The Heinz Endowments Youth Philanthropy Interns Create Radio Documentaries

By Russell Finelsen – 10th Grade, Bethel Park High School

Thirteen interns from the Heinz Endowment Youth Philanthropy Program met in the lower level of the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh, not to watch a play at the theater, but to record radio documentaries at the The Saturday Light Brigade (SLB) Studios located there.

These documentaries are part of a series called The Green Compass, now in its seventh year and designed to yield informative features that address issues in Pittsburgh that are important to the interns producing them.  Sarah Siplak, SLB Director of Programs, knows all about the program and stressed that it is designed to give interns an opportunity to learn about journalism and for youth to create their own stories.

The thirteen interns I observed were split into groups, with each group picking their own topics for their stories. These stories “are featured on the radio, and the hope is that the story informs the public and that people learn from them,” Siplak said.

Larry Berger records the interview on the studio's phone system.

Larry Berger records an interview on the studio’s audio system.

Interns created their documentaries in a single week, in this case beginning on Monday July 13 and ending on Friday July 17. On Monday, interns learned fundamentals of journalism and technology as well as the overall process for the project. Topics includes interviewing skills, use of the microphones and recorders, story structure and audio editing.

On Tuesday, interns developed story ideas and began contacting experts to further their stories.  Larry Berger, SLB Executive Director, explained that groups should try to do phone interviews for one big reason. “Phone interviews are used more because they’re quicker,” Berger said. This is big, as the extra time not used for an interview could be used for editing and making final touches on the project. Phone interviews also allow interviews to be conducted with experts regardless of their location.

Wednesday and Thursday consisted of interns conducting their interviews. Interns also began to edit their pieces. On Friday, interns put final touches on their pieces and present the pieces to other interns for comments, compliments, and critiques.  And the following Monday, fourteen more interns will go through the same process.

Kailyn Chichilla, Freesoul El-Shabazz, and Micah Foster (from left to right) work on their radio project, which discusses the transgender experience in schools.

Kailyn, Freesoul, and Miciah (from left to right) work on their radio project, which discusses experiences encountered by transgender students.

On Tuesday, I observed one group – Freesoul, Kailyn and Miciah – bounce ideas off of each other to come up with a common interest: a story about the transgender experience in area schools. The group worked on contacting people with information about the experience, including transgender students.

Though the group spent most of the day brainstorming, they finished the day with an interview with a local transgender high school student. The group asked the student questions and wrote down notes, while Berger helped record the interview to be edited later in the week.

Freesoul writes down notes during the interview, while Micih and Kailyn ask the interviewee questions.

Freesoul (middle) writes down notes during the interview, while Miciah (far right) and Kailyn ask the interviewee questions.

Another group – Sophie, Azania and Javier – finalized their idea quickly and decided to explore this question: If more women were added to the police force, would there be fewer excessive force incidents?

To answer the question, the group planned to interview the City of Pittsburgh police officers about hiring practices and seek opinions about the impact of more police women on use of force. They also planned to interview a retired police officer as well as groups advocating for more women officers based on evidence that a balanced force yields better results.

Creating these radio documentaries is just one small part of The Heinz Endowments Youth Philanthropy Internship program. Interns also learn about the region, identify ideas to improve it, and seek proposals from non-profits to address these ideas.  The interns award up to six $25,000 grants to the successful applicants.

Azania, Sophie, and Javier (from left to right) talk about how adding women to the police force may lower police officer fatalities in Pittsburgh.

Azania, Sophie, and Javier (from left to right) talk about how adding women to the police force may help keep conflicts from escalating.

Interns were selected from applications submitted by 2015 high school graduates. Almost every intern had a different reason for applying to be part of the program. Both Freesoul and Miciah expressed interest in the program after it was recommended by a friend. Azania joined the program due to her passion for community work, and Javier wanted to give back to communities. Kailyn was nominated for the program through her school, and both she and Sophie thought it was a great opportunity to help the community.

Matthew Walker, a Senior Intern, agreed that the program is a great opportunity to give back. His supervisor at the Department of Health & Human Services went through the program in 1984, and Matthew thought it would help him meet new people and to help the community. He was an intern in 2014 and applied to be a Senior Intern in 2015 to mentor the 2015 interns. “I like it a lot, to be a team leader and to help the students and program go further,” Matthew said.  He went on to talk about how interns learn about professional behavior as a result of the internship program. “This is [most] people’s first job” Matthew said. He stressed etiquette, time management, attire choice and tone. “It is important how to speak in this job,” Walker said.

Siplak also stressed time management. “The interns have only five days to create a radio piece, so adherence to time is important,” she said. She also emphasized that interns succeed the most when they work together.

For more information on The Heinz Endowments Youth Philanthropy program, click here.


Russell Finelsen 2

Russell Finelsen is a rising sophomore at Bethel Park High School. He is the editor-in-chief of his school’s newspaper,  Hawk Eye,  where he has written over 150 articles and is a member of the Quill and Scroll Society for Student Journalists. He enjoys reading, traveling, and watching sports.

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