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Award-Winning Journalist Marianne McCune Helps Teens Become Storytellers

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 personal narrative.

Birth of Radio Rookies

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."

Moving stories

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.