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Next Generation Radio training bolsters multimedia storytelling skills, builds pipeline of diverse public radio journalists

Split between two countries: Mexican-American martial artist must choose which colors to wear.
Lauren Ibañez
Split between two countries: Mexican-American martial artist must choose which colors to wear.

Aspiring journalists and podcasters from across Texas participated in NPR’s Next Generation Radio project in September. The weeklong training is a digital-first intensive with a focus on audio, narrative audio storytelling, podcasting, and written and visual journalism.

Students and recent graduates from Austin Community College, the University of Texas at El Paso, the University of North Texas, the University of Houston, and the University of Texas at Austin spent a week producing narrative stories about what it means to be “American.”

Each participant partnered with a public radio journalist who provided one-on-one mentoring on storyboarding ideas, properly recording interviews (and background sounds), editing, promoting their stories and more – all on a tight timeline.

Honing storytelling skills through multimedia and mentors

“The Next Generation Radio program is no joke,” says Jackie Ibarra, a third-year journalism student at the University of Texas at Austin. “When I got the email saying what we were supposed to accomplish in four days – an audio piece, a web story, photos and audiograms – I was overwhelmed, nervous, and – if I’m being honest, scared out of my mind.”

“I kept thinking, ‘There’s no way I can do this in such a short time.’ But I did do it, and it does truly take a village. In just a short week, I learned so much from all the amazing people on the team.”

Ibarra, who has audio production experience at “The Daily Texan” and The Drag, an audio production house at UT, was paired with KUT “Morning Edition” producer and fill-in host Dani Matias.

“NextGen is a program like no other,” says Matias, who first participated as a college sophomore in 2017. “It gives aspiring journalists of color a chance to delve into audio journalism.”

Ibarra spent the week producing her multimedia story about Sofi Gonzalez, a Mexican-American martial artist faced with choosing which country colors to wear in competition. Through the process, of telling Gonzalez’s story, Ibarra learned professional skills, such as shortcuts on the audio recording and editing software Adobe Audition, to practical skills like always bringing extra batteries for equipment. Most importantly, she says she was able to overcome her imposter syndrome.

“I’ve struggled with imposter syndrome my whole college career. There are days I convince myself I don’t belong in the journalism world, that I don’t have the skills, or that I just simply cannot do journalism. But after telling Sofi Gonzalez’s karate story, I understood that storytelling is truly an art and not a science – and it’s an art I can do! If I can survive NextGen, I can survive anything!”

Ibarra is grateful for Matias’s reassurance and advice throughout the week. “I appreciated having Dani in my corner. She was supportive, yet really pushed me to get through the intensity of it all. And I liked that I could see myself in her. She pronounced my name correctly. She pronounced ‘Mexico’ the Spanish way. Hearing someone talk the way I talk made me feel seen.”

Matias recognizes this. Growing up, it was important for Matias to hear people who sound like her and that informs her work at KUT.

“I try to pronounce names on the air in Spanish to give other young journalists of color the opportunity to see and hear themselves in media.”

Building a recruitment pipeline

“We’re moving toward more a diverse and inclusive world, and Next-Gen is a perfect path to get there,” Matias says. “KUT is supposed to represent Austin – and Austin is diverse. If diversity matters to our audience, they should pay attention to this program investing in the next generation of journalists.”

This was Matias’s second time to mentor a NextGen participant. She praised Ibarra’s organization and time management skills and hopes to continue the relationship beyond the weeklong program.

According to Matias, having NextGen on your resume says a lot and opens doors to internships, first jobs and a professional network. “You can’t go anywhere in public radio or podcasting without meeting Next-Gen alumnae who are willing to review your resume and share job leads.”

While Ibarra learned important technical skills, she says the most important lesson was that “I can do anything with the right village and … an idea.”

Read all the Next Generation Texas stories.