A Look Inside The California Report
Ingrid Becker is the senior producer for KQED Public Radio's statewide news service The California Report, which can be heard on 29 radio stations across the state. She spoke to On Q about her career path, what makes a good story and how her job has changed over the past decade.
First some background. How long have you been at KQED?
I joined KQED 10 years ago as the full-time senior producer for The California Report, but before that I worked as a part-time reporter and editor for The California Report and KQED News.
What drew you to radio?
Actually, I was a print journalist for 16 years before I caught the radio bug. I had never produced or reported for broadcast when I first pitched KQED on a story about a local record label. It was a steep learning curve, but from then on I was hooked. The intimacy of radio, where you are having a daily "conversation" with listeners, is something I feel I can never tire of.
OK, so we hear your name and title in the credits every week, but
what exactly does a senior producer do?
In broad terms I supervise a fabulously talented team of nine full-time staffers: two hosts, producers and reporters including our bureau chiefs in Sacramento, Fresno and Los Angeles. I also work with reporters outside the station, from both other California public radio station and the many dedicated independent producers who contribute to our shows. It's definitely a lot of people and a lot of moving parts.
My job is to lead this team of people and decide what stories to cover in California and assign the reporters. I often am the one to edit the stories and, when I can, I'll go into the studio to work one-on-one with reporters to "coach" them as they lay down their voice tracks. Another part of my job is to communicate with our partner stations to be sure they are getting the best service and information they need from our programs, which include a weekday morning report and a weekend news magazine.
You mentioned "partner" stations. Can you explain?
Sure. The California Report, which began in 1995, is produced here at KQED and then distributed by satellite to any public radio station in California that would like to air the program. Currently we have 29 stations, which means we are heard in more than 70 communities from Calexico in the south to Yreka in the north. There's no charge for the programming, and we are supported by foundation grants and funding from KQED and its members.
As a longtime editor, tell us what makes a good story.
Well, lots of things, and that's what makes this job so dynamic. Since we're a statewide show, I look for stories that will resonate across a broad geographic swath. In other words, there has to be something about the topic or issue that has currency whether you're in San Diego or the Silicon Valley. State government stories often fit these criteria, but we still need to focus on our approach.
And what about sound?
That's exactly it. Good radio is all about the sound. When you're talking about the craft of radio, there are some key elements that help make a story a good one. One of those is having a sense of place. When we're telling the story of an Olympic hopeful, we need to take you, the listener, to the boxing ring where he's training and let you hear the sounds of that room so that you start to feel you're right there. Another element to good storytelling is character. Stories with a strong character help connect the listener. One example was a story we did about joblessness in the Central Valley. In that piece, the reporter followed a job seeker through her day, and we heard the woman knocking on doors only to be turned down for interviews. The plight of a jobless person was made so much more real when the reporter allowed us to hear directly from a strong character who told us in her words what it was like to struggle so hard to find any kind of employment.
If I could say just one thing about good radio it's this: Listen. You'd be surprised how easy it is for a reporter to get overwhelmed by facts and details when what would really improve a story is to carefully listen. Does the writing flow, is the sound helping to drive the story forward, and are they both painting a picture? I try never to edit a story without having the reporter read the script and play the sound for me. We always catch things with our ears that way and can make improvements.
What's been your most memorable story?
The 2003 recall election of Governor Gray Davis. To have the state's first successful recall election was stunning enough, but when Davis was replaced with body-builder actor Arnold Schwarzenegger, California grabbed the world spotlight.
How has your job changed over the years?
The biggest changes are how many more people are contributing to our programming and how much progress we've made in producing in-depth reporting for The California Report. Today we are participating in a number of media partnerships, and that extends our ability to go deep on issues. We just finished two collaborations with California Watch, a project of the Center for Investigative Reporting, including a series called Prison Break on the state's prison realignment program.
The other big change is multimedia. The California Report has a website, californiareport.org, and we're busy adding new content every day, including some knock-out photos and graphics that help us tell stories in new ways.
It's clear you love your job; what kinds of things do you do outside
You'd think I'd just want to relax, right? It's actually kind of insane. I run and do Cross-Fit, dance salsa and Argentine tango, and, for many years, I've been studying flamenco guitar. Oh, and did I mention photography?
Also on KQED.org this week ...
Drought Watch 2015: Record-Low Sierra Snowpack
The Sierra Nevada snowpack, which typically supplies nearly a third of California's water, is showing the lowest water content on record: 6 percent of the long-term average for April 1. That shatters last year's low-water mark of 25 percent (tied with 1977).
"Boomtown" History of the San Francisco Bay Area
KQED's "Boomtown" series will seek to identify what is happening in real time in the current boom, and also draw out the causes and possible solutions to the conflicts and pressures between the old and the new.