Next Generation Radio will stay with me forever


NPR’s Next Generation Radio, in partnership with the University of Southern California, has exceeded all of my expectations. At first, I hesitated to apply due to my lack of experience in radio production, but I am forever grateful for the trust that the team placed in me when they selected me.

I can say that I learned so much about the power of non-narrative storytelling, a style that I had not tried out before. So I was in a room full of strangers, but they were the best strangers I could have imagined! I’ve met amazing, caring people. Here are some examples of moments I will treasure.

On the first day, we met Clarence Williams III, a Pulitzer-prize winning photographer, who told us his philosophy is to “approach people with love and kindness.” When you do that, they will trust you with their stories. This is a thought that crosses my mind every time I work on a story. It shouldn’t always be about ratings and clicks but about the story itself.

Later that day, we had to craft our focus statements, which is easier said than done. Each of us, the mentees, had to share focus statements in front of everyone. But our mentors jumped in to rescue us. That made me feel more confident. I was comforted knowing that mentors would be patient and relatable.

Even though I did not interact as much with my fellow mentees because we were all trying to beat those deadlines, I know that these are some of the stellar journalists I will be working with one day. Can’t wait to see what amazing projects they develop.

I am so grateful to all the people in our team, because they took a week from their busy schedules to teach a group of college kids how practice makes perfect, as the saying goes.

Doug Mitchell did a great job pairing me up with my mentor Ambar Espinoza. I didn’t know what to expect from this mentorship program, but on the phone she was approachable. I felt like we were a team, which is why we bonded with ease. She offered to help me find sources if mine didn’t come through.

Then out in the field, Ambar gave me some tips on how to hold the microphone and how to think about a story from a radio perspective, specifically to think about transitions and how to coach people I’m interviewing to be eyes and ears for our listeners. These quick talks showed me how kind, patient, and understanding she is as a mentor.

Thanks to her, I learned about public radio, audio editing, written articles, and radio reporting. I also realized how good salt and vinegar chips are (she shared some with me during lunch), and I introduced her to the world of Tajín, a chili powder I always carry with me (she sprinkled some over her lunch). So it was definitely a win-win.

Regarding my project, I am so happy with the results. Betty Porto’s story is very inspiring, and I believe that Ambar and I did a good job capturing key moments of her life. There has been a lot of media coverage on the Porto family, but our take is original and compelling.

Even though it took me a couple days to narrow down my focus statement, our lead editor Traci Tong was always there to listen and bring us back on track. It was interesting to see Traci close her eyes and only listen to the story before reading its script. This is called “sound editing,” a term new to me.

Personally, I am a lot more visual, so I place more emphasis on getting my visuals right; however, for radio, you need a good ear and full concentration. Drew Jostad, our project audio engineer, also closed his eyes when he was “mixing” our final piece. I didn’t know an audio engineer had such an important role fine-tuning the final audio edit.

I learned to truly listen and spot sounds that were awkward in the narrative or edits that needs to be smoothed out. They are both great editors, so I am glad I got to work with them. Drew told us that your eyes will trick you, so you really have to develop a fine ear to detect those little details.

One of the reasons why I am pursuing journalism is because I care so much about the stories I work on. I take great responsibility and respect towards those who are lending me their voice to make an impact.

Clarence Williams III also shared that he chooses when to take off his “journalism hat” to be human while on the job, when necessary. At the end of the day, you need to do what is right. This is a piece of advice that will stay with me forever.

#nextgenradio #forever