Hectic Golden Nuggets

By Ryan Coverdell 

The idea of this project was to work with data by zip code, something that sounded amazing for me. Right away I went through data, stripping and copying into spreadsheets to comb through it.

The idea for my initial story, however, came not from the numbers, but a fleeting memory sparked by the data. I was staring at census data on disabled people in my area when I remembered a conversation I’d had with a professor. He conducts research with robots to make advances in the healthcare industry, specifically for children with autism.

But life happens.

The professor and his wife were celebrating the birth of their second child during the start of the NPR Boot camp, and understandably, is taking time off from research.

On to the next idea.

Prisoners. Specifically, prisoners at a local restitution center. This idea could have worked had I made the call several days in advance. Protocol.

Thankfully, I had done enough research on the topic that in little time I found a transitional housing facility for ex-felons. The place seemed great, and a story was definitely forming before my eyes.

But it was day two of the Boot camp and it seemed as though the other students had already begun to get interviews. I was falling behind. This was not pleasing to my ego.

So, instead, that Tuesday afternoon my mentor and I decided to pursue a story with the humane society. Apparently, 89431 has the highest number of unaltered animals, so the humane society is hosting a year-long event during which dog owners can spay or neuter their pet for as little as $20.

Okay. So, it isn’t the most heartwarming piece, but it was available. The experience was great, and by the end of it I was a fearless journalist, talking to strangers (sorry Mom).  Not even the craziest conspiracy theorists could scare me away after that experience.

After hunting dog owners for hours, I finally heard back from the Ridge House, and we had our story. We wouldn’t start until Wednesday morning, but hard work and (very) late nights would get it done.

I met up with my mentor Vanessa at the facility early that morning, and with her help, I was able to learn a lot and together, gather great sound. Our editor, Traci, helped me find the “golden nugget: to solidify the story, and Catherine Stifter showed me how to make all the bits of sound come together smoothly.

My time here has been rough, amazing and I’m so glad I turned in that cover letter.


Wandering to Find the Story

By Sonia Lopez

At the start of this project I knew I wanted to do a story about Wells Avenue because I wanted to tell the story of my culture. Being Hispanic and being part of the largest growing minority in the United States I feel like there still is a disconnect between the Latino community and the media. As a journalist I hope to find stories that need to be told, stories that nobody is telling. For this project I wanted to explore a piece of the Latino community’s story in Reno.

I grew up in Fallon, an hour away from Reno. When I was a kid we would drive on the weekends to Wells Avenue. My whole family would go and we would buy things we could not get at Walmart, like the leaves to make tamales. We would also get Mexican candy like Lucas. It felt really welcoming and my dad would say “hi” to people, even people he didn’t know. Wells Avenue felt safe and welcoming, it was kind of like being in Mexico. Mexico is a piece of me, and I want to be connected to it. Like I miss my grandparents who live in Mexico. On Wells Avenue I see old ladies that remind me of her, or old men with their Mexican cowboy hats who make me think of my grandpa. And I know, for my parents, it’s so important to feel like they were back home. Wells feels like that.

I knew what I wanted to accomplish with my story and I knew where to find the largest Latino population in Reno, but I didn’t know what my story would be or who it would be about.

So what do you do when you don’t have a story, but you have a deadline?

Go find one.

My mentor Sandhya Dirks and I walked up and down Wells Avenue for two days and met people like me; people who would travel to Wells from different parts of Nevada to find Mexican goods that can’t be found anywhere else. We met local business owners who have been there for almost twenty years, a guy who goes twenty minutes out of his way just to buy tamales at the Latino supermarket, and a girl who drove almost an hour from Reno to get a dress for her Quinceñera.

Student Reporter Sonia Lopez takes pictures along Wells Avenue.

Student Reporter Sonia Lopez takes pictures along Wells Avenue.

Let me tell you walking up to people and asking them their story it isn’t as easy as it sounds.

At least not for me.

Coming into this experience I was doubtful about even applying. I sent my application thinking I probably wouldn’t get in to the program. When I received the email that said I had been picked I literally screamed, which was embarrassing considering I was sitting in my Econ 103 lecture and half the students were asleep.

This experience did teach me, and it gave me an opportunity to truly invest time and go talk to people. There were moments where I would forget to introduce myself and explain what I was doing and people would look at me like I was crazy, but that is okay. I can honestly say if I were to redo this project next week I could walk into everyone of the businesses and explain my self and ask my questions and find that story.

The scary part for me was approaching people and saying “hey can I talk to you.” But I learned after that it gets easy, because people want to talk and they want their story to be heard. I mean, yes, some people will say no and that is okay too. You say thank you and move on the next person. But for the most part about eight out of ten people are interested and they want to know why you are walking around holding a microphone, recording the cars driving by.

As a journalist I just want to tell people’s stories. Stories that aren’t usually told, but I feel need to be told, stories that I believe people need to know. Through this boot camp I learned that its okay to email the same person three days in a row and to be a professional stalker because maybe they are that last voice the story needed and using professional stalker as your job description will definetly intrigue people to want to know more.

