VCU students gain broadcast experience through a radio show they created
Jordan Christie and Ben Fluet, soon-to-be graduates of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture, created the B Side News show to get hands-on experience in radio. The twice monthly transmission on WRIR-FM, a community public radio station in Richmond, created an outlet for in-depth news reports and a springboard for other students who sought a radio reporting internship.
Christie and Fluet had volunteered as WRIR morning news show board operators, interned as public affairs show producers and were regulars at the station’s weekly production workshop when they knew they were ready to take another leap last summer.
“We first came to WRIR for the radio experience,” Christie said. “When it came time to look for internships, we were struggling to find something.”
Christie and Fluet proposed B Side News as a public affairs radio show staffed by students and others seeking a chance to report on events and issues. They proposed a show that would cover “a wide topical variety of local news in Richmond, featuring a rotating roundup of local reporters and modules,” according to the station. There are numerous public affairs shows on WRIR, but Christie wanted reporters to find untold, underreported stories.
“We wanted to cover hyper-local news. We wanted something that was more individual stories centered to go in-depth and focus on the community,” Christie said. “The name is connected to the idea of a B-side of an album, the things that are heard less, noticed less.”
Christie and Fluet both study broadcast journalism at the Robertson School in the College of Humanities and Sciences and had become close friends. They worked together on projects, sharing what Fluet calls a similar political perspective.
Melissa Vaughn, WRIR president, encouraged Christie and Fluet to propose their show idea to the radio station’s all-volunteer board last summer.
“They came fully formed. They made it pretty easy for me to say yes,” said Vaughn, who acted as a mentor to Fluet, Christie and the other students and community members on the team. “They make a good team. They take initiative.”
“I wouldn’t have been able to do B Side News without Melissa [Vaughn],” Christie said. “She’s a source of confidence. She told me: ‘I have no doubt you can do it.’ She helps reporters get interviews and leads. She helps reporters who are struggling to find sources for stories. She’s a sounding board and a supportive mentor.”
Fluet and Christie took on the roles of show host and producer. They announce the stories at the beginning of the show and introductions at the start of each report. Over the past two semesters, Christie and Fluet led their team of reporters to broadcast 11 episodes that aired twice a month. Stories focused on restaurants around Richmond and their owners, nonprofits making a difference, LGBTQ pride month issues, the Festival of India, art around town, and environmental issues.
“I worked on B Side News because I was looking to gain experience creating radio wraps and producing stories,” said Lauren Bray, another Robertson School student. “It was fun working with B Side and it definitely challenged me in ways I didn’t expect. One of my favorite parts… was getting to know the other reporters, and I especially loved doing the roundtable because I’ve never done that in class before. I think it will help me grow as a journalist. … I feel that I have also strengthened my storytelling skills, editing skills, pitching skills, and just working with a news team in general.
“[Christie] and [Fluet] were always on top of things and when we weren’t motivated they would always try to remind us that the hard work will pay off and to just stay focused,” Bray said.
"We wanted to cover hyper-local news. We wanted something that was more individual stories centered to go in-depth and focus on the community. The name is connected to the idea of a B-side of an album, the things that are heard less, noticed less."
Christie said the team faced a learning curve to put together the show on a regular basis. Coordinating the team’s varied schedules was challenging but she and Fluet kept a schedule with weekly meetings where they would check on reporters’ progress, achievements and challenges.
“We have tightened our deadlines. We have learned how to manage people, how to run news meetings and recordings better. I think that what [Fluet] and I learned last semester from the obstacles, as well as the triumphs, has made us much better producers and managers. We run a tighter/better ship and I am much more confident in my abilities to do so than I was last semester.”
A key aspect to B Side News is a roundtable discussion with the reporters about the process of newsgathering and the issues surrounding the story.
“The idea was to present a completely transparent screen to the listener,” Fluet said. “To say that journalism is unbiased is to ignore the fact that you have biases. We wanted to have a human-interest discussion. I think it was principally important for me to be open and transparent.”
“B Side News was not just news, it was a place where they would explore,” Vaughn said. “B Side gave reporters four to seven minutes to focus on a hyper-local topic. … Its purpose was to help students and others grow and shape their journalistic style.”
Bray said she appreciated the roundtable discussions because of the challenge of thinking on her feet.
“At first I was nervous because of the pressure of being recorded, but after the first time I was more comfortable,” Bray said. “I just liked having the headphones on and talking in the mic and sitting around discussing stories with everyone. … I also just enjoyed hearing about everyone’s experience getting their stories and it was helpful hearing what others thought about the stories I did.”
Fluet and Christie said putting together B Side News has given them confidence as well as a skill set to pursue a career in public radio. For her initiative and drive, Christie received the Robertson School’s Faculty Award for Broadcast Journalism this year.
“I think, being 21 when we pitched and began production on our news show is an achievement for me,” Christie said. “Being so young, still learning, and a bit scared, but doing it anyway has pushed me to grow up a lot as a producer.”
Vaughn said Christie and Fluet set a template for volunteers and interns to continue the show, but new editorial leadership remains up in the air. Vaughn will continue to make this opportunity open to VCU students who look to WRIR for internships.
The final episodes of B Side News will air May 14 and 28. All episodes are available in a Soundcloud archive.