Lessons from KALW Audio Academy 2021 Graduation: Doing Great Community Journalism and Giving What is Needed to Help Others
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, Audience Supported Public Media
The Audio Academy class of 2021 just graduated! Huge congratulations to:
We had a lovely final Zoom meet-up, at which the fellows’ extraordinary mentors Hana Baba, David Boyer, LIsa Morehouse, and Marissa Ortega-Welch shared their reflections on the year. Shout outs, too, to the rest of our incredibly supportive team of teachers and journalists: Shereen Adel, Jeneé Darden, Tarek Fouda, Ninna Gaensler-Debs, Gabe Grabin, Angela Johnston, Kristin McCandless, Sonia Narang, Andrew Stelzer, Judy Silber, and Eli Wirtschafter. I’m not normally sentimental, but I got choked up hearing the care, love, and connection shared by our staff with the students. For many in the Audio Academy, this is the only first professional mentorship they’ve received, and thanks to ACE, we’ve been able to provide that and much more for dozens of Academy fellows and hundreds of other aspiring journalists and storytellers over the last decade.
Happily, last week, we were also able to gather beyond the two-dimensional rectangles of video conferencing, coming together for a party at Lake Temescal in Oakland. It was a lifetime pleasure to see these folks in person, with whom we’d worked virtually the last nine months, and to host special guests including ACE board members Martha Sessums, Philip Mustain, and Ron Loiacono. And since we were vaccinated, many of us were actually able to hug each other! It felt like summer. It felt like an emergence.
Much of the conversation, naturally, was about our experiences of the pandemic. Many of us contracted COVID-19. Many of us lost family members. We’ve been forever affected, forever scarred, and we’ve learned so much.
For me, this time of isolation forced a period of reflection. I am so grateful to work in an industry, public interest journalism, that is intended to help make a better world. And we have worked very hard to do that in these last 15 months. We transformed, quarantined, worried, and wondered as the United States went through continued political upheaval, and took part in intensified and overdue racial reckonings. And as we reassessed who we are and why we’re here, I’ve seen our team step up. We’ve all worked harder, to try to do more, to help each other understand a changing world. It’s so exhausting. Overwhelming. And yet it is also so fulfilling.
I leaned into self-care to help sustain me through uncertainty and a heavy workload. For me that means surfing — disconnecting from everything wired and wireless and connecting with nature. It also meant building closer and more regular connections with family and friends. Our team at KALW was so good about regularly checking in with one another, encouraging breaks and bigger-picture perspectives. Even though we were split apart in our home offices for so long, we maintained our relationships, holding morning check-ins, not so much about the news of the day, but about the news of our lives, how we were feeling, and what support we needed and could give.
Ultimately, that has been one of my most significant takeaways from living through this continued pandemic. What can I give to help others? I was so incredibly appreciative to feel the warmth and camaraderie and gratitude of the Audio Academy graduates, and the many people who support them, in their families and friends, at KALW, and at ACE. As these graduates move into the next phases of their careers and lives, with this professional and personal foundation as part of their path, I know they will spread those critical values exponentially, as all of the classes have before.
KALW’s former general manager, Matt Martin, had a quote written above the doorway to his office: “It’s up to us, but it’s not about us.” I reflect on those words all the time.
It’s a gift to be able to give, to be able to help others make their way, to learn, to thrive, and to then pass the gift on to others. I am so grateful to be in a position through which I’m able to do that. To share what I can and help others reach their goals and dreams. I can’t do it alone. None of us can. But we’re all part of something bigger than ourselves.
As we’ve learned in getting through these hard times as best we can, we have each other. We have so much to give. And it will always make a difference.