With his father having worked in radio for 30 years, Alex Keefe ’07 had no choice but to get bit by the radio bug. Keefe talked about his career, answered questions about radio journalism and announced the Kimble and Tarbell prizes in journalism.
When he was a student at Knox, Keefe was an editor of Catch and took a variety of classes in the journalism department. He later became a National Public Radio reporter in the Quad Cities. After graduating from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism in December 2009, he is now the morning news producer for the NPR affiliate in Chicago.
Before his talk, Keefe announced the awards in journalism, the Kimble prize for a feature story that appears in The Knox Student and the Ida Tarbell prize for best investigative reporting which can appear in any medium such as TKS or The Register-Mail.
As a morning news producer for the NPR affiliate in Chicago, Keefe gets up at 2:30 a.m. to be at work at 4:30. To start off his work day, he reads various newspapers as he is in charge of making assignments for reporters. In the first half of his day, he looks at news stories and updates the website.
As it’s just him and the host working, his job is to give the host the most recent news. If there is breaking news, he has to write it quickly and get it on air. He also writes on the blog, records the podcast himself and produces it to send it out. Afterwards, he becomes a reporter, covering whatever news is going on that day.
“It requires a high metabolism to do production jobs, especially now with the way that multiplatform journalism is going; you really have to do ten things at once,” Keefe said.
In the question and answer portion, junior Annie Zak asked what was the hardest thing to learn going from print to radio journalism.
“You grow up with your father as a radio person, you learn to talk like that. It’s sort of second nature in a lot of ways so I didn’t have a hard learning curve with it. But mostly, it’s opening your ears to things. You start to think of stories that sound good. Any story can be a print story but not every story can be a radio story.”
He continued to say that if a story is too complicated, someone cannot tell it in a short amount of time in radio journalism. Furthermore, a story is not exciting if it does not make any sound.
Keefe left Washington, D.C. because it wasn’t good journalism. When he covered Congress, he recorded elevators opening and politicians repeating themselves. Keefe also said radio journalists have to train their minds to switch the way they write and choose stories. Radio journalists learn quickly what stories they can do or not.
Associate Professor of English Emily Anderson asked Keefe what news he reads and how he gets unfiltered news.
He said that after he gets into work, he checks every calendar to see what’s going on. During the day, he calls people to find out more information. He said the closest thing to unfiltered news is the Associated Press.
Keefe tries to find stories that are “independently verifiable” such as court documents and legislation recently passed to avoid reporting over people’s stories because they could be untrue.
“Mostly, you’re trying to get ahead of them. [In] spot news you’re always thinking forward.”
When talking about radio journalism, Keefe said, “I think it takes a different type of creativity…a more performative creativity than it does for a print story.”
Professor of Journalism Marilyn Webb asked how Keefe edits radio. Keefe referenced the feature story he did for WVIK, an NPR station for Quad Cities, about a group of old German musicians who played zithers, a German stringed instrument that looks like a “deconstructed guitar.”
“It was a cute little story but there was so much great sound with it. I felt it was a great opportunity to tell people about this thing they didn’t know anything about.”
Keefe said he acquired the sound for the feature story the same way a reporter gets notes. He wrote down the time cues based on his recorder. After recording, he looked at his notes and sound. He used an editing program to cut the sound. He wrote the script using sound “generally as quotes.” When he edited, he read through the script and played bites where quotes would be in print and continued reading the script. Keefe said it gets more complicated when there would be talking or music fading in and out of a story. When he did editing with NPR, it was difficult to do it remotely on the phone with editors and sound engineers, explaining how he wanted it done.
“Everything is governed by time. One second is the difference between perfection and complete failure in radio.”
The first place for the Kimble Memorial Award in Journalism was given to “Similarities and a common bond” in The Knox Student by junior Colin Davis.
The first place for the Tarbell Memorial Prize for Investigative Reporting was given to “Victims challenge school on handling of sexual assaults” for The Knox Student by senior Laura Miller and junior Annie Zak.