The 2020 and 2021 WUNC Youth Reporting Institute evolved in ways unimaginable at the start of the pandemic. When COVID-19 sent our state into lockdown, the path forward for our annual summer training program was uncertain. Traditionally, the YRI hosts a diverse group of 8-10 students, ages 15-19, at WUNC’s studios in Durham, NC for an intensive, paid 8-week session on radio journalism. With in-person instruction impossible, YRI Director Kamaya Truitt and Program Manager Allison Swaim got innovative, developing a virtual curriculum and pivoting to an online experience. This allowed WUNC to welcome a cohort of students that was larger and unprecedented in its diversity. For example, one of the youth reporters in 2020 was as young as 13; another reporter joined us from outside the Triangle region of North Carolina. The total number of registered participants in 2020 was 28 and while not all experienced the curriculum to completion, all were exposed to elements of the learning process be it pitching, scripting, recording, etc.
The year culminated with a Virtual Listening Party that invited the wider community to hear the work of these outstanding young journalists, including a piece that later won a PMJA Award for Student Soft Feature. Updates to the virtual curriculum the following summer (2021) allowed for deepening WUNC’s connections with recent alums of the program. Some students returned for a second summer to hone their skills further and report new stories. Others returned to provide mentorship to new students and help increase visibility for the YRI (now almost exclusively called WUNC Youth Voices) on social media platforms. This included the development of an IGTV show called Changing Channels, hosted by our summer 2020 award-winner Caitlin Leggett, who now works for WUNC as an intern.
This year’s end-of-summer Listening Party was not open to the community; it was designed so that the youth reporters could gather safely and meet each other in person along with their loved ones. However, it was held with intention at the YMCA in southeast Raleigh, a community Truitt has invested time in to bring opportunities to some of the estimated 7900 children (54.1%) who live in poverty. We view this rapid evolution of WUNC Youth Voices as the start of an exciting journey that will lead us to be able to make more content and engage in more collaborations with young people from around our state in the future.