab, and the broader traditional media it hopes to inspire, are looking ahead to determine what they ultimately will become.

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