Speak Up Tampa Bay was formed in the early 1990’s to promote civic journalism, a movement that attempts to abandon the notion that the media and their audiences are spectators in the political and social process and to, instead, treat both as active participants in community life. It encourages the media to enhance social capital by providing coverage of the issues, events and problems that are important to ordinary people. It also strives to better connect ordinary people with the media in order to promote and encourage civic engagement.
To that end, throughout the mid-1990’s, Speak Up promoted community dialogue by hosting open forums and providing a neutral public space for citizens to come together to identify and discuss issues facing the community. Forums were attended by as many as 200-300 people who were asked to identify their concerns and to discuss with one another potential solutions. To assist them, Speak Up invited local government officials, elected representatives and the media to attend so that they could hear and, hopefully, give voice to the concerns expressed.
In 1997, a pending renewal of the cable television franchise agreement between Time Warner and the City of Tampa generated a search for a non-profit organization to assume management of the public access television channels that were then operated and managed by Time Warner. Speak Up, which incorporated in 1997 as a 501[c] non-profit, was asked to fill this role.
Recognizing that community media centers provide a vehicle for the promotion of civic dialogue and expression and also as a strong workforce development entity, Speak Up submitted a proposal to manage the public access facilities, equipment and other resources in August 1998. An agreement with the City of Tampa was signed in March 2000. Speak Up took over management of the facility on April 3, 2000. An agreement with Hillsborough County to provide public access management was signed on July 10, 2000. Both the city and the county continue to support Tampa Bay Community Network.
Speak Up Tampa Bay is governed by a volunteer Board of Directors, which sets policy and provides direction to an Executive Director, who, in turn, manages day-to-day operations.