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By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, audience supported public media; and Victor Tence, Audio Academy 2020 Graduate
The Audio Academy Class of 2020 graduates with a virtual event on Thursday. When they began their education with us nine months ago, this was an inconceivable scenario. Times have changed.
One of the members of the class, Victor Tence, has a valuable perspective to share about the journey. Here he is, in his own words:
What a long strange trip it’s been.
If that sounds like a graduation speech cliche, it’s because it is. The 2020 Audio Academy is drawing to a close, and when I take stock around me the trip only seems to be growing longer and more strange.
Regardless, if I have learned anything from quality radio story structure, this final chapter is a time for reflection and emotional release. So, let me tell you about the moment I was able to experience both.
Not long after coronavirus put our city in lockdown, KALW’s editors conceptualized the Quarantine Diaries — a series that follows a wide spectrum of Bay Area residents that allows us, through their voices, to see how the impact of a global event can be both universal and unique to the individual.
I loved the concept, and as a journalist I knew I wanted to get involved. What I didn’t know, but seems obvious now, is that my life would be swept up with all the other changes happening around my community. This was the first time I was deeply and directly impacted by the story I was reporting on. And with some encouragement and support from the KALW family, I recorded my own entry and shared my own truth.
Being on the other side of the microphone was a big step for me, and in doing so I had an epiphany. If I wanted my entry to be meaningful, I had to give what I have asked of others for so many stories: an honest and naked answer.
I spoke about a loss in my life that at the time seemed unreal, one that was too big to wrap my head around. I spoke through tears and my cracking voice. And when I was done it felt right, like the closing of a chapter.
I hope it helped others, but I know it helped me.
So now, I understand better why we end our stories with reflection and emotional release. Because as journalists at KALW, we don’t just break headlines to let people know the facts of recent events. We also create space to reflect and space to connect. Work like this gives us a moment to take a collective breath, gather ourselves and face the future, however strange it may be.
Listen to the story Victor’s writing about here.
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, audience supported public media; and Precious Green, Audio Academy ’20 Fellow
We’re approaching graduation day for the Audio Academy class of 2020. It’s been the most unexpected and extraordinary last trimester. What can you say?!
One thing is that this class has been KALW‘s most productive yet. We made the choice at the beginning to teach our students how to make spots — one-minute stories — that could enhance our station’s immediate news coverage. By March, when the coronavirus crisis transformed the Bay Area, our team was seasoned and ready to step it up even further. While they’ve been making impactful features, contributing to our person-on-the-street series The Quarantine Diaries, and helping behind-the-scenes with our news operations, each fellow has been reporting a news spot every week. Most all have well over 20 broadcast credits, now, and of course they keep getting better and better. Here are a few examples from this week:
• Victor Tence — London breed Closes the Gap on San Francisco’s Budget Deficit
• Precious Green — Peaceful Oakland Protest Marred by OPD Response
• Imran Ali Malik — Protesters Arrested Outside of San Francisco City Hall of Justice
While KALW has been covering the regional news of the day more thoroughly than ever before, this week’s content on Crosscurrents has been a great reflection of our department’s ability to go in depth:
Day By Day: The Quarantine Diaries Ep. 11 — Combining protests with COVID-19 issues, focused on perspectives of people of color, tremendously emotional, and titled “Who Gets To Be Safe?”
At Mass Demonstrations, Protesters Weigh the Risks of COVID-19 — Powerful, timely story set in SF’s Mission District by KALW’s Immigration Reporter and Audio Academy mentor Teresa Cotsirilos
Kaepernick: Race, Protest and Respect — An updated documentary about the impact Colin Kaepernick‘s protests against police brutality had on the nation, his own career, youth, and incarcerated people, with reporting from Boawen Wang (’17) and Jeremy Jue (’17)
Peaceful Protest Puts Los Gatos on Edge, Unveils Underlying Racial Tensions — Our most popular story in weeks, with a quick turnaround by Los Gatos resident and Audio Academy fellow Sarah Lai Stirland
I asked Sarah’s regular Tuesday Academy partner Precious Green for some thoughts on reporting during these traumatic times. Here’s what she has to say:
When I first started writing this, my focus was on how sheltering-in-place and COVID-19 had upended my Audio Academy experience. That feels so long ago.
Before COVID, I spent my Tuesdays at KALW in San Francisco. They were fairly structured days, guided by the newsroom needs and my assigned tasks. And they were fun. KALW’s news crew is made up of so many fascinating people who shared random stories of wild reporting escapades, surfing, getting tape in a crunch, and Burning Man. We bonded over Chocolate O’Clock and the daily Post-It trophy presentation. And we worked together each day as a team, crafting news features and stories to share with the world. March 10th was my last day there.
In the weeks since, we all shifted, creating home studios in walk-in closets or out of blankets, pillows, and chairs. The news crew ramped up its coverage and that meant many more opportunities for me and the other Academy fellows. But I struggled to take advantage. COVID-19 took people I loved and triggered anxiety that I may never fully process. Thankfully, I was able to make a short news spot each week. The staff has been incredibly generous and kind. But I was weary.
And then, it was deja vu all over again. First, the country learned of the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in my home state. Then, Breonna Taylor. Then, the Christian Cooper black birder video. And then George Floyd. The succession of violence has left me reeling and struggling with a sense of hopelessness, anger, distrust, and fear.
I don’t want to feel helpless or cynical. But, how should I respond to the one-two punch of a viral pandemic and systemic racial violence?
“This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal.” — Toni Morrison
Ms. Morrison’s quote focused on artists, but the truth is this is precisely the time for journalists, even “baby journos” like me, to go to work. We have an opportunity and a responsibility to tell the stories of this moment simply, accurately, and completely.
“We speak, we write, we do language.”
I recently shared the story of one of Oakland’s peaceful protests with our listeners and I am thinking of new features that will tell the story of this season.
“That is how civilizations heal.”
This is an unprecedented moment of disruption and change. Thanks to our Audio Academy training, my colleagues and I are able to document what is happening and help to keep the record straight. Our new normal will be set by what we remember and what we learn.
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
Graduating seniors receive lots of advice, and the Class of 2020 has probably received more than any other class. With no physical graduations, everything went online and the advice piled up. From Oprah to Obama to basketball player Damian Lillard to gymnast Simon Biles and even rapper Cardi B, the advice was plentiful.
But here’s an authentic viewpoint from Julian Jordan and Kyle Trefny,* both 2020 graduates of Ruth Asawa School of the Arts. Like their fellow students, they have lived through lots of events that changed parts of the world and are looking at a future filled with more change. Their viewpoint, while positive, is also powerful. “We are not just ready to be in a world of change we are also ready to be the change in the world.”
Congratulations to all the students in the Class of 2020, especially those in the ACE Learning Center schools – KALW Audio Academy, Alpha Public Schools, Oakland International High School, San Francisco International High School and Oxford Day Academy.
Get ready to be the change in the world. The world needs you now.
*Kyle Trefny is the son of Ben Trefny, News Director at KALW, who also manages the ACE Learning Center Audio Academy. Nice job, Kyle.