Teamwork and “Pitch to Air” Strategies Help Audio Academy Students Create @WORK Stories
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, Listener Supported Public Radio, and Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman, Audio Academy ’21
We’ve had a few more Audio Academy stories air in the past week. They’re part of our @WORK series, looking at how people’s vocations have and haven’t changed during the pandemic:
A Medical Clown Proves That Laughter Is Essential — Azul Dahlstrom-Eckman
Azul shared some thoughts about how things work behind-the-scenes at KALW to bring these stories to the airwaves:
What I enjoy most about the Audio Academy is the teamwork. As I go through the paces of the 10-month training program, I have the privilege of working closely with many different members of the KALW staff, each a specialist in their own distinct piece of the audio production puzzle.
This is perhaps best illustrated by a document that is distributed to Audio Academy fellows as our first feature length story is assigned. The document is called “Pitch to Air”. It basically outlines, in clear terms, how a story goes from conception to publishing. You can also think of this document as a checkpoint race, where fellows, upon completing a checkpoint, advance to work with another member of the KALW team for a specific purpose.
The first stop in Pitch to Air begins, unsurprisingly, with pitching, where the fellows present their story idea to the KALW team at a weekly morning check-in. This is perhaps the most critical practice we can receive at the Audio Academy. As much as we don’t like to acknowledge it, we Audio Academy fellows will have to fly the nest come June, and potentially make our way as fledgling freelancers. If we don’t know how to pitch a story and receive feedback, our first flight will surely be challenging.
Once the pitch is (hopefully) accepted, we are assigned an editor. The editors, with gracious patience and a good nose for what works and what doesn’t, assist us through a reporting plan and three drafts of a story. They’re very available and understanding. I don’t feel like there’s a question I can’t ask them.
Then the story is off to the engineers for mixing. One of the silver linings of working through the pandemic is the opportunity to watch on Zoom as a professional engineer mixes your story, giving you tips along the way. This is a great Pro Tools (audio editing software) skill building opportunity. I’m sure most audio journalists have had a “Pro Tools moment”, and can agree that the more proficient in Pro Tools, the better.
Finally, once reviewed a final time by the journalist and the editor, it’s off to the production manager of the news department, who copy edits and publishes the web post that accompanies the story. Lastly, the story is presented in style by the host of Crosscurrents, KALW’s nightly news and culture magazine.
The KALW Audio Academy is fertile ground for aspiring radio journalists. It seems that everyone who works at the newsroom takes a hand in mentoring the fellows. The opportunity to work alongside audio production professionals every step of the way is, to me, the most rewarding aspect of this program. It is this teamwork that gets aspiring radio journalists from pitch to air.