Listening Past the Sound Bites

It was a cloudy Monday morning when I entered KBOO Community Radio station—headphones in, blasting "Psycho Killer" by the Talking Heads. This was the day we were going to learn about vox pops, which are short segments on radio or TV where multiple voices and opinions are spliced together. I arrived five minutes late after having rolled my ankle for the third time this month. In a disheveled state, I limped my way to the side a table where my fellow MISC students sat. I turned to face a woman with black hair and glasses. I recognized her as Erin Yanke, Youth Program Director at KBOO. She was going to be leading the workshop. Her voice was warm and playful as she introduced herself. Focusing on visual and audio storytelling, she has worked in community radio for a long time. I was eager to listen to her take on radio and activism.

I found it exciting to tour the production room and to hear examples of past reporting that the studio had aired. We critiqued and deconstructed each one, learning a little more about how to effectively curate voices to fit together in an audio piece. 

We then split into teams to interview the KBOO staff and each other. The question my team picked was “How does the work you do at KBOO reflect the mission statement of decolonizing mass consciousness ?” It was a complex question, but we were sure that we could make our interviewees comfortable enough for them to answer in an articulate manner. It turned out we were right—we got some very smart, complex answers. But when it came to editing on completely new software, we ran into deep confusion and frustration. We ended up becoming so overwhelmed by the software that we didn’t finish our project. As we came to discover, no one else in our group finished either.

I realized that the finished product wasn’t the point of this project. Erin wanted us to feel comfortable in our skin. She wanted us to have the self esteem to put something together and grasp a new concept. Her technique of inspiring the people around her to see the optimism in making mistakes instead of putting down people reminded me that there were certain journalists and journalism environments that I'd like to be a part of one day.

See, in the past week I had been questioning what my learning style was. Yes you can listen and take information in but for many people it is very hard to really comprehend instruction, strategy, and critical thinking. I was reminded that I don’t have to doubt myself to ask questions or experience something and fail.

Erin also stands as someone who is dedicated to the accurate representations of people's stories. Her work reflects KBOO’s mission statement. The saying, “You must learn the rules before you break them,” rings true with many professions. With the exception of respecting the FCC rules and basic engineering structure, KBOO admirably disregards many of the cookie cutter norms most stations follow. I was elated to learn that their mission statement was aimed to support the decolonization of mass consciousness.

Future journalists should be able to experiment, share their ideas, and not forced to conform to safe topics by authoritative figures' lack of patience. Journalists and storytellers should be able to spend four months on accurate reporting and come out with a story without the shame of being too invested. Yes production is a big deal, but we should also consider how a story can change the world. We have to be the outliers to make change, to identify ourselves as the humble outsiders who yearn for social justice. If it's not your thing that’s cool too, but for the sake of social justice don’t cover it up with the mission of working toward it. I think that our MISC cohort chose to be in this program because we cared so much about our impact, permanent records which we will imprint on the world one day that affects livelihood.

I want to take some time to encourage people to go see Erin Yanke’s documentary about police violence, Resisting Power, this coming Sunday at Leaven Community.

–Isa Kaufman