Latest Heartland story makes it a trifecta — print, television and, now, radio

All renters in Fremont, Neb., must obtain a renter's permit from the Police Department to move into an apartment or rental house.

All renters in Fremont, Neb., must obtain a renter’s permit from the Police Department to move into an apartment or rental house.

By Bobby Caina Calvan | The Heartland Project

MANILA — The Heartland Project’s first package (about diversity and high school proms) was in partnership with a newspaper. Soon after, we filed a story distributed by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s wire service. Two weeks ago, we produced a story for a television station.

This week, we expand to radio – completing the trifecta of print, television and audio.

In my story airing today on NET News, Nebraska’s statewide public radio station, we report on a law in Fremont, Neb., that requires all renters to obtain a special tenancy license before they can move into apartments and rental houses.

Much has already been written about the law, by Nebraska press and national news outlets that have swooped in. Many of the stories reflected the controversies over illegal immigration and concerns about how the law could affect the town’s reputation.

Audio Report:
Fremont renter’s ordinance an equal-opportunity inconvenience

I took a different approach: While the law is clearly aimed at Latino immigrants, the rules that went into effect in April apply to all renters, regardless of race, color or creed. The ordinance requires renters moving into town to go to the Police Department to declare their immigration status to get a permit.

NET News Director Dennis Kellogg was intrigued by the approach and he paired me with one of his staffers, Jackie Sojico, for a two-part package broadcast over two days. Sojico’s story, airing a day after mine, looks at the story from the policy angle.

Mine is about people. As I state in my report, some renters in Fremont are discovering that the law is an equal-opportunity inconvenience.

Reporting the story was relatively straightforward, even if it took time to find the voices that would tell the story. I spoke to renters and landlords and got their take on how the rental rules were impacting their lives.

But the report was complicated by my inexperience in collecting audio. I’ve been on the radio before. On television, too. But my medium has generally been the printed word.

On several occasions, I had to return to my interview subjects because of novice mistakes, such as forgetting to press the record button. I also realized how chatty I am as an interviewer – not necessarily a bad offense but I found myself too frequently talking over my subjects.

I also need to be more mindful of background noise – like the hum of refrigerators, the echo in hallways and the whirr of wind scratching through my audio.

In writing the piece, I tried to keep things conversational. I had to learn to write for the ear, not the eyes.

I sought the advice of my good friends Wilma Consul and Rahul Bali, both AAJA colleagues with extensive radio experience. They critiqued my script, as did two colleagues at the university, Ford Clark and Rick Alloway. Clark further helped by having a student available to tutor me in the sound studio and teach me to use audio-editing software unfamiliar to me.

Consul was especially blunt in her critique – but in a constructive way. I’ve learned a lot from her, especially in how I collect sound and record interviews. I hope to learn more from her, Bali and my colleagues at the university.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I could pack into a 6-minute radio report. The word count was comparable to that of a typical front-page newspaper story. Kellogg, NET’s news director, said his station opted to give its reporter more time to tell good stories.


By the way, you read that dateline right. I am writing this dispatch as I await a flight in Manila for Hong Kong, where I’ll join some of my AAJA brothers and sisters for the Asia Chapter’s N3 journalism conference.

In Hong Kong, I’ll be taking part in a panel about covering gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, a subject that is a key focus of the Heartland Project and will figure more prominently in my reporting in the coming months — whether it be for print, television or radio.