But the most important thing I learned is that it is okay to tell people your insecurities and your weaknesses, especially when surrounded with mentors who want to see you succeed. They can help turn those weaknesses into strengths.

What if I Broke a Rule?

By Krysta Scripter

This was my first chance to experience working in a professional newsroom with deadlines, editor notes and constant feedback.

I actually enjoy interviewing. When I get into it and start digging – and really having fun with it – I come away with a much better experience.

I struggled a lot when reporting and recording. We had so much riding on what we covered that day, plus I wasn’t familiar with the recording equipment or how to use it efficiently. I was anxious and incredibly nervous about asking people questions they may not be comfortable with. What if I broke a rule? What if I made someone uncomfortable? What if they got really upset with me?

Erika Aguilar was my mentor for the project. I’ve never met someone so encouraging and supportive (other than my mom).

One of the things she shared with me, after noticing how stressed I had been that morning, was that as a journalist, it is our job to inform people about issues they aren’t familiar with. When we work under that motivation, the courage to put yourself out there and ask that direct question is more goal-based. We have a job. Our job is to help give voice to things unheard.

After three possible story ideas, over two hours of audio — and a whole lot of hair-pulling (See earlier post.) — getting that final piece of audio was incredibly satisfying. It set us a little behind, but it was worth it to get our final story pitch for our editor.

(No seriously, THANK GOD.)

I live for happy accidents. We met Dave while looking for someone else. But his sweet demeanor and willingness to tell his story really won me over. After Wednesday afternoon, it was nothing but edit, brainstorm, then edit again, then ask for more help, then edit again…

Its hard. It’s really hard. I was in the newsroom from 8 a.m. to nearly 8 p.m. I’ve never been so submersed, so deep in such a huge project. It was hard, stressful, intense work.

And I loved it. 

God, its going to be hard to go back to retail after this.

Five Days Later

By Cynthia Sandoval

“I remember starting the NPR boot camp as if it was just five days ago”

That’s because it did start just five days ago!

That was a total cliché, and believe me, I know better to use those. It was one of the many things I learned at the boot camp: no platitudes!

(right, Jess?)

Selfie with Jess on our tour of 4th Street.

Selfie with Jess on our tour of 4th Street.

Jessica Naudziunas was my very insightful, funny, inspiring and motivating mentor for the week. She taught me more than I can thank her for. She really let me be creative and express my ideas on paper how I wanted. Then we would go through it together and “sculpt” our piece of clay. I liked that she would give me feedback on whether or not she agreed with what I wrote, and tell me why and not just take over and show me how to do it.

One of the biggest lessons I will take away from this past week’s experience is that I have to advocate for myself because no one is going to do it for me.

Whether it be asking someone to edit my paper or getting an interview, I have to find a way to get it done myself and not just depend on others to make it happen.

In the beginning, I was afraid to start the boot camp because I knew I was going to be surrounded by professionals. While that was also super exciting, (especially because my mentor is from The New York Times) it was nerve wracking because I have little experience with journalism. I was scared that I’d lag behind the other students because I thought I was going to need extra help with the equipment. I especially thought I was going to need help with developing a story further than into a feature piece.

Cynthia at the Mic_CFYxHh7VIAAxjZL

This is me pretending to be calm as I do my first ever phone interview.

The interviews were brutal, because, first off, one was a phone interview, and I had never done one before. So, Jessica showed me how and it was different, but less intimidating because the person isn’t in front of you. The second interview was “on-the-go” which I found out I enjoyed because it is not so stiff and you can really be submerged in your story. The only difficult part for me was getting over the nervousness I was having talking to a legit and credible person for my story. However, I felt that throughout the conversation I worked up the courage to ask a few questions (shout out to Jessica for making it less awkward when my mouth would open, but nothing came out).

If five days ago someone told me that I was going to create a four minute story in both Spanish and English, with video content, a print version, and not be stressed out, I would have called bull. For some reason, with this project, although it’s been my hardest piece I’ve ever worked on, it’s been the least stressful. Maybe because I had someone to point me in the right direction. That’s not to say there weren’t moments where I thought I was going to wave my flag and surrender, but I truly enjoyed every bit of it, especially the s’mores we had at dinner!

Thank you NPR boot camp mentors and mentees for helping me fall more in love with journalism.


A Shift in Perspective and A Change of Pace

The NPR Bootcamp newsroom after dark.

The NPR Bootcamp newsroom after dark.

By Ryan Smith

It’s 9:15 on Thursday night.

I’m the only reporter left in the news studio, and I still have several untouched assignments.

They are due tomorrow, and I am obviously behind.

The page-long list of tasks yet to be completed would normally leave me wrought with anxiety, but tonight, in this quiet, empty newsroom, I’ve made my peace with it.

It’s not my fault. It’s not really anyone’s fault. Sometimes life just gets in the way.

No one understands that better than Jesse Leaman, an astrophysicist who turned his attention to researching assistive technologies for the severely disabled.

Jesse Leaman and I talk in the club house at the apartment complex where he lives.

