WSKG’s Keeping Our Schools Safe

March 20, 2013 by Jess Main under Audience Engagement, Education, Stories, Television

Guest Post by Annie Whitman, Education Initiatives Coordinator – WSKG, Binghamton, New York

The variety of our coverage is often what makes us unique—But where school safety is concerned, this variety is what made us realize we’re not so different after all.  The area that WSKG serves is made up of communities ranging from small urban centers to rural farming towns to well-respected university hubs. As a whole, the communities in this entire area take pride in this being a great place to raise a family, not unlike Newtown, Connecticut.

The topics explored in the After Newtown programming have been at the forefront of discussion, especially the issue of school safety. So naturally, many students, parents, and schools, whether home to a campus of 10,000 young adults or a first grade class of 28 children, have a heightened interest and concern.

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NCME’s After Newtown engagement resources page

Their main worry: What steps are our schools and universities taking?  WSKG created a local TV special to air in conjunction with PBS’s After Newtown programming.  It was a true interdepartmental collaboration to bring together two panels of local experts to share authentic conversation pertaining to our community.  WSKG’s well-known radio host, Crystal Sarakas, ventured into our TV studio to moderate this special production. The community dialogue featured the voices and views of a university associate dean of community & public affairs, a rural school district superintendent, an inner-city district assistant superintendent, the deputy chief of a university police department, and a retired child and adolescent psychologist.  The result: a well-balanced and insightful discussion that related to the daily lives of all viewers.

WSKG Education will continue to sustain the topics brought up in After Newtown by launching a SAFETY webpage throughout March. It will build off of resources from the diverse NCME collection, including the Not In Our School resource guide and localized information for families facing childhood mental illness.  This SAFETY page will fulfill an additional need to provide resources for other areas of concern to parents, students, and schools (fire safety, natural disaster safety, etc.).  WSKG recognizes public media’s responsibility to engage in thoughtful consideration of how national news and issues of importance are impacting our local communities.

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Six Tips for Strong Partnerships

March 11, 2013 by Jess Main under American Graduate, Audience Engagement, Creative Practices, Education

by Melissa Nowak, NCME Operations Assistant


Participants at WMHT’s Youth Summit.

WMHT in Troy, New York sponsored a Youth Summit in collaboration with Liberty Partnerships Program (LPP) at the University at Albany as part of the station’s American Graduate Initiative. Twenty-five students from local high schools attended the two and half hour event, where they discussed reasons for students dropping out of school. WMHT production crew members recorded the conversations with students discussing such intimate topics as teen pregnancy, as well as universal issues like bullying. The station found that strong collaboration with their partner organization was essential to the success of the event.

When asked what advice she had for public media organizations considering an event like the Youth Summit with a partner organization, Katherine Jetter, VP of Education at WMHT offered six tips:

  1. Constant and Consistent Communication: Communication is key to a successful collaboration. Each organization should share its goals for the event, agree on responsibilities and where decision-making will be shared, and check in regularly to make sure each side accomplishing its objectives.
  2. Meet regularly: Coming up with a regular time to meet helps keep things on track, particularly if the organizations operate during different hours – WMHT usually operates during regular business hours, whereas LPP is an after-school/evening program. Scheduling regular face-to-face meetings kept the communication lines open.
  3. Be Flexible: Organizing an event like the Youth Summit requires each partner to break out of their normal operation, and realize that they will have to do things to accommodate the other.
  4. Know your partner’s partners: Knowing with whom your partner is connected in the community is very helpful and can strengthen your relationship. In this case, LPP had an existing relationship with organization that helped bring students to the Youth Summit.
  5. Network: Get other support for the project. The more organizations that are involved, the more successful you are in getting the word out about the event.
  6. Exchange testimonials: Writing letters of support or testimonials strengthens the relationship between organizations. It shows you stand by your partner. Success of the Youth Summit was illustrated through solicited feedback from students, WMHT employees, and LPP personnel, such as in this quote:

“This was an incredible opportunity to collaborate with WMHT. Liberty’s mission to serve youth in our community ties beautifully with WMHT’s goal to give our students voices while gaining a better understanding of the dropout crisis in our communities.” – Sidra A. Chaudhary, Program Director for LPP’s Rising Stars Program for the School of Social Welfare at the University at Albany.

