It’s Been a Year of Great Storytelling at KALW, With More to Come in 2019
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Listener Supported Public Radio
It’s been a really remarkable year for KALW‘s news department. We’ve provided more training than ever before, including work with more than 100 high school students in San Francisco, Oakland, and Richmond; we’ve added an audio reporting program at Solano State Prison in addition to the one we’ve offered at San Quentin State Prison; and we’ve trained nearly two dozen aspiring journalists within our working newsroom. All that, plus we were honored with more awards for our journalism than we’ve ever received before.
I want to give a huge “thanks” to the Association for Continuing Education, the California Arts Council, Cal Humanities, the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, and all the organizations and individuals who have helped us make our public interest journalism model possible.
We’re very proud, and very tired, and we’re ready for a little vacation!
Before we go, we wanted to share some perspectives from Kevin McLean, one of the students in our Audio Academy training program, and a Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellow who wants to be able to communicate science through effective storytelling. Here’s where he’s at:
As we wind down this calendar year, it seems like an appropriate time to reflect back a bit. We’re only three months into the Audio Academy, but our weekly workshops are wrapping up as we start to get a handle on the mechanics of making radio stories. No one’s kicking us out of the nest yet, but we’re all stretching our wings with our first feature stories.
One of the things that I’ve enjoyed working on in these last few months has been writing for radio. I come from a background in science, where I pretty much have to delete every bit of myself from my writing. But when you write for the radio, someone is actually going to have to say what you wrote, and some of the things that I instinctively put on the page sound nuts when read aloud. Writing in my own voice (and then actually using it) has been a refreshing change. Hearing my voice is still a bit horrifying at the moment. Baby steps.
I’ve also learned to appreciate a hard deadline. One of our tasks in the newsroom is to help with the afternoon newscast. We take a look at any breaking news, write it up, and then it gets read on the air. The whole process happens in a couple hours or less. There’s no time to be too precious with words, you can’t agonize over story structure, it just has to be clear and (as mentioned above) sound like a human when it’s read out loud. It’s fast, it’s fun, and you definitely get to check something off on your to-do list.
Interviewing people has been another helpful but not always comfortable adventure. I’ve found that I get nervous in the same way as when I took an improv class a few months ago. I told a friend that I was really struggling with juggling everything – listening closely while also thinking ahead, and also coming up with something to say or ask that makes sense. “You mean general conversation?” he asked. And yeah, I guess that’s all it is, but it still gets me a little wound up. I’m not a total shut-in that never talks to people, but I will admit that in conversation I do tend to space out a non-zero amount of the time…a habit I am now diligently trying to break.
Finally, spending time with my Audio Academy class has been a huge plus. They changed the format a little bit this year, so that we are all together once a week for our workshops, which means we really get to know each other and go through this learning process together. In addition to just having people who are sharing this experience with me, I have a group of people to provide feedback, suggestions, and encouragement.
I’ll leave it at that for now, but I’m definitely looking forward to what the next six months have in store.
The rest of us are, too! And considering how good Kevin actually is at writing for his voice, and at conducting extraordinary research like this, I know there are plenty of amazing stories on the way. And by the way, everybody should really watch this very personal one that Kevin made with National Geographic. It’s a beautiful thing.
Here’s to many more in 2019!