Zooming through NPR’s Next Gen Radio Project

Our first day at NPR’s Next Generation Radio Project. (Photo courtesy of Erica Lee)

I can still recall the feelings I had in March, nervous to begin my week-long project with NPR’s Next Generation Radio. My professors at Cal State LA were constantly reminding me how much I deserved an opportunity like this—an opportunity to show my perseverance, dedication, and hard-work. 

So much has changed since then. I watched as the world turned upside down for everyone around me. A vicious virus that started off as a joke to me became a cruel reality. The world slowly began closing down and I knew what was to come. The week-long Next Generation Radio project at USC was going to be cancelled. At first, I felt selfish for not understanding why this had to be. I felt selfish for being mad at the world for taking this tremendous opportunity away from me. 

Fast forward to today: wearing a mask, staying six feet away from each other, and working exclusively online became the new normal. I was patiently waiting for Next Generation Radio director Doug Mitchell’s email, praying that our Next Generation Radio project would be moved online. 

My prayers were answered, and it was time to get to work! Finding a new story pitch for this project was somewhat difficult. COVID-19 has impacted the lives of so many people, but I wanted to make sure this project was going to bring out the harsh realities that many people are facing. That’s when I found 24-year-old Sabrina Renteria and her 2-year-old son Gabriel Posadas. 

I was thrilled that Renteria was allowing me to tell their story. The struggles she has to face everyday to make sure her son is safe and healthy during a pandemic are immense. Upon first speaking with her, I could hear the hurt in her voice, but her tone quickly switched when she spoke about her son’s journey and the way she is coping with everything. For the most part, she is hopeful and they are joyful together. 

Everyone was very welcoming the first day on the project, especially my mentor, Emily Dugdale. I felt slightly intimidated in a “room” filled with students from USC and UCLA, but reminded myself that everyone was there for the same reason, to tell a story. I think that is what kept me sane for the remainder of the week. Telling people’s stories is something I love to do, and I wanted to make sure I was going to be able to do that. I had no time to continue to dwell on any feelings of nervousness. 

I’ve learned so much about myself as a reporter during my short time here. I am grateful for everyone’s willingness to help me through all the tough moments I’ve encountered. From my interview, to all of the software issues I encountered, I am glad that I was able to count on the people around me. My stress slowly began to fade away when Dugdale and audio engineer Selena Seay-Reynolds stepped in to solve the audio issues in my piece. 

Watching Seay-Reynolds navigate through the Adobe Audition audio editing program motivated me to observe and learn something. Dugdale’s patience with me throughout this project made me feel secure. Lastly, hearing how excited everyone was about their projects allowed me to take in everything about this week.

I am beyond grateful for this wonderful opportunity, and I cannot wait for the world to listen and learn the story of Sabrina Renteria and her young son navigating the current world we live in.

By Denae Ayala

Denae Ayala is a multimedia reporter from Los Angeles. Her drive to share other people’s stories with the world is one of her favorite things about working in journalism. She graduated from Cal State L.A. in 2020 with a degree in Television, Film, and Media Studies with a focus on journalism. As a staff reporter at her alma mater’s newspaper, The University Times, Denae’s ability to listen deeply, ask pointed questions, and produce a compelling story helped earn her four college journalism awards, including Best Sports Feature. But no award is as important to her as the smiles she puts on people’s faces as they read her stories. When she’s not working, Denae enjoys watching sports and rooting for the Dodgers and Lakers.

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