KALW’s Training Investments Result in Valuable Perspectives During the Coronavirus Crisis
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Audience Supported Public Radio
Our team has been working overtime to cover the coronavirus crisis. Our newsroom — a place that blends professional journalists with trainees — is usually focused on long-form storytelling and podcast production. But in response to the COVID-19 crisis, we have transformed into a breaking news and current events outlet, fully utilizing the skills built by our Audio Academy fellows on a daily basis. They’re producing stories for air at a rapid clip now, putting their education into action.
I want to share some behind-the-scenes insight into the work we’re doing right now to serve our community as an essential information source.
– We are almost exclusively operating from our homes, now. The only person regularly at KALW is the announcer/board operator. The rest of us are using new technology to communicate, record, and broadcast. Our communication is largely being conducted through Slack and Zoom calls. We have had to purchase several software licenses to enable our remote work, and we have also purchased specific equipment to safely record in the field and be able to broadcast live from our homes. You’ll be hearing me live in the mornings over the next several weeks.
– We have significantly increased our on-air, online, and social media production. Our station used to run 2 regional newscasts per day. Now we have 9. We have doubled the number of stories we’re posting at www.kalw.org and sharing on various social media platforms. We also have pivoted to covering the virus and response with quick turnaround, breaking news stories, long-form features, a weekly segment called The Quarantine Diaries.
– Our work training community members from underrepresented demographics has proven especially invaluable right now. Within the last week, we produced special COVID-19-focused podcast episodes with producers rarely heard in the media — teenagers on tbh, and incarcerated people on Uncuffed.
– Uncuffed featured the incarcerated producers we work with at San Quentin and Solano State Prisons. They are particularly susceptible to contracting the virus because of overcrowded conditions in state prisons. If the coronavirus gets inside, there could easily be an outbreak. It’s happened before with other viruses. A few days before the prisons went on quarantine, KALW producers (including myself) working with incarcerated people went into the prisons to convene roundtable conversations about their concerns and experiences. The result was a special edition of our podcast Uncuffed which provides first-hand insight into what it’s like to be captive during a pandemic. Check it out here.
– For our podcast tbh, we had been working throughout the past year with more than 120 teenagers, training them on media literacy, teaching them to tell their own stories and those of their generation, and gathering their commentaries and feature stories for the podcast. When students were locked out of schools, we connected with many of the students to get their insights into life learning during, coping with, and finding joy in unexpected places as the coronavirus crisis continues. The result is this episode which provides any listeners with insight into how teenage minds are dealing with this difficult time.
– In addition to us producing extremely important content at a more rapid clip than ever before, our audience has grown during this time. We have unprecedented numbers of clicks on our web posts. Additionally, we have been reaching out to other outlets more frequently to collaborate. Our Uncuffed roundtable was heard by a national audience on the public radio show Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting among other outlets. We gathered sound of teenagers for a live, statewide program as part of NPR‘s California Hub. We will continue to reach out to get Bay Area stories before a broader audience.
While it’s always been our mission to support people in many different communities that are often underserved and underrepresented, that purpose has become even more crystallized now. I’m extremely proud of the work our team is doing to help the public understand and get through this time. And I’m very grateful to all of our supporters, like the people who make our work possible at the Association for Continuing Education.
By the way, here’s a little video I made (with my wife) from our home office.
Be well and keep listening!