Storytellers “Chase Something Meaningful” at KALW and San Quentin Prison to Tell Honest, Insightful Stories
By Guest Blogger Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Public Radio and Truc Nguyen, Audio Academy ‘16
Hello! I’d like to start out with a note that’s outside of the purview of our Audio Academy. It involves a different training program we’ve been engaged in for several years, and a breakthrough event that took place over the weekend. It was a live storytelling event at San Quentin State Prison, arranged by the podcast Life of the Law.
The occasion was a coming together of the longtime, inmate-produced San Quentin News and the relatively newer San Quentin Prison Report, which trains inmates to report radio stories which are edited and aired by KALW. The event was made possible by podcast creator Nancy Mullane, who used to be an education and prisons reporter for KALW. It was a remarkably powerful, open, honest event, and I was really struck by how compelling the storytellers were and how vulnerable they allowed themselves to be. It made me extremely proud that our department’s work with the inmates has helped bring this kind of journalism to broader audiences; it’s clearly been very significant for them in their rehabilitation, and I think this sharing of stories will resonate with me and the others in attendance for a long time.
Back at the station, our Audio Academy members celebrated some significant debuts last week:
Chris Hambrick (’14) hosted the Sights & Sounds weekly broadcast for the first time, highlighting the best arts in the Bay Area, and we carried her conversation with Donna Sachet on Crosscurrents.
State prison, We also ran the first on-air story from Luisa Cardoza (’15): a Storycorps piece featuring former Audio Academy member Marcy Fraser (’14).
Jeremy Dalmas (’13) reported a really insightful story about professional video gamers, the fortunes they can make, the injuries they suffer, and the lifestyles they lead. It was part of a whole show package that included an archival student story from former Burton High School student and KALW trainee Lawrence Chan about the effect video games have had on his life.
Hannah Kingsley-Ma (’14) reported a very timely local/global story this week about reaching Syrians in refugee camps through a Skype connection in a temporary shipping container in central San Francisco.
Really, really impressive stuff. And now the current Audio Academy class is actively engaged with reporting their first features. Look and listen for them in January!
Here are some thoughts that Academy member Truc Nguyen (’15) would like to share:
By Truc Nguyen, Audio Academy ‘15
Getting an acceptance call in May from KALW’s Audio Academy was like starting a relationship with a long-time crush. When the program began in September, the honeymoon phase was strong. The first few dates in the studio felt like magic.
The long muni rides from the Lower Haight to Visitacion Valley, just glorious. Chasing the crowded 9 San Bruno down and then visibly sweating the entire way just meant I was alive. Food and sleep? Didn’t need it. New love was quite a drug.
The newsroom filled with kind, smart and genuine people, drew me in. While occasional dance parties broke out and chocolate o’clock came around, there was also serious work being done.
For the first time in life I had an official mentor, my very own trainer. Coach Jen Chien listened carefully to my projects and offered her input. Acute and precise, I got to see how a great mentor could elevate and push a person.
One Saturday I followed Leila Day out in the field at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church. The Church put on an event called Joyful Noise, inspired by a noise complaint from a neighbor, seen by many as another symptom of fast paced gentrification in the Bay Area.
Minutes into meeting up with Leila I sat in the backseat of a police car while she asked Oakland’s Chief of Police Sean Whent why he thought it was important that he was at this celebration. Reporting felt adventurous and seeing Leila wrangle in interviews encouraged me.
Later I talked with Gloria McNeal, a longtime resident of the area. I asked her what she hoped people could learn from this Joyful Noise celebration.
“To learn how to know one another, respect one another,” McNeal said. She paused for a moment before continuing, “Hmmm…I’m getting a bit emotional here.”
McNeal was vulnerable and I felt privileged.
About a month into the Audio Academy, the drugs were still kicking but an old but familiar feeling crept in between the highs. This crush became a real live being and the stakes became apparent. Insecurities shouted. All my pants with a fitted waistband felt tighter. I began to doubt my presence in the Audio Academy. I questioned every comma and creative choice, which made my skin chronically itch. All these people are putting so much energy into helping me grow but will I live up to it?
A seminar on sound with Angela Johnston, former Audio Academy member and now full timer at KALW, reminded me why I applied to this program in the first place. We talked about what kind of sounds I could collect on my first place profile and there it was, the fun. Angela also reminded me that learning was the focus, not being perfect.
Maybe this is just how it feels to finally chase something meaningful and maybe a little bit of fear is okay, even necessary. I can let it take me down like I have in the past or I could think of it as a positive thing. Like any dynamic relationship, this one may not be easy all of the time but it will certainly make life more interesting.