#ProofOfConcept: NPR’s “Next Generation Radio in 2017

Last year on LinkedIn, I wrote about “winning.” That from 2013 to 2016, our digital media training for college students and early-career media professionals found the very people whom public media needs to nurture to remain an engaged, respected and inclusive place for creating and distributing journalism and media. 2016 was a great year for our program.

Now, truth, journalism and journalists are all under assault. To say that 2017 has been difficult doesn’t begin to explain it all.

A year ago, I decided two important things: First, Next Generation Radio is successful. What we’re doing is working, so we need to just keep going. Secondly, for myself, if I’m going to ask more of others in these times (and I do), I first need to ask more of myself. So, I did. And 2017 was a real test for myself and this program.

In November 2017, I think we won, again.

What we did

In 10 months (January to October) we successfully completed 10 one-week boot camps. That’s a record. It means we collaborated with 10 public media stations and universities in 10 different cities with 10 different sets of professional journalists as project mentors. I said “yes” to every place that asked for training and had funding to make it happen.

We launched nextgenerationradio.org, tossing away my long-held belief that our sponsors needed to take full responsibility for hosting our content on their web servers. I learned you can decentralize things too much. It became inefficient given the need for regular program updates or minor “fixes” on eight different content management systems with eight different sets of (at times really byzantine) rules. As Spock of Vulcan would say, it was “highly illogical.” Now, we have two “super administrators” for our site and I had to re-learn WordPress. I’m still learning. See above about asking more of myself.

All 10 projects in 2017 featured non-narrated stories. Think “StoryCorps.” Participants were charged with finding ONE person with a great story to tell.. This meant participants had to approach the subject, the interview, the recording, sound design and production using different parts of their brains. They couldn’t “script” their way around a problem. High schools and colleges should teach this way of story conception and production alongside traditional reporting as, I believe, it would lead to better, deeper, more connected and artful podcasting early in the learning process.

Starting at USC in March 2017, we added an NPR Training exercise called “Project Blueprint.” We used it every Monday morning of every project through the year. I was part of the NPR StoryLab in 2017 where we did that exercise and I thought it would be a great addition to what we do at NextGen. I created a 90-minute version. The point was having each student-mentor team think “audience first.” That is, add the question: who cares about your idea? into the story development process. Each team answered the Blueprint question and the students presented their work to the entire group. Our Managing Editors say it’s gone a long way in helping participants narrow the focus of their work.

We used “Trello” on two projects to keep track of work flow. Some of our stations are using this platform as well. Our Managing Editor for both projects using Trello was Phyllis Fletcher, who now works for NPR.

Still, I do like the psychology of the physical board — where anyone can look and see where everyone is with project deliverables — and the half-joking talk of being either ahead or behind.

On the last day, when our lead web producer has signed off on everything, we have a closing ceremony where participants take a red pen and make an “X”, marking themselves “Done.”

Speaking of work flow, we spent the year asking ourselves, “In what order should the work get done?” Still asking that question. We pushed to have our reporters work on their written pieces as they were working on the non-narrated audio. Our early-career project in Seattle and our student project in North Carolina saw some success with this approach and it didn’t delay any obsessing over the audio work.

In Seattle, again in North Carolina and in Austin, we carved out time on the last day to “workshop” headline writing. Still, I see changing the way we do the work to a more integrated work flow is going to require large mental shifts, mostly among the mentors rather than the students.

We had three projects with visual journalists on staff. They were Carolina Hildalgo of Saint Louis Public Radio and Erica Yoon of the Roanoke Times in Virginia. Today in some newsrooms, photographers are no longer just in service to a reporter. They are a real and needed part of the editorial process, front to back. Carolina and Erica went out with each of the reporting teams NOT to take photos for them, but to be a guide for teams so they can take better photos. I’d like aim for having a visual journalist in this way on each project.

Results

In 2017, the #nextgenradio family added 57 competitively selected, rising journalists who represented the wide range of life and experiences that make up the United States. None of the 57 self-identified as Native American. We missed people. We’ll do better in 2018.

Last year I listed deep and diverse applicant pools, breaking down their percentages. 2017 was “Proof of Concept.”