Project development

The idea to collaborate with a community partner, and involve students, sprang from coalition meetings regarding the American Graduate Initiative. WMHT was inspired by contribution from students at an earlier town hall meeting, and began working with LPP to provide opportunities for LPP interns to create media segments about important issues students face in school, which were subsequently featured at the Youth Summit to spark student conversation about these issues.

“We wanted the students to reach out to each other, realize that these problems are manageable and preventable while also exposing them to different careers in media,” said Jetter. The ultimate goal of the Youth Summit was to create an event in Albany and share it across the state through LPP, which is a statewide organization. “We want to create something that stimulates its implementation in other places,” said Jetter.

Partners should keep talking and collaborating after the project is complete, she said. “We may not see anything right away after the Youth Summit in terms of whether we were successful, because these projects tend to grow,” says Jetter. Both WMHT and LPP hope to expand from the original coalition to include more organizations. The event format will be presented at regional conferences and will also be presented to other branches of LPP throughout the state of New York. WMHT and LPP have also been brainstorming an internship program, where students can connect and make media to share and connect with other students. “Because that’s the main idea,” says Jetter, “engaging students.”



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Responsibility, Ownership and Reward for Youth Media Students in Marfa, Texas

Marfa Public Radio is one of NCME’s American Graduate grantees, focusing on Youth Media. The station recently held a successful listening party featuring student-recorded stories. NCME’s Operations Assistant Megan Hakes spoke with Marfa’s Project Coordinator Alice Quinlan, who shared her experience and discussed how she encouraged participation from the community, especially high school students. 

by Megan Hakes, NCME Operations Assistant

AG_BlogPost_4As part of the American Graduate initiative, Marfa Public Radio in Marfa, Texas recently spent eight weeks mentoring a group of selected high school students to record and edit their own radio and video stories, which were premiered at a Listening Party in January. Project Coordinator Alice Quinlan and the principal of Marfa Jr. / Sr. High School said they selected “kids who we thought could do this small project, and to whom the work would be most helpful.”

When station staff began planning the Listening Party, they and the students who created the stories wanted to attract local high school students to the event. The student stories reflected divisions in the community, and stereotypes at the high school. Station staff hoped that students giving voice to these topics at an in-person event would drive community conversation about prominent local issues. The station gave further agency to those involved in the youth media project by turning over planning and organization of the Listening Party event to the students.

“The students hosted the event themselves and I felt that was really important, so they could feel ownership of the event. That was my teaching philosophy throughout this whole class: it’s your story, it’s your event, and it’s your exploration. It’s work for them for sure, but I think in the end, because they had responsibility for the event, they had more of the reward,” Quinlan said.

Peer recognition and interest proved to be so important to students’ success that Marfa Public Radio plans to incorporate an in-school event if they do this project in the future. Quinlan recognized that peer support and personal storytelling were critical to the process for her students, and to the success of the Listening Party. “I think it would have been a different story if the media story was more news-oriented. That would have been a less rich experience for the students and nobody would have cared to listen.”

Through word of mouth, family and friend connections, and posters hung around town, the station had a strong turnout of around 60 people at the Listening Party. It raised awareness of Marfa Public Radio’s involvement with the American Graduate initiative, created a new audience for the station, and provided immediate feedback and encouragement of student work.

Marfa isn’t the only station encouraging student ownership of community conversation. WSKG in Binghamton, NY had similar success with students taking on responsibility for an event. You can read about that work here.

All students who participated in the youth media project can now check out audio equipment from Marfa Public Radio station. Students said they will continue to record their own stories, utilizing the skills they learned as they prepared for the Listening Party.

The stories from the Listening Party will be available at listening stations at the Marfa Public Library, and are being broadcast on-air. Check out Marfa Public Radio’s American Graduate project page for photos from the event and more information on their youth media program.

