Audio Academy is Part of the Golden Age of KALW’s News Department
By Guest Blogger Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio and Geraldine Ah-Sue. Audio Academy ‘16
There’s been a lot of talk about the golden age of audio production. It’s all over the media, from New York Magazine, to the Columbia Journalism Review to the Telegraph. With an increasingly voracious audience, and a need for quality, meaningful content, the trainees in the Audio Academy are in a sweet spot right now. And they’re part of one of the best-sustained periods of quality work that KALW’s news department has ever had.
I don’t say that lightly, because we’ve had such industrious and extraordinary talent over the last decade. But I’ve been measuring the impact we make: both in audience we’re reaching; and in timely, significant stories that help shape our listener’s understanding of the Bay Area. And I think that for several months, really since this Audio Academy class started in mid-September, we’ve raised our journalistic game.
Here’s proof of concept from the last week as provided by people who have grown within KALW’s Academy and other training programs:
Holly J. McDede, who spent several summers training with our news department before settling recently in the Bay Area and finding paid work with KCBS, reported a remarkably timely story for us about the San Francisco police department’s crisis intervention training program. She had been working on the story before Mario Woods was shot by several police officers in the city’s Bayview District, providing the latest tragic example in the nation’s continuing concern over police use of force.
Angela Johnston (’14) reported on the Lehigh Cement Plant, which provides 90% of the cement used for Bay Area construction, with projects ranging from the Bay Bridge to Levi’s Stadium, while simultaneously writing a worrisome history of polluting its surrounding area.
Angela also reported an important, scene-rich story about the shutdown of this year’s dungeness crab season, the financial toll it’s taking on local fishermen, and what scientists think it means for the health of the Pacific.
In a companion piece that Angela edited, Hannah Kingsley-Ma (’15) traveled to the Farallones to tell the story of the rise in sightings of great white sharks in the Bay Area through the eyes and ears of researchers.
Liz Mak (’14) and Jeremy Dalmas (’14) aired the first installment of an immersive journalism project they’ve been working on called The Cutaway, by dropping listeners into the heart of San Francisco’s Cow Palace for the Cannabis Cup. They plan on releasing episodes as a podcast in 2016.
Jeremy also took a pre-dawn ferry ride to Alcatraz Island to tell the story of a Native American ceremony in this Audiograph piece called Unthanksgiving.
And summer trainee Lezak Shallat continued to grow by putting together a story about San Francisco’s first LGBTQ history class.
Meanwhile, the foundational education that our Audio Academy is built on continues, with members of the current class getting schooled in two-hour training sessions from our engineers, this week, on using ProTools audio editing software. They have been putting that practice into production, creating audio montages of people identifying their neighborhoods, mixtapes of people sharing the songs that shape their lives, and Storycorps pieces that have been airing over the past several weeks. In early 2016, we’ll start bringing the Academy voices to our air as they produce their first feature assignments.
Here are some thoughts from Geraldine Ah-Sue about her experience so far in our program:
By Geraldine Ah-Sue, Audio Academy ‘16
Earlier this week, I was in what my new Crosscurrents family refers to as “The Fortress of Solitude.” This is where the sound engineers tend to spend most of their day. I was sitting with Ted, one of the engineers, and we were listening to my first hand at producing a Crosscurrents interview that was scheduled to air later that week. It’s an interview with Naomi Diouf, Artistic Director for the Diamano Coura West African Dance Company.
Before she came to the studio to record her interview, I visited one of Diamano Coura’s drumming classes as well as one of their dance rehearsals. I remember venturing out on those nights, not quite knowing what I was doing, but, being a young audio buckeroo, timidly bringing my recording equipment, quieting any lingering pangs of self-consciousness, and boldly holding out my microphone to record some sound. The drums, the dancing, the footsteps, the clapping, the singing, the laughter. I came home and instantly wanted to play back what I had just recorded – I was exhilarated.
Back in the Fortress of Solitude, as Ted and I listened to the mix of the interview, I found myself beaming with joy. I had never made something that sounded like that before, and I liked what I was hearing! In the past, the most I’d do with mixing was maybe take a standard sound effect from youtube and overlay it with someone speaking. But with the Diamano Coura interview, everything I was listening to was real. It was the actual drummers, the actual dancers, the actual rehearsal, the actual Artistic Director. Everything was real, and it struck me that because of those elements, and by mixing them together, I was actually hearing Diamano Coura not just in sum, but in a full richness that is more like what someone might experience rather than deduce.
I am so excited to be part of the KALW Audio Academy. In applying for this program, I was really hoping to have an opportunity to learn more about my own “voice,” and through all of the amazingly creative and nurturing people around me at KALW, I feel like I’m on a structured and inspiring road to do so. I am constantly learning so much from everybody’s different styles of writing, reporting and listening, and I feel like my sponge sensory points are trying to absorb everything at all times. At KALW, there are so many entry points of knowledge and experience that I not only have access to, but that are actually welcoming me to ask, learn and in turn, make. New worlds open up with every new week that passes, and I am so excited to learn more about how to make what I hear in my heart into something real in the world.