Journalist and youth advocate
Marianne McCune has helped dozens of teens speak up for themselves and their
generation, on the radio through her ") allowed young people tell their
stories in new ways through the use of sound, oral history interviews, and
Birth of Radio
McCune and Richman soon teamed up
with Columbia University and radio station WNYC to help teens from New York's
impoverished Harlem neighborhood produce reports about their lives using
cameras and audio equipment. "I love teenagers," says McCune.
"The teenage years are a time when you are open to exploring the
truth." That six-week workshop grew
into the six-month long WNYCRadio Rookies project, which has just entered its second decade.
The teens begin their Radio
Rookies course by making a list of ten things that are important to them.
McCune says any one of these ideas can be the germ of the documentary they will
work on over the next half year.
Being asked by
grownups to reflect in this way can be an unusual experience for many
participants. "On one level,
teenagers do think their world is important," says McCune,
"but they don't think that people outside their world really want to hear
about it. So … just by starting that conversation with them, they start to perk
and start to say 'Wow! These guys really want to know!'"
McCune says that often in these
conversations, something really important will emerge at the last moment. She
points to a story by Radio Rookie Keith Harris as a case in point. He made his
list, but there seemed to be little he felt passionate about. After gentle
coaxing and respectful questioning by McCune and her co-leaders, Harris admitted
he had only recently learned to read, even though he was halfway through high
school. McCune was delighted to learn that that was the story Harris truly
wanted to tell.
But McCune is quick to point out
that Radio Rookies is also about journalism, not merely storytelling or
commentary. "Once they've chosen a
topic, even … if it's something to do with their own personal life or to do
with a relationship… they also have to reach across a divide, whatever that
divide may be, and make people listen to them."
Radio Rookies' million plus
listeners have heard many examples of this.
Janesse Nieves confronted her
estranged father about his heroin addiction.
"Rocky" Tayeh told listeners about his
struggle with obesity. And Veralyn
Williams, whose family
immigrated to New York from Sierra Leone, dealt with her fear and confusion
regarding her legal status.
"One of the most powerful
things about Radio Rookies is their courage to go out and report on their own
lives," McCune says. "If we all reported on our own lives I think we
might understand ourselves a lot better."
Marianne McCune still works with
the young reporters, and hopes to expand the number of Radio Rookies workshops
so even more teens can take part. She is proud that WNYC hasintroduced
a curriculum for high school teachers to use Radio Rookies stories to encourage
dialog and self-disclosure in their own classrooms.