Lessons from KALW Audio Academy: Audio Storytelling and Good Reporting Enhance Empathy and Highlight Stories That Need Telling
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, News Supported Public Radio, and Joshua Sirotiak, Audio Academy ‘20
The first Audio Academy short features are rolling out, and I’m excited to share the first two with you. Both came from queries from KALW listeners as part of our Hey Area project, where our audience asks questions and our reporters find the answers.
First up, Victor Tence made a story entitled “Can Homeless People Get The REAL ID?” You can listen to the answer by clicking here.
Then, Sona Avakian answered this one: “Is There Such A Thing as Earthquake Weather?” Satisfy your curiosity by clicking here.
Through the end of February, we plan to air these 3 minute and 30 second stories from Audio Academy fellows every Thursday. One of them will come from Joshua Sirotiak, who is our guest contributor, today. I have to admit that what he had to say really filled up my heart. Check it out:
“Find a job that you love and you’ll never work a day in your life.”
“A person’s work need not define them.”
These two ideas, possibly in conflict with each-other, kick around in my head a lot.
As the child of a single mother who constantly struggled to keep our household afloat, from a young age I took great pride in my ability to take care of myself materially. Since my early teen years, I’ve been working full-time hours at jobs that, to me, didn’t feel meaningful beyond their ability to meet my material needs and wants. “Line cook” … “contractor’s apprentice” … “grocery store manager” … “bouncer” … “bar back” … These are all hats that I’ve worn, identities that to some extent I know. Through all of them I’ve held on to the identity of “musician” to keep myself sane, to feel like I was doing more than just getting by. (Since those same early teen years, I’ve been playing brass instruments, primarily tuba. The work that I’ve put into music has led me to life experiences that others might envy, but which probably looked glitzier from the outside than they actually felt to be lived through.) As long as I’ve had a show to prepare for it felt like I was putting in work on something that was larger than myself. But I didn’t have the tools (or confidence) to pursue work that felt more meaningful to me personally.
I joined KALW’s Audio Academy because I want to find work that does more than provide a paycheck. I want the work that I do day-to-day to serve society at large, and my community in particular. I also want that work to be intellectually stimulating and creatively satisfying. It’s a tall order, but somehow the people that the Audio Academy has surrounded me with keep making it seem not only possible but almost a foregone conclusion that what I’m looking for is out there. More than that, they keep convincing me that what I want to achieve is well within my reach.
It’s hard to overstate the amount of support that I feel from both my peers and mentors within the Audio Academy. Through their support (and my own work), I’ve managed to report and produce a short feature-length assignment, and I’m now moving on to pitching my own story ideas. Every other week I start my work day by scanning the news and walking members of our newsroom through five stories that I feel are worthy of attention and coverage on KALW’s air. (This is our daily digest call.) The weeks that the digest is not my responsibility, I work on a short script for KALW’s afternoon newscast and then voice those words on air. The confidence boost that I’ve gotten from hearing my own words, and even my own voice, on air talking about the news of the day is immense.
More than once in these last few months Audio Academy fellows and our mentors have spoken about the capacity of audio storytelling to enhance empathy and the capacity of good reporting to highlight stories that need telling. I believe that these twin capacities are things that our world needs now more than ever, and through my time at the Audio Academy I feel that I’m increasingly prepared to make enhancing those capacities my day-to-day work.
Earlier today I decided to finally cut back to part-time at the job that has been meeting my material needs, and I thank the Audio Academy for giving me the confidence to throw myself full time into pursuing my dreams.