Big-Screen Heroes
A Facebook group plays a starring role in saving movies at the Mall.

Friday, June 12, 2009

THE RETURN of Screen on the Green marks a victory for a whole new kind of community organizer: the Facebook group creator. This annual summer film series has brought together Washingtonians for the past decade, serving as a rare source of community for Mall visitors and locals alike. The May 12 discovery by D.C. bloggers that HBO was canceling the beloved series provoked dozens of comments and spurred the creation of two Facebook groups. These quickly merged to form "Save 'Screen on the Green' in the District of Columbia," attracting nearly 2,000 members in a few days.

Facebook groups sometimes combine unbounded theoretical enthusiasm with limited real-world engagement. But Save Screen on the Green was different. After founder Jesse Rauch learned the cost of the annual screenings from HBO, the group urged its members to write both to the network and to potential new sponsors, providing a prepared message and links to the e-mail addresses of more than 30 local and national businesses. Some e-mail writers used the group's form; others drafted their own messages, telling of meeting their future spouses at Screen on the Green or reminiscing about times shared with friends. More than 200 messages went out citing the 75,000-strong Screen on the Green audience, the promotional opportunities it offered businesses and the power of the screenings to create community spirit, with links to the Facebook group as evidence of the strong local support for the series. Ultimately, this got results: HBO agreed to continue its sponsorship if new co-sponsors were found, and Comcast and the Trust for the National Mall stepped up. All three cited the online outcry in their decision to bring back the screenings.

What is noteworthy about the return of Screen on the Green is not that individuals used online social media to unite behind a common cause. This happens frequently, with Facebook groups for issues that range from feeding the hungry to "I Want to Punch Slow Walking People in the Back of the Head" (1,313,117 members). But a Facebook group does not a movement make. Beyond Save Screen on the Green's online group was its e-mail campaign; in the works were an in-person meet-up and T-shirts pushing the cause. It was this more-than-theoretical enthusiasm, demonstrated by the e-mail deluge and backed by the sheer numbers of the Facebook group, that inspired Comcast, HBO and the Trust to offer their support.

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