|Danielle Campbell||Becca Hadwen|
By Abby Weingarten
Engaging with the local community on sociopolitical issues is a priority for many New College students. And these activists are doing so through the airwaves.
WSLR 96.5 Community Radio—a grassroots, low-power station in downtown Sarasota—has involved more than 100 New College students in its programming since its inception in 2005. This year, four Novo Collegians have comprised the core of the station’s news team: Danielle Campbell, Omar Guerrero, Becca Hadwen and Jacob Wentz.
“When students feel their voices matter and that people are listening, they’re more likely to ask critical questions about the world around them and become more engaged citizens,” said Arlene Sweeting, the co-founder of WSLR and the Fogartyville Community Media and Arts Center. “By learning the ins and outs of production—which stories are told, what gets cut, how to create balance, and how to fact-check appropriately—students are able to gain media literacy firsthand, becoming responsible media makers.”
This fall, WSLR participated in the Sarasota-Manatee Arts & Humanities (SMAH) Internship Program, funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and promoted by New College’s Center for Career Engagement and Opportunity (CEO). These paid internships are especially appealing to New College students because of the station’s proximity to campus, and because WSLR gives students real-world experience in the media industry.
But this partnership is part of a longstanding relationship WSLR has always had with New College. The New College Student Alliance (NCSA) actually held the license for WSLR until 2009, when it was transferred to WSLR, Inc. (a nonprofit entity that was established to operate the station). An agreement was reached that students would retain a seat on the WSLR board and programming committee; that the station would continue offering student internships and encourage student programming; and that the station would remain in geographical proximity to the College. That promise has held true, and this year’s students have benefited from it.
Campbell, a second-year transfer student of urban and international studies at New College, found the SMAH internship especially rewarding. She connected with elected officials, area activists and concerned citizens in Sarasota to create programming that mattered to her.
“It’s been so important for me to engage the community, especially right now. 2020 has definitely hit us all and rocked a lot of things going forward: the Black Lives Matter movement, the election, and we’re still in a pandemic,” Campbell said. “I think people are looking for stories that relate to them. If I can report something that impacts the community socially and politically, it’s very valuable, and people need to hear it. When people see themselves in what you’re writing, that’s when they feel closer as a community.”
The experience has also made Campbell feel empowered.
“WSLR is a publicly funded grassroots initiative. It’s the voice of underrepresented. And, as a Black woman, I’ve always wanted a seat at the table,” Campbell said. “In representing the voice of the underrepresented, I’ve grown a lot in terms of building that confidence to speak up and feel like I have a voice.”
Guerrero, a political science thesis student, also interned, producing weekly stories for the “Critical Times” radio show, writing articles for the quarterly Critical Times newspaper, and helping with content distribution.
“I have always wanted to engage in journalism in some capacity. I also think community radio stations are very valuable for the community they’re embedded in, which made it easy for me to want to work hard at the internship,” Guerrero said. “There’s a lot that happens in Sarasota weekly that I think the larger community might not know about. One can read the news and learn about messed up things abroad or in another state, but the truth is that politics and social issues also play a role at the local level.”
Issues such as city commission meetings and the electing of district representatives might seem minor compared to the United States presidency or the world economy, Guerrero explained, “but at the end of the day, the former things are what directly affect people in their day-to-day lives.”
Wentz began covering the local angle after graduating from New College in May with a bachelor’s degree in international studies and economics. With his Fulbright Scholarship postponed due to the pandemic, he was grateful to find a creative outlet at WSLR, and his stories focused mainly on how COVID-19 has affected the Suncoast.
Hadwen, a third-year sociology and Spanish student, completed two internships before being hired as a part-time news coordinator at WSLR. She reports on local stories, hosts weekly news team meetings, helps train new members of the team, and produces the Friday news broadcast.
“I’ve made news stories, social media posts, podcasts, attended local events, edited the website and made news briefs. I plan to stay at WSLR until I leave Sarasota,” Hadwen said. “WSLR is a unique opportunity for students because you can get right on the radio. You get immediate, hands-on experience that you can’t get at other news outlets, at least not in an entry-level position.”
Sweeting has always appreciated the unique connection WSLR and New College have shared, and she looks forward to many more collaborations.
“The students have learned so much throughout the course of the internship,” Sweeting said. “Watching them grow and hearing them improve their storytelling skills from week to week has been extremely rewarding for me.”
Paid and unpaid internships with WSLR are available to New College students for the spring semester. To learn more, email email@example.com, call (941) 894-6469 or visit wslr.org
Abby Weingarten is the senior editor in the Office of Communications & Marketing.