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At the Touch of a Fingertip: Engaging educators and students in 21st Century Learning

Staff members from KQED and Oregon Public Broadcasting (OPB) – which have created an e-book and e-magazine, respectively – will be talking more on this topic at an upcoming iMA webinar on Wednesday, February 13.  To register for the iMA webinar, click here.

By Amir A. Zaman, Communications Director, NCME

When opportunity knocks, you have to be ready to answer.  In the case of KQED, when the pieces came together, they took the initiative to create a different kind of e-book.

Andrea Swensrud, Project Supervisor for Science Education at KQED, says developing KQED’s first e-book was a natural next step in KQED’s production of original content for the education market.

“We had been creating explainers, pieces of purpose-built media for the classroom that explain different science concepts, and had just finished a project focused on earthquakes.”

One of the advisors for the earthquake explainers was from the California Academy of Sciences, which at the time was developing a new exhibit on earthquakes.

“Around the same time, Apple released iBooks Author, an app that allows anyone to create an interactive book for the iPad,” Andrea says. “Jenny Oh, our Interactive Producer for Science and Environment, started to think about how we might be able to use the app to deliver content.”

KQED is very interested in finding innovative ways to reach teachers and students, Andrea says. As more schools bring tablets into the classroom, using that medium to engage students with media-rich educational resources seems like a natural fit.  For public media stations, providing educational resources is a great way to engage the community and develop relationships.

iBookscreenshot2“This gave us an opportunity to take content from KQED and the Academy, and package it for use on iPads,” Andrea said.

“We also worked with the California Academy of Sciences to develop an iTunes U course on earthquakes; our e-book is the ‘text’ book for the iTunes course.”

“This is really more than an electronic book—it’s a multi-touch book. It provides middle and high-school teachers with a dynamic tool to learn from and to use with their students.”

What the collaboration also shows is that if you have established successful relationships with community partners, you can leverage those relationships to serve the community when opportunity knocks.

Download the KQED Earthquake e-Book at

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Public Media Keeping Communities Informed and Healthy

January 11, 2013 by radioanngal under Content, Education, Online Engagement, Public Media System, Social Media

No doubt your station is keeping an eye on the spread of influenza. The Centers for Disease Control reported that 7.3% of deaths in the last week were caused by pneumonia and flu. Part of public media’s service is to provide timely and relevant information to our communities. Thanks to public media’s emphasis on localism over the air and on the ground, many stations are responding to the flu epidemic as appropriate.

Here are a few resources for stations responding to the flu:

  • Flu Tips from Sesame Street has fun ways to encourage children to wash their hands regularly, also in Spanish.
  • An embeddable flu PSA with Elmo and Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius explains how to stay healthy during flu season.
  • The PBS NewsHour’s FluView map has up to date information about how badly the flu is affecting your state.
  • Check out WBUR’s CommonHealth blog and NPR’s The Two Way blog for a national overview of the flu epidemic.
  • A guide on covering pandemic flu from the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

The Centers for Disease Control has several resources you can share:

  • The Centers for Disease Control has a wealth of information on the 2012-13 flu season.
  • Flu information for parents with young children, a particularly vulnerable population.
  • Keep in touch with your state’s department of health and what they are advising. The CDC has a map of state health departments.

In addition to your state or local public health department, you may also want to reach out to local clinics or pharmacies to identify how your station can be a resource during an epidemic. As the trusted local information source, public media can play an important role keeping our communities healthy.


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Part II: More Lessons from Ed Zed Omega – Get Collaborative, Take Risks, Be Nimble

The Twin Cities Public Television’s (TPT) Ed Zed Omega project, in collaboration with Localore, is part of the larger American Graduate initiative through NCME’s American Graduate Engagement Grant program. The American Graduate initiative seeks to address and offer solutions to the high school dropout crisis.

By Jessica Clark, Association of Independents in Radio

Part I of this post unpacked the concept and goals of Ed Zed Omega (EZO), a cutting-edge, “authentic fiction” project featuring six fictional teens crowdsourcing responses to the question: “What’s in a diploma?”