Jesse Leaman and I talk in the club house at the apartment complex where he lives.

A quadriplegic himself, Leaman has spent the last 19 years of his life at the mercy of the people and places around him.

Whether it be getting out of bed in the morning, commuting to work, or eating a meal, the world was not built for people like Leaman.

Quite the opposite.

In the two days I spent with him this week, I watched him wait patiently through long bus rides, and for people to open doors for him. Nothing happens quickly for the man whose nickname in high school was “lightning.”

It’s not likely, either, that the world will quickly change to better accommodate his needs. Nor, does he expect it to.

So, Leaman is determined to design a wheelchair that gives quads back their independence.

A project 19 years in the making, he hopes to builda pair of robotic arms upon the smart wheelchair he already uses that would enable him to feed himself, open doors and even do the “robot dance.”

It’s just the next innovation in a line of impressive technologies — including a backup camera, infrared tracking software and 3D mapping technology — Leaman helped prototype and incorporate into a mobile office and navigation system that sits atop his motorized wheelchair.

It has made his life much more productive. But, he stills opportunities to increase his contribution.

Like everything in his daily life, there are obstacles to his research — in particular, funding.

Leaman keeps on trying though. Always patiently.

During one long bus ride this week, the PhD in astrophysics told me that time goes faster when you’re moving. It seems only fitting, then, that while his body moves slowly, his mind is quick. He sees how to solve accessibility before the rest of us and he isn’t going to wait for the rest of us to catch up.

So, here it is the night before my story is due and I am behind in my work. But, it’s not my fault and it’s not Leaman’s fault. His world moves at a different pace than the rest of us.

I just have to catch up.

Choosing Young Latina Role Models

By Stephanie Serrano

Growing up in Reno, Nevada, and going to high school at Hug High School, diversity is nothing new to me.

I profiled Alondra Mora and Yaquelin Ramirez, two Latinas who will be the first in their family to go to a four-year-university. I truly think they are an inspiration not only to their families, but also to their community.


Here I am getting used to all the cables in our first interview at Hug High.

They’ve worked so hard to gets straight A’s and also help their families at home.

It is so important to surround yourself with people that will motivate you to be a better person and strive for a better future. Which is hard for a lot of students. For many, it’s extremely hard to avoid falling into the wrong crowd and saying no to negative peer pressure every single day.

That is why I think Alondra and Yaquelin are inspiring. They choose to rely on each other and help support each other when motivation is far from them. They also prove that a true friendship doesn’t have to be envious.

During this project, my mentor, Nico Colombant, really helped me understand what elements you need to tell a story. He compared story telling to preparing a full course meal. Collecting interviews and ambient sounds is the appetizer and the two high school seniors are the main meal. But my story was missing its dessert.

This is why I decided to highlight both of the girls’ fathers in a special Spanish version.

I think it is amazing how hard their families are working to give them a better future and supply them with what they can to keep pushing.

It is important to understand that Alondra and Yaquelin don’t have the luxury of having a parent that can make their college schedule or help them register for classes. Let alone provide them with full tuition. But they provide them with so much more.

Their families work so hard to make sure they do not have an empty stomach during the day. They provide them with the hope they need to move forward. They give them the strength to persevere.

Listen below to the full interviews of the two Dads in Spanish.

Manuel Mora, Alondra’s Dad, works as a forklift operator at a local warehouse. He came to the United States when he was 15. His first job was picking lemons. He described it as the hardest job he’s ever had. So hard, he’d rather not think about it.

He goes on to explain how proud he is of his daughter.

“Sadly, my job does not give me too much, but thank god she is getting scholarships,” said Mora. “She is moving forward on her own. What we can give her most is our support. We are very family oriented and there are moments where I see her working very hard at school and at home. I tell her, ‘I know you’re tired, but you’re suffering now, you’re working hard right now so that in the future you can relax and you’ll be in a better place’. That is all I want for her, to be better than us. It is important to support her as much as I can economically but more important, to support her mentally. This country is filled with opportunities and since she was born here, she is blessed to take advantage of all of these opportunities.”

Noe Ramirez is Yaquelin Ramirez’s proud dad. He works in cement on city jobs. Having this job can be very precarious as it is dependent on the weather. So during the winter, he often struggles to find extra money for his family. His living room has a large wrestling mat were he enjoys practicing mixed martial arts and teaches Yaquelin and the rest of their siblings a few tricks.

“My hope is that she prepares herself to gain a brighter future, to succeed in life,” said Ramirez. “She constantly surprises me. She works so hard at school, she barely has time to help around the house but that is ok because it is for her own good. As long as she keeps trying and takes advantage of her opportunities, that’s perfect. I help her as much as I can. I don’t charge her for rent, I provide her with her health elements, I buy her whatever she needs because she doesn’t work and doesn’t have an income coming in. Everything comes out of her mother and I. We have five girls and we try to help all of them with what we can. Yaquelin has always focused and put a lot of effort in school. It is important to focus on school and work hard, partying and celebrating will come later.”