When you attend journalism school at a top-tier university, there are some opportunities you just can't say no to. For Reynolds School of Journalism students, one of those opportunities is the Next Generation (NextGen) Radio Nevada boot camp.
"Next Generation Radio Nevada is the Reynolds School's training partnership with NPR," said dean Al Stavitsky. Stavitsky was responsible for bringing NextGen to the Reynolds School of Journalism in the first place. "We were the first journalism school in the country to work with NPR for a week-long multimedia boot camp that trains students for careers in public media."
According to Stavitsky, the boot camp originated nearly 20 years ago and was held annually at professional conferences that journalism students and faculty would travel to. Having done some consulting work for NPR, Stavitsky asked the producer in charge of NextGen, Doug Mitchell, why they never did the program at a journalism school. Mitchell responded by saying they had never been invited to any school. A few years after their conversation, Stavitsky became dean of the Reynolds School and invited Mitchell to bring the program to Reno.
Thus, the first NextGen Radio Nevada boot camp occurred during the summer of 2013 and has been a reoccurring event every summer since then.
"Radio is really having a renaissance," said Stavitsky. "I think there's a hunger for the kind of journalism that NPR is doing in this particular American moment, where things are hyper-partisan and there's all this concern about the accuracy of news. I think the reputation that public media have for fair and honest investigative news is more important than ever."
Each summer, six students are selected from a variety of applicants to go through this high-intensity, week-long boot camp. They're paired with professional journalists, who guide them through the week by teaching them the ins and outs of multimedia storytelling. Students and their mentors are responsible for coming up with a story idea that pertains to a given topic and then working on that story throughout the week.
Traci Tong, managing editor for NextGen, is responsible for coming up with each year's topic, setting deadlines for the students, working with them on interviews and editing stories. Last year's topic was "Overnight in Reno" in which students focused on people who worked interesting night shifts in Reno and what their lives were like.
"Audio is the driving force," Tong said about the boot camp. "Audio is the common denominator, but then we're preparing [students] to work in a multimedia newsroom."
Tong stressed the importance of keeping up with how news reporting constantly changes. She also said students were encouraged to check in with their subjects a year after the program.
"I don't like parachute journalism," she said. "I want our students and their sources to know, hey, they're not just coming in, doing the story and then boom, we never see them again…I want our students to learn about cultivating the source, developing relationships with people that they interview because it's important."
Tong also provided some advice for students who may be interested in applying to the boot camp. When filling out the applications, she said, be honest and don't give answers that are seeking to impress her and Mitchell. Also, students should be tedious about cleaning up their social media, as it's one of the first things she looks for when reviewing an applicant. Finally, Tong suggested students look over projects from years prior, so they have some idea of what they'll be doing throughout the program if they get accepted.
A more recent alumnus from 2017's boot camp, Joey Lovato, also advised students do this if they're interested in doing the program.
Lovato grew up listening to radio programs such as "This American Life" and "Science Friday," and naturally developed a love for radio. In college, he switched from engineering studies to journalism and decided it was time to pursue some radio experiences. The topic during for his boot camp was "First Days in America." Lovato focused on an Italian migrant, Emmanuel Ziaco, who studies dendrochronology — the science of tree cores and how they portray effects of climate change.
"Emmanuel was just fantastic," Lovato said. "He was so willing to work with us and had a great story and was really intelligent."
Lovato was introduced to Ziaco through his mentor, Regina Revezova. According to Lovato, Revezova was not only a fascinating person and mentor to work with, but she also had a lot of experience with the technical side of audio engineering, allowing him to learn everything he'd hoped to. Because of his newly-learned skills, Lovato later secured an internship with KUNR.
"If you're interested in radio and even if you're not interested in radio but just want to get better at the hard journalism skills, it's a great program," he said.
Another alumna of the program, Stephanie Serrano, shared similar sentiments. She completed Next Generation Radio Nevada's 2015 program and produced a story about two first-generation Latinas going to a four-year college. Her story explored their triumphs and struggles while navigating college life and even won a Hearst Award.
"I knew that I wanted to report on unserved communities, and I knew that bilingual journalism was something I wanted to do," said Serrano.
Serrano had absolutely no radio or audio experience prior to the boot camp. However, her mentor, Nico Colombant, taught her everything she needed to know within the span of a week.
"Because I was paired with a professional that understood what my work ethic was and saw how hardworking I was, we were able to accomplish so much more," she said. "And even though it was challenging, it was the most rewarding part."
In the end, Serrano fell in love with radio and audio-storytelling, which led her to her current position as a bilingual reporter for KUNR. Serrano also returns to the boot camp each summer as a mentor for current students. She encourages all students to apply even if they don't know much about radio production.
"As a student, I walked away with the ability to be confident in new spaces, to be confident with new material, to learn," she said.
Students interested in applying for Next Generation Radio Nevada must do so by Tuesday, April 23, 2019. This year's program will run from May 19-24, 2019. Even students who are graduating this year are eligible to apply, so don't miss out on this exciting opportunity!