Game designer Ken Eklund has been producing EZO throughout the fall, in collaboration with TPT and AIR for the national Localore initiative. Eklund, and TPT Interactive Producer, Andi McDaniel, reveal more lessons gleaned from the project:

Lesson 3: “Involve community partners from the get-go.”— McDaniel

Once the EZO team realized how powerful in-person encounters with the Zed Omegas could be, they stepped up their plans for face-to-face engagement. In particular, two events at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis revealed the Zed Omegas’ power to spark discussion.

The first challenged visitors to stand on a map of the “World of School Issues,” and use cell phones to call in their reflections. Watch them in action above, and then listen to one of several contributions.

By the time Eklund brought me in via Skype to experience EZO’s second event at the Walker Art Center, the actors had learned how to fully inhabit their characters. “Identity crisis” was the theme of the museum’s student open house — the Zed Omegas created a series of life-sized paper cutouts, designed to spur conversation about high school stereotypes.

At first, I stayed in comfortable reporter mode, a disembodied observer on a laptop, snapping screenshots and taking notes. But as I was passed from character to character, I got it. Participation meant simply having a conversation.

One Zed Omega, Jeremy, told me he’d decided to quit school, move away from his small town, and work at a bookstore near a university in Minneapolis. I began to quiz him, and he answered like a smart but impatient teen would — he’d hated his hometown, “everyone thinks the same things.” He wanted to meet other aspiring writers, to be in a place where “people think differently, where people argue.” In that moment, I didn’t agree with his choices, but he became real to me. (Watch Jeremy’s end-of-semester video to see what happened next.)

The Walker events were successful, says McDaniel, because “It was a natural fit…people walk into a museum ready to play. They’re willing to participate because they’re looking to have their minds expanded.”

This was an unusual type of partnership for TPT— one that extended the station’s brand in a new way. EZO events have also strengthened TPT’s relationships with other partner organizations searching for authentic and original ways to engage teens. McDaniel reflects that the project has taught her to make community partners integral to participatory story development, and even to involve them as early as the recruitment stage.

Lesson 4: “Prepare to be challenged”— Eklund

While EZO was exciting and creative, there has also been a steep learning curve. “It was only through doing the project that we figured out how we should do it,” says McDaniel. “We were building the plane while we were flying it.”

One persistent challenge was figuring out ways for the fictional students to interact with audience members online. Real teenagers would naturally have their own social media accounts, so the team had the actors set up Facebook pages, plus, in some cases, blog or Twitter accounts.

But as fictional characters, the Zed Omegas did not have the deep bench of friends, relatives and classmates that would allow them to easily grow their networks. Plus, the characters needed to spend time crafting updates and conversing with others on the same platforms. The takeaway: “Choose a particular platform, and learn the language of it,” McDaniel says.

The overall project site was built using Tumblr, a blog-hosting platform that has robust tools for content sharing among users. On the one hand, this made sense: it was free, easy to set up, allowed for content to feed in from other social sites, and plugged into an existing online network already popular with teens. Three of the Zed Omegas created Tumblrs of their own which fed into the main site, and EZO did end up gaining some traction when Lizzie jumped into one education thread.

Eklund was also intrigued by the “visual economy” of Tumblr, in which users appropriate and share images and snippets of pop culture to construct their online persona. This approach is reflected on the EZO site, which is rich with photos, videos, quotes, and the animated gifs that have become Tumblr’s currency in trade. Could EZO reflect the “soul of an issue,” he wondered, the same way that Tumblr users express a “part of their soul” through their posts?

However, the team found, Tumblr’s structure makes it difficult to thread related conversations together, and the platform’s tools for including content from elsewhere aren’t always consistent.

Each game he’s run presents similar challenges, says Eklund. He chooses a platform that speaks to the networks of users who care about a topic, but then “there’s always this bleeding edge headache.” The takeaway: Dealing with such uncertainties is the cost of working in an emerging storytelling space.

Lesson 5: Practice “leaping before you look”— McDaniel

It’s exactly these types of challenges, that stations looking to adapt to today’s media environment, need to take on, says McDaniel. “We know there’s a mass disruption, but it’s really hard to know precisely how to change if you don’t have a visceral example. This pushed up against our barriers in ways that made them more visible.”

