Speaker addresses radio journalism, WNR reflects

Charles Mayer, a 1998 Swarthmore graduate, came to campus on Monday to speak about his long-standing career in NPR News. He met with several different groups of students throughout the day to talk about careers, internships and the job process (specifically in radio journalism) and his experience as a Luce Scholar in Mongolia. Mayer also met with War News Radio (WNR) to discuss the future of radio journalism and the group’s own model of operation, which is being redeveloped.

According to Caroline Batten ’14, a journalist for WNR, Mayer talked about how he got into radio journalism, his current job as the “go-to-guy” for logistical challenges in production, and the future of NPR, given the steadying decline of traditional media.

At the beginning of this semester, WNR replaced their 30-minute radio show for a multimedia online platform.

“NPR is moving towards the internet, into podcasts and more web content because people like convenience and control over their news. That’s what he pointed out to us,” Batten said. “We have also moved to the internet. We are doing multimedia — a lot of video reporting, we are doing interviews by Skype and recording them, we are writing blog posts and trying to get pictures up with audio pieces.”

Although WNR has made the shift towards the internet more completely, Mayer seemed to approve of the results given by the recent changes. According to Batten, he advocated for news entities to provide “control, convenience and variety” to their audience. The model established by WNR seemed to grant just that.

According to Jim MacMillan, the journalist in residence at War News Radio and professor of the Peace and Conflicts Journalism course, the new model is still being developed.

“Independent news startups generally go through four iterations before they land on their mission… It feels very much like this here,” he said.

After the initial transformation in January, the core group of journalists at WNR decided to change directions even more by shifting their focus towards local news.

“After a while [covering local news], things started sputtering a bit and there might have been a sense of uncertainty about identity and community. The students have refocused primarily back on international relations, or maybe more than that, on international conflict. That focus has lead to more production in the past couple of weeks, but now we are addressing these topics across more media,” MacMillan said.

According to Batten, it has been a struggle to find the balance between being innovative and sticking to the traditional standards of journalism. While it is important to get things out as quickly as possible onto their website, it is just as important, if not more so, to cover the things that make them passionate – foreign affairs, particularly conflict. Still, she is certain that it has been a good transition.

Improvements have been made, and the new website is getting consistently more hits.

“I think we might see more change before we really land on a final model… Maybe the model is constant change,” MacMillan said.

Some of the pieces covered by WNR in the recent weeks include the treatment of PTSD since the Gulf War, the blurring line between journalism and activism (especially in Bahrain), and the bounty placed on Hafiz Saeed.

Housed in Lodge 6, WNR is constantly looking for new members.

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