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Posted - 11/19/2019
KALW Beat Reporters Take a Pause
One of the reasons the KALW beat reporters were so excited to take part in the Invoking the Pause Grant program is because it is so rare to get all of us in the room together. We see each other in the newsroom deep in edits with our editors or running around trying to get our sound filed on time. We knew the Pause would be a great way to slow down, bring all of our perspectives to the same room, and talk about a topic that we all care about. So, it’s no surprise that the first challenge was finding times we could all meet — first for a half-day Pause planning retreat, and then for our full 24-hour pause. But, we made it work! We found time to meet twice in September.

The “Mini Pause”

PHOTO 1. Shereen Adel leads the group in a brainstorming activity. Credit: Angela Johnston

We knew that we wanted to report on climate change using KALW’s eight different beats to frame the stories. Our beats are housing, justice, environment, science, education, immigration, arts and culture, and transportation. We also wanted to figure out if we could make our stories even more connected. We wanted a unifying question. So, on September 12, we met in KALW’s conference room armed with hundreds of colorful post-its, sharpies, giant white flip board paper, and some delicious Thai food. [a]Each beat reporter came prepared with three story ideas. They each had 10 minutes to pitch their ideas to the group. We scribbled down keywords, themes, questions, and notes. The ideas were creative, playful, thoughtful, and timely. There was a story idea about climate change refugees from Guatemala who are now tasked with cleaning up wildfire debris in California, a piece that would look at the future of air travel and sea-level rise at San Francisco airport, and one about science fiction writers using their craft to talk about climate change. After hearing all the ideas, we spent an hour debriefing and looked for common themes to determine how our stories could fit together.

Pause Day 1

The objective of the retreat was to come away with answers to three major questions about our project: What is the goal of the series? Who is the audience? And what is the central structure or “container” that will hold these eight different stories together? We had already discussed the specific story ideas we were interested in — now was the time to pull back and look at the series from a different, outside perspective. We called this method “the accordion” — a constant back and forth between small and wide.

We picked St. Columba’s Retreat House in Inverness. It was close enough to the Bay Area so we could get there in under two hours, but far enough away to get into nature and out of our usual environment.

PHOTO 2: The Beat reporters during a brainstorming session at the retreat house. Credit: Shereen Adel

We put down our devices and spent most of the first day sitting inside in a beautiful meeting room, windows open with views of Tomales Bay. Each reporter had been assigned reading and listening homework, and though we had planned to spend an hour sharing with the group what we had learned, the conversation was so enriching that we doubled that time. We captured key learnings and facts on a flipchart.

Then, we dove into brainstorming, to identify our goal, audience, and “container.” We wrote our ideas down on post-its, then stepped back and organized them into common themes. We timed each session and before we knew it, it was 5 o’clock. The walls were full of colorful post-its, but we had no clear direction.

To clear our minds, we drove to a beach in Point Reyes for a walk at sunset and then returned to the retreat house to cook a meal together and play board games before bed. Even during this downtime, we were thinking and sharing ideas, reflecting on our day. 
PHOTO 3: Beat reporters at the beach at the end of a long day! Caption: Angela Johnston

Pause Day 2

Some of us got up extra early for solo walks in the wilderness before making breakfast and reconvening, cautiously optimistic that we would reach a decision on our structure, audience, and goals. We took a look at all of our post-its and voted.

PHOTO 4: Shereen Adel, our content manager, helps us narrow down our goals.

It didn’t take long to decide the goals of our series/podcast.

1. Evoke feelings of grief, loss, anger, but also provide hope.
2. Root listeners in time and place. Climate change is now, and here (Bay Area).
3. Capture diversity and is inclusive.

Then, we narrowed down our audience.

1. People who believe in climate change.
2. Podcast and radio listeners.
3. People who feel overwhelmed.

When it came time to decide on our “container” we revisited ideas from the day before. Like, focusing the series on one specific city, looking ahead to the year 2030, telling stories about the five refineries in our area, or looking at homegrown solutions. But, our hesitations outweighed our excitement.

Finally, our editor Lisa touched on something Gabe, our engineer, had mentioned the day before: grief. She couldn’t stop thinking about how hard it is to come to terms with climate change on an emotional level. This led us to a discussion about the Kübler-Ross “stages of grief” — anger, denial, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

We talked about using those feelings, however imperfect, as entry points to each of our stories, to anchor the series to the powerful emotions of our characters. Everyone agreed and we had a framework we were excited about.

And, just like that, it was time to break! We grabbed sandwiches again from a local deli, headed to the beach, and some of us even went swimming.

Our Vision

Without acknowledgment of the mental health challenges presented by climate change, we can easily get stuck in patterns of avoidance, burying our painful feelings. Conversely, exploring these feelings is the first step toward active and productive engagement with an issue that will define the rest of our lives. We decided our series will provide local climate change coverage that is character-driven, deeply personal, and focused on how we deal with these issues emotionally. Our stories will provide our listeners with tools and frameworks to work through whatever stage of climate change grief they find themselves in. And as we have always done at Crosscurrents, our reporters will prioritize talking to communities most often left out of the climate change conversation.

Next Steps

Reporters are now doing more research on their original pitches with this theme in mind. They’ll submit them to the group by November 1st, and we will pitch them to KALW by the 13th!

Pause Takeaways

We feel so lucky to have had this experience. Here are some of the things we learned.
* It’s so important to make time to be in the same room together! That’s where the best brainstorming and magic happens.
* Having devices down for two days made it easier to focus and concentrate. Everyone was present and engaged.
* We used a time timer to keep track of time and keep us on task. It’s a lifesaver.
* Leaving time at the end of the day to reflect, take a walk, and make dinner got us where we wanted to be really quickly the next day.

PHOTO 5 The group enjoys a snack outside in between sessions. Credit: Shereen Adel
[a]photo of meeting could go somewhere here