TPT is ramping up for more projects that will engage younger audiences. EZO has taught them that “we need to be nimble and playful and experimental,” She says. “This has given us really good practice in leaping before we’ve looked at every possible outcome.”

And while the Zed Omegas have made their decisions, there’s more to learn from the project.

“We have a bit of curation in front of us,” says Eklund. “We’re trying to bring the stories and the site in for a nice, safe landing, looking at what has been accumulated through this interesting process…and marveling at how unique this collection is.”

Experience it for yourself with this list of “top tens” selected by the characters.

This post is one in a series offering insights from the Localore initiative, produced by AIR with support from CPB.


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Learning from Ed Zed Omega: TPT’s Leap into “Authentic Fiction” | Part I

The Twin Cities Public Television’s (TPT) Ed Zed Omega project, in collaboration with Localore, is part of the larger American Graduate initiative through NCME’s American Graduate Engagement Grant program. The American Graduate initiative seeks to address and offer solutions to the high school dropout crisis.

By Jessica Clark, Association of Independents in Radio

The semester is ending for Ed Zed Omega (EZO)—Localore’s “collaborative thought experiment” at Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) exploring education reform. But lead producer Ken Eklund and his team at TPT are still rounding up the lessons from the groundbreaking project.

In this video, see the six fictional high-schoolers who have been crowdsourcing advice on whether they should drop out: Edwina, Nicole, Xavier, Lizzie, Clare, and Jeremy. Played by actors, these central characters are joined by two others who provide context and commentary: guidance counselor Mary Johnson, who assigned the teens this semester of independent study to explore their educational options, and Nora Rose, a home-schooler who is considering her own future.

Blending on-air promotion with digital, mobile, and face-to-face engagement, EZO is one of 10 Localore projects that AIR is producing across the country to increase stations’ capacity to innovate. The project has given TPT staffers a chance to work with bleeding-edge platforms and storytelling strategies.

I spoke with Eklund, TPT Interactive Producer Andi McDaniel, and EZO writer/producer Maggie Ryan Sanford about what they’ve learned along the way. In this blog post (Part I) we explore the project’s concept and evolution; and Part II looks at how other stations might take such a leap.

Lesson 1: It’s easier to play than to explain”—Eklund

Ken Eklund

EZO’s design reflects its goal of surfacing real issues encountered by today’s youth. The students’ stories are not scripted. They’ve evolved organically, shaped by the actors (aged 16-26) through feedback from participants, conversations with Eklund’s team, and experiences from their own lives.

A game and experience designer known for an earlier participatory public media project, World Without Oil, Eklund has coined a new term for this fluid storytelling genre: “authentic fiction.”  Such projects, he explains, create a safe space for participants to grapple with and play through thorny issues in a way that traditional reporting or community forums don’t.

The team discovered, however, that such conceptual explanations often fell flat. Instead, what brought EZO to life was direct interaction with the characters.

This dynamic surfaced early on, explains McDaniel, at a small TPT staff lunch. A discussion led by Jeremy and Nicole led to a “tense and interesting conversation about where our education system isn’t delivering,” she says. “The energy in the room was electric,” and the encounter led to a similarly engaged all-staff meeting.

Online and via phone, participants also stepped into the fray. Ray Kimball, who identified himself as a career army officer pursuing a graduate degree in educational tech, urged the students via email to consider the economic consequences of dropping out. Via Twitter, Shauna contacted Clare with a detailed list of suggestions for presenting her “unschooling” plans to her parents, which led to a lively exchange. Linda wrote in to express sympathy, noting that “high school was the worst experience in my life.”

Routinely, such exchanges elicited personal responses—which in turn led to talk about the role of education in work, society, and personal development.  These complex discussions challenge facile assumptions about who drops out and why.

Lesson 2: “The golden rule is: listen to the kids.”—Sanford

Unlike many explorations of the drop-out issue, The project focuses on a set of voices that often gets lost in the cacophony that pervades the education discussion: the voices of those most directly affected by our education systems, the people currently subject to the state of ‘being educated,’ “observes Brandie Minchew in Wired.


