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COMMENTARY: Lakeland Public Television a vital asset to our community, region

Change is always difficult. I'm not sure if it's the unknown and uncertain or the simple fact that it can push our boundaries of comfort, but whatever the root cause, it inevitability makes us hold our breath. Paradoxically, we're constantly reminded that the only certainty in life is change. Additionally, we're also aware that change can create new opportunities or beginnings, and, without change, we would never have the summer that follows the winter. The reality, as we all know, is that changing a direction can be a positive or a negative thing. As such, I would encourage everyone to not think of change as a call to action, but as a moment for reflection in our chaotic lives to view our surroundings, to not only evaluate what we should change, but also gain a deeper appreciation and understanding for what we have. It is in this context that I'm writing to you today.

Ryan Welle

I'm going to spare you the political discussion. We have new leadership, new ideas, and new ambitions. Some of them of are warranted, others are not, and there's everything else in between. We, as a country, will hopefully work through our differences and find that common ground. But, in the meantime, we as a community should stop to reflect on the gems that make our city special, and how our lack of support could impact our future.

I've been privileged to serve on the board of Lakeland Public Television for the past 15 months and have been continually reminded of their importance to not only Brainerd and Bemidji, but all of north central Minnesota. In an age of consolidation and dying independence among our mainstream media outlets, Lakeland has provided us that voice. It's our only source of local television news and local television programming. Our only source for highlighting local artists via "Common Ground," or current affairs that is pertinent to us, north central Minnesota, via "Currents." As a father of four children I appreciate the 24/7 dedicated channel towards educational children's programming and their partnership with PBS to provide programs such as "Nature" in giving my children quality programming that is thought provoking versus mind numbing. The reality is, our community would look and feel different without Lakeland Public Television.IIf you don't believe me, take a moment to ask Alexandria if their city feels any different after losing their local news station.

At present, Lakeland Public Television is funded 30 percent by federal funding and 70 percent by local funding. In terms of our federal budget, all of public media made up less than .01 percent of the 2016 federal spending. It's no secret that there's discussion about cutting federal funding for public media. If this were to happen, the pebble into the water would start at stations such as Lakeland, but the ripple effect would continue all the way to the top. To quote the Center for Public Broadcasting, "The federal investment in public media is vital seed money, especially for stations located in rural America and those serving underserved populations...The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect." In short, ultimately Lakeland would have little choice but to close our doors.

This isn't a Republican or a Democratic thing. In fact, a 2017 Hart Research survey found that 73 percent of voters would oppose eliminating federal funding for public media, including 62 percent of Republicans and 82 percent of independents. If you watch Lakeland or visit you know that there's value to you, regardless of where you fall on the spectrum. More important, if you don't watch Lakeland, you also know that the only time you'll hear your city mentioned is on a fly-by during the weather segment of WCCO or Eyewitness News.

Lakeland Public Television is an asset to our community and to our region. An asset that connects us, an asset that differentiates us from others, that makes us unique. We all recognize that change is inevitable, but also that there are times we need to resist it. Our local television station is too important to our community to sit silently by or even to risk jeopardizing its existence. We have a choice and, at present, we have a voice. Let's not waste it.

Please visit, or #saveourstations to voice your support to our legislators. Lastly, if you're in a position to financially support Lakeland Public Television, please consider it.

Welle is a board member of Lakeland Public Television and past chair of the Bemidji Area Chamber of Commerce.