Here are the Next Gen alumni, the year they were in the program and the places they landed in 2017:

Phyllis Fletcher (NABJ Dallas ‘03), Pacific NW Bureau Chief, NPR, Seattle, WA

Erika Aguilar (KUT Austin ‘07), Housing Reporter, KQED, San Francisco, CA

Nancy DeVille (KUOW ‘13), Digital Producer, Youth Radio, Oakland, CA

Gabriela Saldivia (KUOW ’13), NPR ONE, NPR, Washington, DC

Carla Javier (MPR ‘14), Arts Education Reporter, KPCC, Pasadena, CA

Angela Nguyen (MPR 14) Podcast Producer, KUOW, Seattle, WA

DaLyah Jones (KUT ‘15), Weekend Anchor/Reporter KUT, Austin, TX

Martin do Nascimento (KUT ‘15), Visual Journalist KUT Austin, TX

Ericka Cruz Guevarra (Phoenix ‘16), Breaking News Reporter, Oregon Public Broadcasting, Portland, OR

  • Tyler Bartlam (Capital Public Radio ’16) Production Assistant, C-SPAN, Washington, DC

● Olivia Grayson (Atlanta ‘16), Producer, Georgia Public Broadcasting, Atlanta, GA

Katherine Ellis (Phoenix ‘17), Program Associate, American Press Institute, Washington, DC

Adwoa Gyimah-Brempong (KUOW ‘17), Producer, “The Record” KUOW, Seattle, WA

Jerry Quijano (KUT ‘17), Weekend Announcer, KUT, Austin, TX

Laura Tsutsui (Sacramento ‘17), Production Assistant, Valley Public Radio, Fresno, CA

● Hilda Flores (Capital Public Radio ‘17), part-time Interactive Producer, Capital Public Radio, Sacramento, CA

These Next Gen alumni became station interns post-program:

Stephanie Serrano (UNR ‘15), Bilingual Reporter, KUNR, Reno, NV

Natalie Van Hoozer (UNR ‘16), Bilingual Reporter, KUNR, Reno, NV

LaCandis Brown (Atlanta ‘16), Summer 2017 Reporting Fellow, WABE, Atlanta, GA

Taylor Allen (WHYY ‘17), WHYY, Philadelphia, PA

Jacob Solis (UNR ‘17), KUNR, Reno, NV

Zoe Travers of KOSU (Oklahoma City University) in Oklahoma City was already an intern at the station when she did our project and remains as an intern there.

Jose Olivares (UNR ’15) is the first “Jackie Leonard Fellow” at NPR through funding provided by the University of Nevada, Reno. He is working in Digital Media News in Washington DC. It should be noted that the funding for this fellowship is part of an endowment for the Next Generation Radio project at UNR created by longtime KUNR donor The Reverend Jackie Leonard. Her endowment funds the boot-camp AND the fellowship at NPR.

Adelante!/Onward!

Now that I have proven to myself I could do it and our alums are getting hired, I realize that 10 projects are too many. I think seven or eight, spread out through the year, works best. That’s still plenty of opportunity to “try stuff, see what works, see what fails miserably. Learn, rinse and repeat,” as business guru Tom Peters once quipped.

Here’s where we are planning to be in 2018:

  1. University of Houston/Houston Public Media (January 8–12)
  2. University of Southern California (March 12–16)
  3. Georgia Public Broadcasting (May 7–11)
  4. University of Nevada, Reno (June 4–8)
  5. WHYY Philadelphia, PA (June 25–29)
  6. KUOW Seattle (Early Career) July 16–20
  7. Oklahoma City/KOSU (July 30-Aug 3)
  8. KUT Austin, TX (Aug 13–17)
  9. Capital Public Radio Sacramento, CA (Oct 15–19)

And, in 2019 we’re going to launch a big Next Generation Radio collaboration in Southern California partnering NPR stations KPCC and KCRW with the Cal-State Universities in the greater Los Angeles area. We’ll begin at Cal-State Fullerton in January of 2019.

Our bottom line is this, and it bears repeating:

“What we do is reinforce what they’ve wanted to do, or, open their eyes to what they could do.”

Our latest work is always found at nextgenerationradio.org

Project Founder/Director, NPR’s Next Generation Radio; Board Chair, Center for Collaborative Journalism; Member, Board of Trustees, American Press Institute