On the Air
KMRE broadcaster receives citizen journalism award
What: 4th annual Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism Award Dinner
When: 5 pm Fri., Feb. 10
Where: Soy House, 401 W. Holly Street
Wednesday, January 25, 2017
Stephanie Kountouros is on the air! And—full confession here—so am I, riding shotgun along with Dave Willingham on “Cascadia News Now,” a weekly public affairs radio show airing on KMRE 102.3 FM. This isn’t our first gig together, but it might be our best, with all the technical support of the Bellingham Radio Museum.
Stephanie’s radio résumé is as long as her commitment to the form—working as a news reporter or the local host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” with similar roles at KISM FM, KVOS Television, and the CBC Radio Drama Department. Most recently, she hosted the “Hour of the Wolf” on KVWV 94.9 FM, where she brought on a constellation of community advocates, policy experts and local celebrities to discuss public affairs. Always, she brings to the mic a deep background from years of professional and volunteer work on issues of social justice.
Next month, Stephanie will receive the Paul deArmond Citizen Journalism Award to honor both her work, and the unique (and endangered) form of public radio in the portfolio of local media.
“Before I got involved in community radio, I was involved several years ago in National Public Radio stations and I loved them,” she said. “I went a different route in Bellingham and became involved in social work and social justice, but I always had that love for radio.
“I did work in commercial radio briefly, but I found it wasn’t for me. There seemed to be something missing. Radio at the time was beginning to coalesce around a few major voices—and there were voices and opinions that were not being equally represented.
“There were alternative media forms out there—Cascadia Weekly, Whatcom Watch, the Betty Pages—but what I felt was missing was people having the opportunity to hear each other in a dialogue, and I think that is something community radio does very well. As opposed to merely presenting information, it is more about living and breathing.”
Cascadia Weekly: A town hall—
Stephanie Kountouros: Yes, we don’t have a town commons anymore, a marketplace where people can meet one another and discourse about issues.
People talk about this often, that media is both becoming more polarized and is polarizing more people—commercial mainstream media. We tend to lean toward the media that says what we want to hear and affirms the truth that we believe. But what we are losing is discourse and conversation. We’re losing the ability to hear each other and perspectives from one another.
CW: The criticism has been made that radio, like newspapers, are a dying form. But micropower stations like KMRE seem to be giving radio renewed life.
SK: Radio is dying. I am the first to admit that. But when I say that, I’m talking about mainstream media. It was once an extremely dynamic form. I recall growing up listening to a San Francisco rock station and Robin Williams would drop by the set every now and then and do comedy for half an hour. You never knew what to expect. Those days are vanished.
Now, you’re going to hear from some central station in New Jersey, there’s a couple of famous jocks here and there. But it is that streamlining of content and commodification that is killing radio.
Commercial radio is in a vicious spiral—fewer listeners, fewer advertisers, less revenue creates a push for packaged content.
I listen to streaming online, commercial free! Why would I listen to a radio station, right?
What’s not dying is something called “hyperlocalization.”
Some time back, the FCC released a number of low-power station licenses, which means a broadcast radius of around 10 miles or so. These were taken up mostly by churches. People complained that they were not hearing from a larger segment of their community. In 2014, the FCC released another batch.
Seattle got 14 LPFMs. Bellingham got one more. There’s one in Van Zandt, another in Deming. There’s one in Skagit Valley that reaches the San Juans. We now have the ability to grow an entirely different kind of radio that is a venue and a hub for people to connect with each other, an exchange of ideas that is like nothing else in our community.
CW: Tell me about your new venture, Cascadia News Now.
SK: This is media qua media; you are my co-host!
I became involved as program director for KMRE, feeling that we have a lot of good shows but what was missing is public affairs.
There are several outlets for local public affairs, but—again—not that sort of living, breathing conversation that radio brings.
This is a volunteer venture for us. You bring the avocation of attending the meetings, following the outcomes, reading the legal opinions and trying to connect stories into a larger frame. Dave is an excellent data analyst, involved in elections and election tracking in Bellingham, and brings that analytical perspective. My job, I think, is to ask the stupid questions, and keep things a little more down to earth when subjects get too technical or heady. And I think I ask them really well! And so we are able to have that dialogue.
I can course-correct like, “Tim, what did you just say and what does that mean?” And you have the opportunity to get outside of the restrictions of writing to a largely invisible audience, and receiving some direct feedback. And we have guests, and more guests! And hopefully listeners are learning things about their community they really can’t get anywhere else.
CW: You’re about to receive an award for citizen journalism. What does citizen journalism mean to you?
SK: There are a lot of phrases bandied around—there’s corporate media and social media. Then there’s community media, and citizen journalism.
Citizen journalism makes me think about public education, it makes me think of Paulo Freire, who challenged what we think of as the banking system of education in this country. He was Brazilian, and he came up with an alternative way of looking at education. But the foundation of Friere’s philosophy was that everybody has some perspective on wisdom. Anyone who is alive has lived through something and learned something.
And I think that is at the heart of citizen journalism, that whoever you are your perspective is valid and worthwhile.
Any person who is at a protest, who is marching in reaction to something, or witnessing a police incident or an event on campus, every person is in a sense a citizen reporter.
Cascadia News Now airs at 5:30pm Wednesdays on KMRE 102.3 FM. The show also streams on http://www.kmre.org/
The Paul deArmond Award encourages citizen journalism by recognizing outstanding volunteer effort to connect the community to the issues around them. It is not intended as competition but in gratitude for people reporting on events through a variety of media forms. For more infomation on the award, http://www.nwcitizen.com/entry/stephanie-kountouros-to-receive-paul-dearmond-citizen-journalism-award
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