NPR project grows radio stars

December 19, 2018 01:00

(The gif version is even cooler!)

The Next Generation Radio Project is a “pop-up” digital journalism training program. Each week-long project, held in various locations across the country, pairs competitively selected participants interested in audio and journalism with professional mentors to build the skills and opportunity to report and produce their own multimedia story. Here, founder and director Doug Mitchell recaps the program’s successes and looks forward to what’s to come in 2019. Adapted, with permission, from Mitchell’s post on LinkedIn here.

"Smiles everyone, smiles."

It's a line from an old TV show and yet, for me, it's at the heart of Next Generation Radio. We want our participants to walk away with a deeper understanding of audio-focused digital media and, character development and, yes, to smile with little effort. In 2018, we continued to see a lot of great dentistry.

NextGen Radio participantsWe've wrapped up 2018, so here are some of our closing numbers:
  • As in 2017, we completed 10, one-week projects in 10 different cities with 10 different sets of people. None of the teams for each project was exactly the same.
  • We got the opportunity to work with a total of 64 competitively selected college students, recent graduates and early-career participants.
  • 59 of the selected 64 from 2018 were women.
  • 55 of the selected 64 from 2018 were women of color.
  • Roughly 27 percent of the 64 from 2018 are now directly in public media either as paid interns or part-time or full-time employees.
  • About half of the 64 remain in school or are about to graduate.
  • Since 2013, we've done 33, one-week digital media projects with 195 competitively selected participants. 52 of 195 are now working in non-profit media. 43 of 195 (at this writing) are still in school or graduating this month.
In 2018, we made a much more concerted effort to find and track where our people have gone once the program is complete.

Three other things we've added to the projects: Each Monday morning as we start our program, former NPR Kroc Fellow, now Google audio journalist and Next Gen mentor Brenda Salinas, delivers what we call a "Protect Your Magic" presentation. Brenda and I decided right in the middle of #MeToo that we, as leaders, needed to create a very frank AND useful talk with our selected participants and mentors, about workplace culture. We want our people to know that if they sense anything is amiss, they can count on us to talk with them and work on resolutions. They shouldn't hesitate to raise a flag, early.

NextGen Austin illustration
On the first day of each project, we walk through NPR's "Project Blueprint." It's an exercise where students and mentors spend a couple of hours thinking of their audience and how they plan to reach them.

And, we've become much more transparent about how we create our work. During the week, we invite the subjects of our stories to our closing presentations so they can get a sense of what we do and why. We're wanting to develop trust, with each other and with our audience. Each of these additions to our project has enabled us to really create a bond between our participants, deeper mentorship, a better more informed network of professionals and trust between our our program, our budding journalists and the everyday people to whom we ask questions.

Near the end of last year on Linkedin, I wrote of 2017 as a "Proof of Concept." That the program has proven the next generation of public-media journalists exists and that we as an industry need to aggressively and relentlessly go find them (and NOT only on the coasts.)

Meet more than 25 Next Generation Radio project alumni and see what’s happened with them in 2018 here.

Drawing It Out: Sounds and PicturesIllustration of woman with dark hair and glasses
For two years, I had this idea in my head: What if we added illustrations to the work students and our early-career journalists did? Then, at the end of 2017, NPR advertised for an editorial illustration intern for summer of 2018 and received 286 (!!) applications. Yeah.

I went to NPR's former Director of Digital Training Serri Graslie and said, 'I don't want to look at 286 applications, but who were the top 10-15 you liked but didn't choose?" Serri sent me a spreadsheet and links and I began to review with NO idea what I was looking for.

Still, I chose two young ladies, Gabriela Tylenda and Sylvia Li, both students at the Maryland Institute College of Arts (MICA) in Baltimore. I'll admit I'd never heard of the school until then. I looked at their work, did phone interviews and coaxed them into working with us (and not for free or class credit, either) on our project at Morgan State University in Baltimore last April. We'd never had illustrators in our "pop-up" digital-first newsrooms so Sylvia and Gabi had to work out how they'd collaborate doing illustrations of the students' audio work. I talked "vision," (read: end results) but gave no specific directions. They were truly open and, it turned out, they lived a block apart in Baltimore and only realized it on the project. This was meant to happen.

Ruth Tam, who is a show producer at NPR station WAMU in DC and Hazel O'Neil, 2018 graduate of the University of Texas at Austin also work as illustrators for us. Hazel does animation too.

Having illustrators in the room during our projects in 2018 says we now have strong ideas of how it works. Gabriela, Hazel, Ruth and Sylvia are all on Linkedin (cough).

Our 2019 Next Generation Radio Project Schedule:
  • January 14-18 at California State University-Fullerton/Fullerton College
  • March 11-15 at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles
  • April 29-May 3 at NPR station WMFE/University of Central Florida, Orlando
  • May 13-17 at the University of Syracuse, Syracuse, NY
  • May 20-24 at the University of Nevada, Reno/KUNR, Reno, NV
  • June 24-28 at NPR station WHYY/Temple University, Philadelphia
  • August 12-16 at NPR station KUT/University of Texas-Austin
  • August 19-23 at Oklahoma State University/KOSU, Oklahoma City
  • September 9-13 at Georgia Public Radio, Atlanta
  • October 14-18 at Capital Public Radio, Sacramento, CA
There are only 12 months in a year, and doing 10 projects is our (my) peak capacity. What we're doing works, without question. We're finding people who are interested in deeper stories, providing "audition" opportunities to a cross-section of America and pulling first- person accounts out of people using non-narrated audio, written pieces, photos and illustrations. Everyone has a story and with it a closely held perspective just waiting for a chance to come out.

I think 2019 and beyond is about intentional mentorship and retention through it. If we have done our participants right, they'll feel like they have someone to watch over them as they navigate their careers.

This other kind of mentorship doesn't happen every day or every week. But, for example, it can can take the form of a random text on a Friday night from an alumnus that includes a photo (at right) and a job status update. Then I might respond with a congratulations. With some playful snark, I get this text in return: "In my defense of my Burt Reynolds-In-Boogie-Nights mustache, it keeps my upper lip warm in winter."

*smiles and thinks* "Carry on y'all. Carry on."

Doug Mitchell is the Founder and Director of NPR's Next Generation Radio, a nationally recognized, public media, digital-first journalism project for competitively selected college students and early career professionals. You can follow @nextgenradio on Twitter and Instagram as well as on Facebook under Next Generation Radio. Learn more and apply to participate in an upcoming Next Generation Radio program at