Everybody Wins at KALW – From Audio Academy Members to Listeners
By Guest Blogger Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW
Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of hearing KALW Academy mentor Leila Day on NPR‘s Weekend Edition:
On Steel Horses They Ride – To Honor 19th Century Cavalries
Then when I woke up Monday, I saw that we had a record number of applicants for the next Audio Academy – more than 80! Over the next three weeks, our evaluation team of Academy mentors Audrey Dilling, Hana Baba, Jen Chien, and Leila will be considering them carefully, conducting a bunch of interviews, and inviting the class of 2016. We should know who’s taking part by the first week of March!
On Tuesday, I spoke with Johanna Zorn from the Third Coast International Audio Conference. She invited our newsroom to be the judge of their annual contest for best news feature of the year. The bad news is it means we can’t enter. But the good news is that we’ll be charged with listening to about a dozen of the best stories from all kinds of newsrooms, and our name will go out as the arbiters of taste for the year. That’s happening in August – should be fun! And should help us be better mentors for the next Audio Academy class!
Had a collection of beautiful and interesting shows last week, with the bulk of reporting being conducted by Audio Academy members and fellows.
Monday’s featured Academy fellow Kristina Loring‘s very scene-rich story about the Mr. Geoffrey Show about living on the streets of San Francisco and Academy member Hannah Kingsley-Ma‘s cool sound designed piece through The Litography Project about the Pt. Reyes Light police blotter.
Tuesday’s featured insightful reporting, with Academy fellow Liz Mak‘s follow up feature on sex assaults at UC Berkeley, Academy fellow Todd Whitney‘s lively interview with Black Girl Dangerous blog author Mia McKenzie, and then another well-produced piece from Academy member Colin Peden for StoryCorps about dealing with adversity.
On Wednesday, Liz Mak was back! This time with a creatively interpreted piece about a housing forum, then Academy member Raja Shah‘s reigning in of SFMTA Chair Tom Nolan.
Thursday, Academy alum Liz Pfeffer brought the region a journalistic first, tracing the progress of The Navigation Center, a new San Francisco initiative to transition groups of people from homelessness to housing. And then Academy member Liza Veale brought the sounds of a real life fight club to our audience through Audiograph.
That’s where the week came to a really amazing conclusion!
A listener called in with the answer (and there were actually quite a few people who knew about the East Bay Rats fight club), and it turned out he lives in L.A. He listens to Crosscurrents through a podcast, because the show is all about the Bay Area and it makes him feel like he’s here! He came by the station for a visit, and it turns out he’s a firefighter, he drives the same kind of car that mentor Julie Caine does, and he was absolutely thrilled to meet us and get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of our newsroom. It was really amazing. Everybody wins!
Here are some thoughts from Academy member Hannah Kingsley-Ma:
By Guest Blogger Hannah Kingsley-Ma, Audio Academy Student
The moment before my story airs is always the same: I feel a deep knot in my stomach, something akin to anxiety. Hearing my voice over the airwaves is still so surprising. Afterwards though, that initial worry lessens, and the thoughtful feedback I get from my mentors and peers helps guide me towards the next piece – how to strengthen the quality of my storytelling, how to infuse each scene with sound.
When I started, I had no experience in recording, reporting, or producing for radio. I cannot stress how much I have learned in these past months – familiarizing myself with the process of making a radio story alone has been a real evolution. No doubt, this has something to do with the amazing editors who I’ve been able to work with along the way. Editors make your work better. They tell you flatly that eighteen minutes is a ridiculous length, and that maybe you don’t need six quotes from that one guy in rapid succession. For this candor, and their additional nonstop encouragement, I am really eternally grateful to work with such a wide range of talented editors.
Two weeks ago, I reported and produced a story about a family who had been displaced in a major fire in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood. The story had been assigned to me, and I remember feeling so nervous about it all – mostly about how to approach people who had just lost everything with empathy and compassion, while still being persistent in asking them to tell their story. I got so much helpful feedback each step along the way from everyone at KALW, and it taught me a lot about the choices you can make in figuring out what kind of journalist you want to be.
In the end, the whole story ended up unfolding in front of me. I was invited by a family to accompany them as they walked into their new house for the first time. It was one of those chance encounters, but the whole experience ended up having a profound impact on me. I recorded the sounds of the young girl looking gleefully at her closet for the first time, and seconds later the sounds of her father as he lamented the loss of his old home. It was a totally haunting and intimate encounter – and to this day, I cannot fathom the generosity and openness this family showed me in letting me tag along. The family spoke Spanish, and I do not, aside from the few phrases and expressions I remembered from high school. Still, though, we were able to communicate enough to get to some really honest exchanges, and I think that taught me a lot about how to go with the flow even when it seems improbable, or beyond your expertise. I have no idea whether I did that story justice – whether I told it right, whether I really communicated to listeners what it was like to be in that room. But it was a privilege to be given the chance to try, and I want to keep being a radio reporter just to find those unexpected moments wherein someone invites you into their life.
I’ve made six stories so far, each one of them so completely different. I’ve reported on turkeys and robots and old men who sit by a pond every Sunday, model yachts at the ready. I’ve scrambled inside a pitch-black obstacle course with my recorder outstretched in front of me. I’ve learned to love writing for radio. All my experience is in writing for print, which is a totally different thing, and sometimes the conversion between the two can feel a bit rough. But when you write for radio, you write to read aloud. It’s like telling your favorite person in the world a story of what you saw that day. When you embrace that aspect of it, when you stop cringing at the sound of your own voice (I’m not completely there yet), it can be a really rewarding experience.