NPR Next Generation Radio ‘pop-up’ newsroom comes to Newhouse

by Lani Diane Rich

May 16, 2019

Five students were selected for a whirlwind week creating multimedia journalism.

Portraits by artist Yunyi Dai. Top, L to R: Mary Catalfamo, Malika-Budur Kalila, Bottom, L to R: Stacy Fernandez, Jordan Muller, Christopher Sacchi. Illustration by Yunyi Dai.

View the stories created during Next Generation Radio's week at the Newhouse School>>

NPR’s Next Generation Radio, a week-long pop-up newsroom designed to immerse students and early career professionals in multimedia journalism, has taken over the Newhouse School’s Collaborative Media Room this week. The program guides five student journalists through the process of producing and reporting a non-narrated four-minute audio story, as well as creating video and written content, while documenting the experience on social media.

All in five days.

“It's audio, it's video, it's text, it's social media, it's shareable audio, and then whatever else they have the energy to do,” says Doug Mitchell, founder and project director of Next Generation Radio. “They can do pretty much whatever they want.”

Mary Catalfamo Courtesy of Mary Catalfamo

One of the student journalists is Mary Catalfamo ’19, a recent graduate of the newspaper and online journalism program. A few hours after graduating on Sunday, she was at a dinner with the Next Generation Radio team, which launched the week’s activities.

“That was great because it gave me the focus to start in on it,” Catalfamo says. “I already feel like I've been doing this for a long time even though it's only been a few days.”

The program began in 1994 when Mitchell was invited to provide radio training at a conference for journalists of color in Atlanta. After a few years organizing pop-up newsrooms at conferences, he felt the need to expand.

“We were so busy in there working that [the participants] didn't really get a chance to enjoy the conference,” he says. Mitchell decided to take the program to member stations, some of which, like WAER, were associated with colleges and universities with journalism programs.

The result was Next Generation Radio, which pairs professional reporters, or mentors, with students or early career professionals, called mentees, to guide them through the process of producing their stories. Mentors for the Newhouse pop-up boot camp include WAER’s Chris Bolt and magazine, newspaper and digital journalism professor of practice Jon Glass. Stephanie Kuo, project manager for Catapult, PRX’s podcast accelerator for public radio stations, serves as managing editor for this week’s boot camp.

Kuo, who started her connection to Next Generation Radio as a mentee in 2017, now oversees the day-to-day details of the newsroom.

“I run everything,” she says. “I'm the last eyes and the last ears before things go to publish. I set their schedules. I keep track of all their progress.”

The program is conducted at about 10 universities or NPR stations on average every year, with a new slate of mentors and editors taking a break from their regular jobs to participate. Mitchell oversees each event.

Student journalist Stacy Fernandez interviews Jan-Juba Arway, a public relations graduate student about moving her life from Sudan to Syracuse.
Student journalist Stacy Fernandez interviews Jan-Juba Arway, a public relations graduate student, about moving her life from Sudan to Syracuse. Photo by Richard Yeh/NPR Next Generation Radio.

At Newhouse, the week started off Monday morning with audio software training and a career development workshop led by one of the mentors. Then the students went out to interview their subjects Monday afternoon, and from there it’s a week full of producing, editing, writing and social media content creation until the final closing presentation Friday at 3 p.m.

“Our theme is first generation,” Mitchell says. “We want people who, whether they came here last week or 30 years ago, are the first generation from wherever they came from. Tell us about coming here. Tell us about your journey. What was it like? What do you remember?”

Catalfamo’s project focuses on Hamdi Farah, a Somali woman who lived in a Kenyan refugee camp before coming to the United States when she was 12 years old. Farah now teaches at the North Side Learning Center in Syracuse.

“Education has been a way that she's empowered herself to make herself heard,” Catalfamo says. “It’s really inspiring that she had a place that taught her, not how to be a perfect student, but how to be a resilient student. Now she teaches her students not to give up, the way she never gave up.”

After the closing presentation, the stories will be available on Next Generation Radio’s website, but Kuo says it doesn’t have to end there.

“We encourage the students pitch their stories, because they're local and tend to do well in a local market,” Kuo says. “It's a great way to get those students on air, make them feel motivated to do this kind of work going forward.”

Once the pop-up newsroom is packed up and gone, the mentees become alumni of the program and are initiated into a private Slack channel where Mitchell and other Next Generation alumni across the country offer advice, wisdom and job leads.

“I want them to feel like they are part of the Next Generation Radio alumni association,” Mitchell says. “It's a lot of fun. I want them to have fun.”