A new crop of journalists is hitting the airwaves with a fresh perspective on life in Juneau.
Juneau-Douglas High School and KTOO FM public radio have partnered to add a broadcasting program in conjunction with the school's journalism class. With the help of a $5,000 grant from the Radio and Television News Directors Foundation, KTOO has provided equipment for high school students to produce news stories on campus that are later broadcast as part of the station's morning news show.
"Any time that students can have an authentic audience for their writing is valuable," said Ali McKenna, who teaches a writing-for-publication class at JDHS. "So they're writing with a real purpose, a real audience - not just for a teacher and not just for a grade."
Although the students producing the news segments are enrolled in McKenna's class, the program operates on a volunteer basis.
KTOO Radio manager Cheryl Levitt said the partnership is a great opportunity for the radio station, the high school and the community.
"Most high schools don't get the opportunity to learn this kind of medium," she said. "And for us it gives the community a really cool window into what their world is."
Levitt said the station is trying to air one student news segment a week, depending on timeliness of the stories and student workloads. Four students have had their stories aired since the program began during KTOO's Dec. 2 broadcast of National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."
Tenth-grader Tera Ross' story about the jump-rope team Juneau Jumpers was the first segment to air under the new program. Although nervous about being the first of her peers to be heard over the airwaves, Ross said the experience has been rewarding.
"I've never done hard news before and that was kind of fun," she said. "The whole broadcasting was a good experience."
But making her citywide debut as a radio journalist wasn't enough for Ross to stop living a normal teenage life.
"I didn't hear it on the radio because it was in the morning and I try to not get up in the morning," she said.
Senior Matt Callahan wrote and produced a story about avalanche safety and backcountry skiing. He said this program is giving students valuable experience in professional broadcasting.
"I guess we're ahead of people who haven't had any experience because we know how things work a little bit, and we know what the editors at the radio are looking for," Callahan said.
McKenna said the students are learning a number of skills by participating in the program, including how to conduct interviews, work with adults, reach out to the community and meet deadlines.
Kevin Gullufsen, a sophomore who produced a preview of the Crimson Bear basketball season, said learning to meet deadlines has proved to be the most difficult aspect of the program.
"It always seems like it is further away than it is, and then you will be two days before and you've got to scramble to get it all done," he said. "It really forces you to be a better time manager."
Gullufsen said student journalists have an advantage over professionals when interviewing teenagers.
"When you interview the kids they don't feel the pressure to speak really eloquently," he said. "They're on the same level as you so they feel they can speak honestly and you get good interviews that way."
Kanaan Bausler, a junior who produced a story about the progress of the new chair lift to be built at the Eaglecrest ski area, said getting a story on the air was fun but also a lot of work.
"I was pretty happy about it at first," he said. "I had to make a lot of changes and stuff so it took a long time, but I think it turned out pretty good."
McKenna said this program allows the students to be taken seriously, which in turn inspires them to do quality work.
"I don't think there are too many outlets for kids to have a voice, and have a voice that reaches such a wide audience," Levitt said. "This gives an opportunity to have that voice blasted out to, you know, potentially 11,000 people each week."
Juneau Empire ©2015. All Rights Reserved.