For September’s newsletter, NFCB’s Program Director, Lisa Kettyle, had a great conversation with Rossana Longo-Better of NFCB member station KGNU. Read on for the interview.
Lisa: how did you get started at KGNU?
Rossana: I’m the bilingual equity reporter for KGNU and the climate change correspondent for Radio Bilingue. Before that, I came to the station because I was doing a Masters Degree in Media and Public Engagement. The League of Women Voters was looking for an intern in collaboration with KGNU. I was hired to allow them to start doing more Spanish content for blind and visually impaired people. We had interns come in and they were from all over the world. They were blind students. I always used to sit with them and teach them the ropes and how to record. We read newspapers, but as blind people they couldn’t, so we would try to find ways for them to feel that they could work within their disability.
I did that one semester, and I met Maeve Conrad who worked here, that was so tremendous. I learned how to do radio with her. That got me in and I got addicted. I covered stories about what the League was doing. I loved it so much. I finished my degree. Maybe a year passed and they opened this position. The aim of this position was to promote more equity in media. They wanted somebody to create a podcast around all the data that the trends magazine brings. The Latino Community Foundation funded this and wanted a podcast – another collaboration. That’s when they hired me to create a podcast based on the data, and these are indicative of poverty inequalities, of all the issues. They wanted to put a face behind the numbers. We created podcasts about people living in mobile homes, people with disabilities, women, and the gender pay gap. We prioritized diversity and inclusion. It was so beautiful.
Then boom, the pandemic hit. We had to work remotely. We train people to produce radio and I had management’s support, so it was not only me doing stories, it was a lot of people. During that time we also got to hire a new News and Public Affairs Director, Shannon Young. She is bilingual. I have to tell you, I have learned a lot from her. Also, Alexis Kenyon (Associate Reporter & Producer) came on, it has been great working with them. We’re a team.
L: you mention having experiences working with the youth at the station that impacted you. Can you say more about that?
R: I remember interviewing this kid from Europe. He put on his cell phone and said, “if you’re going to interview me, let me pull up my social media. That way my people can see me”. He used that expression, “see me”. I said ok and then suddenly, I see how many people are following him and all the comments and [emojis] they’re sending from all over the world. I realized at that moment that the blind people that we were trying to serve, they were [technologically] advanced, they were already communicating with a wider community. This was around 2017. I was like, ‘Oh my God, if they’re doing that, I must do that for my Latino community’. That’s when I decided to start recording video and pushing the stories or the interviews in English, and in Spanish, on Facebook. The Latino community here started to understand that these interviews were really good because they were talking about all sorts of things from how to access services, to who can qualify for free food, to how to get support for an immigrant issue that you’re facing, who can help you.
R: One of the stories that I wanted to share with you is a story about the school district not providing healthy meals to kids. It’s a school district where the population is a large Latino population. The kids that get low-income free lunches really need to get good food, and they’re not getting it.
I followed a group of Latinos who wanted to raise awareness of the situation. They asked me to interview them in Spanish [for KGNU’s] program, Pasa La Voz. This story took another face because they raised awareness and then community people came together – even the farmers came and they learned about the situation. The conversation started. Before the school year ended, at the last meeting of the school district, Latino kids with their moms showed up with signs saying “we want healthy food”. We did that story in English and in Spanish. My boss asked the other producer to work on that story from an Anglo perspective because I was featuring the parents and the kids and their voices. She moved it into “this is a national problem – if it goes on the ballot and passes, who will be paying for those lunches?”. I thought that was genius.
I remember doing a story of an organization that started, because of the pandemic, giving food to kids that were not going to school, and they were [falling] through the cracks. Why? Because they weren’t registered for low-income [meal plans], or because there’s a shame about doing that. It’s a deep topic related to race, ethnicity, immigrant rights, and undocumented rights. I thought to myself, that’s the kind of work I like to do. I hope that this story makes some changes. What I have heard is that one of the farms here has created a workshop that is related to an artist raising awareness about access to food. That means access to land and access to go back to the land as Latinos, as immigrants, as people of that land. It’s full circle.
L: was there change after KGNU did the story?
R: I think it’s causing a lot of turmoil. The moms have realized that they are not being heard. That is also opening the door to the awareness that if they do not organize, and if they don’t speak the language of the power, they’re not going to get things done. So they are looking for allies right now. There’s a nutritionist who started changing the food in another district. So with the allies and the farmers, they are in good standing and they’re going to make the changes. It’s even on the ballot. There can be change if somebody points out injustice and the power of media. We are so powerful and that is scary sometimes. This job comes with a lot of responsibility, you know? This is not a joke, what we do.
L: can you talk about KGNU’s internship program?
Shannon saw that [the amount of] work was impossible to with one or two people, we needed more. We got students to come in and we got money to pay them. We only chose kids that really wanted to do this work. There are three of them. We [also] have a producer that loves technology. She’s bringing great technical things to our work. I’m learning so much from her.
My boss wants to see commitment from the interns. At the very beginning, we had them volunteer for a month until she could realize those that were going to stay. I think the experience overall, they may tell you, has been life-changing for them. We can count on them. They can produce headlines, they are producing headlines in Spanish. Some are interviewing and producing audio.
L: what are your aspirations for your career, as you move forward?
I would like to leave a legacy. U.S. immigrants that come to this country to work really hard, can see the humanity in each other, regardless of what language [they speak]. I live in Boulder, an extremely wealthy place with a university and so much technology, so much abundance. What I have seen raising my kids here is that it’s very difficult for them to feel proud of who they are and where they come from – one of the keys behind that is language. I don’t only mean Spanish, but also other immigrant groups and languages. As an immigrant, it is important for each young person to love the origins of where they are from and to understand racism in America.
Coming from a small country, you kind of see the world as you’re in relationship with everything. I think that many times, in order to grow as a person, you need to make that comparison, “this is my country, these are my origins, I need to get a hold of them, so that I can be the person that I need to be”. I think that once you do that process, then you can teach others and you can also align with others to find the humanity and the differences in each one. I dream that the reason why I’m here is to open the door really wide open to people of color. Young people that are proud of who they are. Yes, that will be my dream.
L: It sounds like KGNU is doing a great job of teaching kids to be the future of community radio
R: I do think it’s through the kids how we make change. We give them the future and we’re training them with the tools to take this media that we both work in and do something we can’t even imagine in the future. That’s how you accomplish it.
We asked Rossana to share some links to stories she talked about during our conversation.
KGNU St. Vrain Parents and Students Organize a Peaceful Protest to Request Food Justice (bilingual post)
KGNU Pasa La Voz: Chasing Educational Progress / Persiguiendo Progreso Educativo
KGNU Boulder Voters to Decide Fate of Library District
Radio Bilingue Bomberos Voluntarios Colorado
Editor’s Note: this interview has been edited for brevity.