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By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW, Listener Supported Public Radio
Last week, we brought our Audio Academy fellows over to our new Oakland offices at StudioToBe for a seminar on feature story production. It’s been great to have desk and conference space at a place that hosts producers from the podcast Snap Judgment(including Audio Academy graduates Liz Mak [’14] and Chris Hambrick [’15]), the nationally syndicated radio show Making Contact, and lots of independent podcast makers. We’re looking forward to building upon relationships we’ve got and forging new ones.
One of the students taking part in our lesson, taught by KALW‘s teaching coordinator Marissa Ortega-Welch, was Victor Tence. We’ll continue our in-person introductions to our new fellows with a few words he wrote about his experience in the Audio Academy so far:
Do I have a face for radio?
I asked this question as a quip, but it was more or less my charming way to let my friends know about my upcoming time with KALW’s Audio Academy. However, despite the wide range of responses, from supportive, to enthusiastically insulting, I realized I myself couldn’t picture who belonged on the air.
What does public radio’s face look like?
Up until my first week in KALW’s office, it would have been difficult for me to say, though I certainly had my suspicions. Before, had I been made to guess, I would have predicted a work space that greeted you with two racks, one for coats and the other for your NPR tote bag. I could envision mornings of radio people asking about each other’s breakfast, for personal and professional reasons.
I will not say that my prediction was completely wrong, it was however woefully incomplete. Which is to be expected, considering how ethereal audio can be as a medium. Public radio itself, and the people behind the considerable work that goes into the production, can be just as invisible as the radio waves that carry their voices.
I still cannot recognize the titans of the craft like Terry Gross or Ira Glass on the street. Furthermore, radio is elusive and hard to pin down in a whole host of other ways. Where do I find this intersection where news is informative, concise and complete, as well as conversational, full of personality and ultimately human?
As it turns out, KALW’s Audio Academy, nestled discreetly behind a high school and between a quiet park that silently boasts sweeping views of Hunter’s point is a wonderful place to begin looking.
By Ben Trefny, News Director, KALW Listener Supported Public Radio
On Wednesday night, I had the absolute pleasure of leading a seminar for the Audio Academy class of 2020. The subject: timely news reporting.
We went over the upcoming election in San Francisco. Yes, there’s plenty to vote on in November 2019: a mayor’s race; an open seat for district attorney; and six ballot measures, among other things. We went over how to prepare hosts for interviews, made booking assignments including all the candidates running for the aforementioned offices, and reviewed stories KALW has made about past propositions. By next week, our Audio Academy fellows will put together all the information Crosscurrents host Hana Baba, KALW justice reporter Holly J. McDede, KALW election coordinator Angela Johnston, and I need to know about the races, and the students will have first drafts completed on two-minute election briefs helping voters in our audience get the info they need to make educated choices. Stay tuned!
Also, if you’ve been listening to KALW, you know that we produce newscasts, now, at 8:04am and 4:04pm. The afternoon version includes input from our trainees, who typically take print stories from the Associated Press (with whom we partner), research additional content when necessary, rewrite the articles, and then prepare them for broadcast with an editor. We’ve been doing some preliminary work on these the first few weeks during the regular working day, but on Wednesday we had the chance to collectively work on the practice. It was great! The eight fellows set their heads down for about 40 minutes, turning a relatively dry story about the House passage of a bill that would allow the cannabis industry to use banks into a dynamic, engaging radio story. It was awesome to hear what they came up with, each person showed strengths, and we’ve definitely got some great storytellers!
One of them is Julia Llinas Goodman. I asked them to share some thoughts about the start of the Audio Academy training program. Here’s what they had to say:
Before starting the KALW Audio Academy, there was a lot I was unsure of in my journalism career. For example: not knowing if it would be perceived as biased for me to be open about coming from a family of immigrants, especially if I wanted to write about immigration policy. For example: not being sure if I could be openly bisexual and nonbinary at work, because I had only ever had one openly gay coworker in a newsroom, and no openly trans or nonbinary coworkers. For example: feeling the pressure of competition for the best story, without the reward of true collaboration with the amazing people I was working with. I wanted to pursue this passion I’d always had for storytelling, but I also felt the need to do so in an environment that would let me be honest about where I was coming from, what my life experiences had been, and who I wanted to work with in order to bring these stories to life.
