KALW Audio Academy Becomes Role Model for Journalist Training and Community Story Focus for KZYX
By Guest Bloggers Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio; and Jeff Parker, General Manager, KZYX Public Radio
I recently met Jeff Parker, the new general manager at KZYX public radio up in Mendocino County. He’s a really nice guy who’s dedicated to making the most out of his small station through education and collaborations. It makes sense, then, that he’d be extremely intrigued to hear about KALW, where our training programs and partnerships have forged a strong, community-oriented foundation for our station.
I’ve now had a few conversations with Jeff about what we do, how our program has evolved, and the ways in which KZYX might be able to adapt some of our training techniques to their own work. It will be exciting to see how Jeff can lead his station to grow and better serve Mendocino County, and I’m happy to help however I can along the way.
I asked him to write up a few thoughts on our conversations, and he was happy to share them with you for our blog post. Check them out!
I’ll freely admit, I didn’t know a whole lot about KALW before I visited on a sunny recent Friday. I’d just heard that KALW was affiliated with the San Francisco city schools, had the unenviable task of competing with one of the strongest public radio stations in America, and had an extremely thoughtful, creative and resourceful management team. I didn’t expect to come away from my visit bubbling with ideas for transforming our scrappy news operation at my station, KZYX, which serves the forested, sparsely populated vastness of Mendocino County on a shoestring budget.
I’m new to community radio, having just returned from 26 years in China — much of my adult life — as a news agency reporter, startup publisher and sustainable rural healthcare advocate. So I’ve been learning my new KZYX general manager role by visiting fellow public radio stations and meeting their managers. Our KZYX team of six works out of a small converted house in Philo, a hamlet of 350 set amid the oaks, redwoods and grapevines of the Anderson Valley, so I was awed by KALW’s bustling and newly renovated digs at Philip and Sala Burton High School. But talking with longtime General Manager Matt Martin was like reuniting with a long-lost twin. No need to explain my existential fears of pledge drive donor fatigue and the possible evisceration of Corporation for Public Broadcasting funding, the duty to broadcast without interruption from aging alpine transmitters being hammered by record rain, snow, hail and winds, and the challenge of producing news for 90,000 residents spread across a poor county the size of Delaware and Rhode Island with just three part-time reporters. Matt was a fount of ideas and reassurance.
I only met News Director Ben Trefny briefly, but when Matt briefed me about the Audio Academy, my mind started racing. Though I’d trained scores of journalists while expanding the Reuters Chinese Language News Service, I’d had the support of a multibillion-dollar news giant. Our KZYX budget is less than $600,000. I’d begun exploring collaborations with Mendocino Community College, but was discouraged that they had neither a journalism program nor any campus news media. No radio or TV station, no newspaper. To launch an accredited journalism curriculum would take years, I was told. So I set my sights low, thinking we’d attempt some pilot broadcasts from the college, and maybe a technology collaboration with their healthy recording arts program.
KALW’s Audio Academy changed all that — a model for rolling news production, journalist training and expanded community service up in one exciting package.
We’re still in the planning stages, but Ben and Matt are helping to shape this vision: A collaborative KZYX Academy based at Mendocino College, with young trainees being mentored by our experienced news producers and guest lecturers, gathering stories from county and town governments, businesses, cultural institutions and the daily flow of news from the county seat, Ukiah, their own farflung communities, and everywhere in between. Their reports would add valuable minutes to our daily newscasts, enriching our most important community service by sharing their own work over our KZYX airwaves, garnering marketable skills and civic experience in the process. We’ll need to raise grants and donations to make it work, but, given the slow implosion of newspapers and other commercial news media, and the fake news-rich chaos of social media, we see a hands-on, real-world training program as a unique opportunity to reinforce disciplined, ethical newsgathering as a pillar of civic and economic development and government accountability.
KZYX and KALW already are exploring fresh collaborations in news and listener engagement, and we will welcome Audio Academy trainees to Mendocino to share experiences and help illuminate our biggest stories: the transformation of the cannabis economy and the highest rate of homelessness per capita in America. There’s so much learning to go around, a chance to bring rich benefits to both of our audiences. We can’t wait to get started!