Thursday, August 4, 2011

Hope for Upstart on Radio

Tom and I have come to the end of our time with Upstart on Radio. Our final meeting with Upstart Project Manager Shireen Badat and Rhodes Music Radio Station Manager Gugulethu Mahlangu left me feeling disappointed after all the work we have all put into the project. There is hope yet for this project but the sentiment was that the project has not managed to necessarily establish a workable and sustainable model for Upstart to be on radio. This is due to a few factors, but all may not be lost so bear with me as I take you through our debriefing session.
Right from the start, in consultation with Gugulethu and Shireen, we decided that our aim was to help Upstart create a radio show that would be informative and punctuated with fun material for young people to enjoy. We also wanted to stay true to the Upstart newspaper and so we spent time with the Upstarters helping them repurpose some of the content from the newspaper into short features for radio. After further meetings with Upstart and RMR, we decided that the Upstarters would instead conduct live interviews during the YUNG Amplified show which was successfully done over two weeks.

Our partnership with Upstart was about service learning and first prize is always to have a mutually beneficial relationship that would ultimately leave something sustainable for the Upstarters to run with as soon as Tom and I were no longer part of the team. Coming to the end of the project, we decided to have our final meeting with everyone involved to hand over and see if we could establish a way for the two partners (RMR and Upstart) to continue with this project.

Tom and I held a debriefing session with the Upstarters, Gugulethu and Shireen. The team spoke about their experience and what they enjoyed and learned during their time on this project. They were not very forthcoming with information about what they thought could have been improved, but remained appreciative for the experience. I think it was important for Gugulethu and Shireen to be present, but perhaps the presence of adults made the Upstarters timid. It could very well be that Tom and I needed to step out and allow them to speak honestly to Shireen about what could be improved. Nonetheless, they were grateful for the experience of learning some radio skills and actually being on radio. What followed was a discussion with Gugulethu and Shireen about where the project can go after Tom and I step back. Shireen spoke about how funding remained a problem for Upstart and that she will be unable to commit the time and money it takes to ensuring that the Upstarters are able to come to weekly broadcasts. She also discussedsome of what Upstart on Radio may demand in the next few months. Gugulethu’s sense seemed to be that, because we were unable to get a working model, it would be difficult to continue the relationship. Also, given the fact that we were unable to meet and establish a relationship with YUNG Amplifed’s producer Buhle Knoke who has subsequently resigned from this post, no one would be there to take on the responsibility of putting in the work to continue the partnership.

This is where the glimmer of hope comes in for the partnership. Given the difficulties we have experienced with this project, and the opportunity that Buhle’s resignation has presented, I decided to avail myself as a producer for the YUNG Amplified show. I really believe in this project and think it would be a real waste if this project came to nothing. I also think that from the relationship I have formed with both RMR and Upstart, I am in the position to continue finding ways for YUNG Amplified to sustainably work with Upstart.

My feeling is that this project was a worthwhile one. When Tshego Letswalo and Ross Alford worked on this project in 2010 as fourth year radio practitioners, they managed to get 30 minute long shows recorded. It was unsustainable, but a demonstration of what these young people are capable of doing. In the same way, I think that the Upstarters did well when they were given 15 minutes to interview someone on the YUNG Amplified show this year. I will meet officially with RMR and the YUNG presenters soon to talk about my role as producer and to brainstorm ideas for the way forward with our partnership with Upstart. I hope to continue this blog as I look forward to another six months of breathing life into this project.

For the moment, my recommendation for the future of the partnership between Upstart and RMR is that if a future generation of fourth year radio journalism students were to take this on, it should be a year-long project. This way there would be time to get past the trial and error, and an even greater opportunity to make the goals of in-service learning come alive. I look forward to keeping this partnership alive through my role as producer and hope that by the end of this year, my assessment will be that Upstart is working beautifully with YUNG Amplified and that they will have a great working relationship for years to come.

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