For the EZO team, that meant allowing the young actors to drive the narrative. Sanford was tasked with talking them through plot twists. While working without a script can be scary sometimes, she says, “the project is supposed to be giving voice to teenagers, and we have to walk the talk.”

As a result, the characters’ storylines took some unexpected turns. “We think we have one thing,” Sanford explains, “and then something better comes out of the kid’s mouth.” This loose structure allowed them to explore other educational alternatives freely. While the characters began “zed omega”— a slang term for “so over”— about their high school experiences, they eagerly sought out information on charter schools, “rising out,” online coursework and GEDs.

Visits to local high schools for conversations with real students also pushed the actors to deepen their characters. In one exchange between students from the High School for Recording Arts and Zed Omegas Nicole and Xavier, the students reject Nicole’s complaints about bullying as a reason to leave school. “If you give into it, then basically you let them win,” one tells her.

“They read her the riot act,” says Sanford. “You can see her sitting there, the gears turning like crazy…and she brings it up in her exit video.” Ultimately, Nicole decided to go back to school.

Read more about EZO’s evolution in the next post for lessons on working with partners, navigating social media, and taking productive risks. This post is one in a series offering insights from the Localore initiative, produced by AIR with support from CPB.

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Public Media’s Role in Times of Tragedy

December 14, 2012 by Jess Main under Education, Public Media System

by Ann Alquist, Director of Radio Engagement, NCME

The school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut leaves all of our communities shocked, stunned, and afraid. Public media can be an invaluable resource in times of crisis, offering a powerful combination of reach, expertise and community trust.

It’s still true: information is power. Thanks to NPR News and the PBS Newshour, we have a national megaphone to ensure our communities are getting accurate and credible information in real time. We can also thank our network of affiliates for having the boots on the ground to provide the context and perspective of the communities affected by the event.

Our reaction in moments of tragedy or crisis is to act. We want to do something to make our families and our communities safe. Public media can help communities by pointing them to resources, especially when it comes to talking to our children.

There are a number of public media resources for how to talk to kids about news and tragedy:

Other nonprofits and service groups offer information about how handle a tragic event. You may want to reach out to local groups in your community about how your station can be a resource hub to support communities in a time of tragedy. Here are a few organizations’ examples:

In many communities, public media is the trusted convener. After a tragedy, public media can bring communities together and reflect the reality of their lives through community conversations, performance and collaboration. All of us are stronger when we work together in moments of tragedy.

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Thank You, Public Media

As we reflected over the weekend about things that we are thankful for, one of the things we are grateful for is public media’s contribution to our democracy.

We are fortunate because we get to hear about many of the ways in which stations are engaging their communities. Then, we get to share these projects with the world through

We are thankful for the essential role public media stations are playing – addressing local issues and bringing individuals and organizations together to move everyone forward. Hearing about these efforts inspires us as we work to help more stations engage.

Here are a few of the amazing ways stations engaged their communities this year. We hope this inspires you too.

We’re thankful for stations bringing the community together in conversation.

We’re thankful for stations harnessing new technology to engage youth.

 We’re thankful for stations that helped kids get smarter and healthier.   

We’re thankful for stations that joined forces with community members.

 We’re thankful for stations that share new (and under-represented) voices.

To read more stories about the work of public media, visit While you’re there, share your story too. 


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WQED Gets its Game On:
A Q&A with Jen Stancil

October 18, 2012 by kksparks under Education, Engagement Trends, New Media, Public Radio, Television

Middle school students at Carnegie Mellon’s Entertainment Technology Center stand in awe of a realistic Star Wars exhibit. Photo Credit: Devon Tutak

Everyone’s talking about gaming. From alternate reality to educational games, online games that seek to engage, educate, raise money or just plain entertain are popping up everywhere.

Public media station WQED is taking a unique twist on the gaming trend with its Game On! Institute, designed to show students that creating games can lead to successful careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics).

We recently spoke with Jen Stancil, WQED’s Executive Director of Education Partnerships, about the station’s work with gaming. Jen talks about how WQED leveraged partnerships and game mechanics to score big. Click here to read more.. »