The Square Circle

At 10 minutes to seven every Thursday, the lively bustle of AIM’s Wilson Boulevard studio gives way to a quiet simmer. Volunteers take their places behind cameras and control boards, headphones are gently pulled on and plugged in, and the heavy door to the studio is at the last moment latched shut. The evening’s guests straighten in their seats, all eyes on the clock, before the countdown at 6:59.

This is The Square Circle, a weekly roundtable discussion on current events that is recorded and produced by Arlington Independent Media (AIM). It is the channel’s only program to be broadcast live.

The Square Circle aims to break down the siloed opinions of commercial news outlets by facilitating dialogue across the political spectrum. Each week ushers in a new array of guests. The show has hosted criminal justice lawyers alongside foreign policy experts, newspaper reporters next to libertarian pundits.

The Square Circle is directed by James Kidd, who also founded and directs PublicSquare.net, the show’s nonprofit parent company. The Square Circle is part of a larger project to advance public discourse on controversial topics, and the show is one of several debate shows overseen by his organization.

"If you want to find out what liberals think, you know where to go--MSNBC or the New York Times,” he says. “If you want to know what conservatives think, you go to Fox News or National Review.” James saw a need for a platform where the two sides could engage each other in conversation.

In the fast-paced, 30-minute window of The Square Circle, there are rarely any neat resolutions reached by show’s end—but the goal is to emphasize process over product, to demonstrate the value of engaging with our peers across party lines. The show addresses viewer-submitted questions live each night, drawing input and feedback from the community.

Behind the scenes, every episode is the delicate balance of many moving parts. The studio is a collaboration between an ever-changing guest list and a rotating crew of certified volunteers, all with varying degrees of experience when it comes to the rigors of producing live television. The atmosphere often calls for quick improvisations. In the event of a short-staffed production team or a technical glitch, there’s little alternative but to keep the cameras rolling.

Kate Dorrell and Heff Munson, both frequent crewmembers, recall a time when the teleprompter froze right before the show. "Fortunately we had a seasoned moderator that night,” says Kate. Heff reenacts a sprinkling gesture with his hands—“seasoning the moderator”— and Kate nods. “She came pre-seasoned.”

James directs his crew over headsets from the control room. Absent any run sheet, the team must follow each speaker with the proper camera angles and captions while also anticipating the next shot to take and the next clip to queue. James’s role is to assemble these elements into a series of fluid transitions. As the debate quickens and panelists turn reactive, the crew works to steadily match their pace.

The Square Circle concludes every show with a regular segment it calls “The Most Underreported Story of the Week.” Panelists are asked to pitch the story that from their view was overlooked or underplayed in mainstream news. Informally, the segment allows The Square Circle to offer its own original news content, unbound by party lines. In these final minutes on tape, no matter the debate that transpired, panelists can set aside their arguments and come to collective agreement on the necessity— and vitality—of community-driven media.

To learn more about The Square Circle, visit www.PublicSquare.net.

Want to volunteer? James is seeking volunteers to help produce this live show. Members of the crew will gain exposure to a wide range of studio roles and have the chance to learn new skills. Get in touch at jkidd@publicsquare.net.

-- Helen Wieffering