Radio Reinventions (Adventures at WMUA pt 1)

It turns out that I joined the WMUA news team just as big changes were beginning to get put in place. It just so happens that up until this year, the news you may have heard on WMUA was the journalistic equivalent of a chop shop. The stories were put together from bits and pieces of the New York Times, the Gazette, al-Jazeera… The attributions were fishy, and the licensing non-existent. It was, in short, Very Bad Journalistic Practice.

But this year a new editor came on, who wants WMUA to be taken seriously: so things are a-changin’.

Thankfully, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the old system. But I’m equally unfamiliar with the new one: how am I supposed to find news? How am I supposed to report news? We’re in the middle of nowhere!

Here’s how it works: we find a news story, or some thing that’s happening (mobile flu clinics, from an article in the Collegian, for example, or an article about a new philosophy in education, from the NYTimes) and we do some background research and then (most importantly!) we do our best to tie it back into the UMass community: we go out and interview students, we talk to organizers, or professors. Our job is not necessarily to find (or make) the news, but to make the news relevant or, if possible, to dig deeper, and find more things to say.
That story about the educational philosophy that I mentioned? That’s my story. It’s not exactly going well, per se. The hardest part of interviews (especially when you’re not asking people about something they’re necessarily particularly invested in) isn’t asking the questions, but getting the interview. I was in contact with someone in the dean’s office, but now it seems like I’ll have to actually visit the School of Education itself to get that final confirmation of the interview. (Do you know where the School of Education is housed? Past North Apartments. I guess maybe they want to keep the educators and the administrators as far from one another as possible, or something, keep all that theory away from the classrooms, maybe?)

Radio is, in some ways, about as far removed from my fields of interest as possible. I never really liked listening to the radio, because I’m easily distracted from auditory input. I’m much more fascinated by images and video, and concerned by the ethics surrounding such things (because they’re a powerful medium). I was seduced into it because a) they asked nicely and b) they have zoom recorders (“lightsabers of sound recording” as one kid put it, you just point them in the direction of something, and they capture everything, it’s sort of like being a sound wizard). But I’m here now, and it’s at the very least very interesting. We’re trying to co-ordinate news stories across the entire week, without repeating ourselves, but except for your co-anchor, once a week, you probably don’t see anyone else from the team. We’ve been trying to get our things together and have some Google Docs set up to keep track of things, but it has taken us about a month to get it all sorted.

It’s a messy complicated entity. Even the chaos we’ve seen in the newsroom in All the President’s Men seems organized in comparison to our tiny, pseudo-professional set-up. (I say “pseudo-professional” in that they’ll let us stay on the air when we’re in flagrant violation of intellectual property law, and seem to let us do whatever we want, within reason, but the efforts being put in by the editors and the anchors is such that professionalism is clearly being aspired to.)

But you should definitely check us out (ahhh, the unavoidable plug) noon and 5:30 pm Monday through Friday at WMUA.org or tune your car radios to 91.1. (I’m on on Wednesday nights.)

I’ll be back after I’ve secured that interview to talk about how it went.

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