Enter the Audio Academy. A program I heard about from an impersonal online forum, while living all the way across the country. A program that turned into an opportunity I could actually see myself pursuing—in fact, one that I felt I needed to pursue. From the moment I stepped into the newsroom, it was clear that there was going to be a lot to learn. If you think the word “tracking” has to do with following someone and “automation” is just a concept relevant to robotics, then you have some idea of what I’m talking about. The truth is, there’s so much about audio journalism that I couldn’t have anticipated, and a lot of it has a steep learning curve.
Yet, at the same time, there’s so much that I couldn’t have imagined being the amazing experience it is. First and foremost, the news crew. It’s rare to feel truly welcomed in a space right when you enter it, but that’s what I experienced when arriving at KALW. From the first moment meeting all of my fellow Audio Academy classmates and comparing the varied life stories that led us to this moment, to the unimpressed tabby cat who demanded pats as I walked up to the station, to having everyone at KALW welcome us with open arms, set us up for success, and then be there to catch us when we fall. (And fall, and fall again, and…I mentioned there was a learning curve, right?)
And then there are those instants of success, the rush that’s so unique to audio storytelling. When you line up an edit perfectly, so your background music and the person speaking over it match up, it’s something like magic. When you hear the first words you wrote or the first sound you recorded air on the radio, it feels like a small piece of yourself has reached an unknown, unimaginable audience. They may never know exactly who you are, but the words and sounds that mean something to you are now reaching them, hopefully catching their attention, holding them for just a little bit.
By Martha Sessums, President, ACE
There are a large number of students in the literacy programs at San Francisco International High School’s (SFIHS) ACE Learning Center because of the large gaps in many of the student’s educational history. Gaps are due to a host of reasons from economic to cultural to political. But the goal is to improve skills in reading, listening and decoding.
Decoding? That’s understanding what is being said not just with vocabulary but the true meaning to words and phrases. I recently visited SFIHS and learned to decode some of their words.
SFIHS is a place of community like any school, but the decode of “community” goes deeper. All students are immigrants from around the world and with various backgrounds, yet they share the common experience of being uprooted from home and country and needing to learn a new language to succeed in a different country.
“The community is tight here,” said Tara Hobson, SFIHS Principal. “Many traditional tracks for education don’t work for our students, so we find ways for them to succeed.”
Those ways are continuing education and independent study tracks that are outside regular school hours. An emergency literacy program serves students, so they not only speak English but better understand it through reading, listening and decoding what is really being said. The real meaning behind words and phrases.
Plus, every student is not only encouraged to go to college but is mentored and supported not only while in high school, but with support programs at San Francisco State University (SFSU) and San Francisco City College (SFCC.) These support programs, called Span, are a key part of the ACE Learning Center and have helped result in not only a college entrance rate of 82% but a college persistence rate of 93%.
“Graduates are connected forever,” said Hobson. “It’s built-in.”
The decode of “community” is “connected forever.”
Oksana Florescu, SFIHS Head Counselor, 12th Grade, is a perfect example of connected decode. She was a teenage Ukrainian refugee and knew little English. She pushed her high school to keep her enrolled until she passed all her classes in English, and that took two extra years, graduating when she was 20.
“I see myself in these 9th graders so I continue to develop interactions with each one to help and inspire them,” said Florescu.
Let’s decode the word “Span.”
Span at SFIHS is the college entrance and retention program that helps students enter college and traverse through their first college years. Support is through understanding the maze of administrative and cultural challenges faced by any new college student but can be particularly difficult for newcomer immigrants. It is made up of SFIHS staff plus graduates attending SFSC and SFCC who support new SFIHS college students on peer-to-peer basis.
Kirk Schuler is the Span Advisor and manages the program. She is often at the colleges helping students through the complex college systems and setting them up with Span mentors and helpful departments on the campuses. Aid is not only information and assistance about legal, finance, class plans, add/drop issues, etc., but even includes how the transportation system works and how to access speech therapy services.
“It’s learning about self-advocacy and sometimes how just to get through a class,” said Schuler. “Understanding how to survive a geography class that is taught using PowerPoint – a totally different way of teaching than our students are used to – can be a real transition struggle.”
The meetings on college campuses and even at SFIHS are “authentic places” to meet peers and counselors who understand the challenges and provide support for the complex college system, according to Schuler.
“Span” is not just the bridge between high school and college but decodes as “persistence and success” on that SFIHS “community” level.
Stay tuned for more stories about the ACE Learning Center programs at SFIHS.