How To Learn News Reporting At KALW Audio Academy
By Amber Miles, KALW Audio Academy Fellow and Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio
One of our eight Audio Academy fellows this year is Amber Miles. She’s a multimedia journalist, educated in Ireland, with an interest in ethnography. She’s also an avid reader of the ACE Audio Academy blog! Now that she’s a few months into the Audio Academy program, I asked her to share her thoughts about what the experience has been like so far. Here’s what she has to say:
It wasn’t that long ago I’d get excited whenever I found a new ACE blog post. I’d read the “thoughts” of Audio Academy fellows past and think how awesome it must be. Now I’ve been at KALW for two months and I can tell you, it’s even better than I imagined.
Some things that have stood out / been highlights for me so far:
The Daily News Digest and Conference Calls: Each morning a fellow of the Audio Academy presents their own curated list of five interesting local news stories. They package them up in an email digest that’s shared with the entire news crew and then lead a discussion on those stories in the morning conference call. Our turn comes every other week and it can be a bit stressful! You really want to do a good job curating and presenting a list of stories that goes out to the whole news team, and then leading the conversation about those stories in the conference call. Each time it does get a little easier, and it’s really helped me think critically about the news and given me more confidence presenting. I do wish all the morning calls were recorded and made into a private KALW podcast, but if you want to hear what the others are thinking, you have to call in, and if you call in you have to participate!
The 2:1 student teacher ratio: Members of the permanent news crew take turns teaching weekly seminars that break down every aspect of reporting a story from pitch to broadcast. Before KALW, I’d taken a couple audio production classes, interned at KPFA, and read umpteen Transom articles – basically I’d hobbled together a novice understanding of everything you’re meant to do to make a story good, but I didn’t feel very confident about any of it, and I didn’t have anyone I could ask for help. Relearning everything in a deliberate and cohesive way from experienced reporters I respect has been so helpful. I’m really grateful to all of them for taking the time to teach us. I’d happily tell you about all of the seminars but one that really stood out for me was Lisa Morehouse‘s class on Story Structure. It was so good. I’m a super tactile person, so her color-coded post-it method for organizing a story really appealed to me. Now I’m a little less worried about the reams of tape I plan to come back with after reporting my first story this weekend.
The Mashers: I joined KALW’s (f)underdog softball team (despite my not being a sportsperson), and I’m so glad I did. It’s been a fun way of getting to know the team outside the station: fuming at umpires; taunting the opposition (whom we never beat); and celebratory end-of-season flaming shots have been highlights. But if you’re not into softball there’s surfing some Fridays, potlucks, a holiday pie baking competition, and lots of other nonessential-for-work-but-awesome-for-bonding activities.
Revolving Open-Door: It seems like every day I’m at the station there’s a new person swinging by to work with their editor, track their script, or just say hello. Ben Trefny also always makes it a point to introduce everyone and have us talk about whatever it is we’re working on – which I think is really cool. It’s a wide and welcoming network that surrounds KALW, and meeting all the diverse and talented alumni and affiliates makes me really excited to become a part of it.
The Audio Academy is a truly unique program for all the above reasons, and more. But what really makes it special, to me anyway, is that everyone has a mentor. I don’t know how they pair us up. Some people say it’s just random. Others say it’s down to where you live (you both live in the East Bay, for example). But, at least one person has told me there’s something magic in it – and that’s the only explanation that makes sense to me!
My mentor, Angela Johnston, was the person who interviewed me, and the one who called me with the news I was accepted to the fellowship. From the get go I felt really comfortable with her, she was super easy to talk to, and I knew I could learn a lot from her.
Angela was the first person I called (in tears) my second week at KALW when my car was broken into and all my gear (including a Pro Tools iLok that belonged to the station) was taken. She was really calm and told me everything would be okay, and together we made a plan. I was so devastated I even briefly thought about quitting the program, but Angela’s support (along with everyone else at KALW) really helped me come out the other side.
Since then we’ve continued to make plans together and she’s helped me think more critically and improve my assignments. Her suggestions on how to edit together clips more seamlessly and make changes to my voicing were especially helpful. She also invited me to come along on a reporting trip to Bethel Island where she was going to talk to residents about arsenic in the water. I learned a lot watching Angela report, especially how she made sure to get all the specific sounds she needed and how she scheduled plenty of time between interviews.
It’s so rare to find someone who does the thing you want to do, who does it well, and who is willing to put in the time to show you how to do it well, too. Having Angela to ask questions of, bounce ideas off, and just generally have in my corner has been the most valuable part of being in the Audio Academy for me, and I’m really looking forward working with her more this year.