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Sundial Now: WLRN’s former editorial director talks sense of place and making radio more accessible

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Alicia Zuckerman at WLRN's Downtown Miami studios.

Sense of place journalism means capturing the essence of a community while informing and expanding the audience’s view of the world around them.

Some examples might be — a documentary remembering Hurricane Andrew, hearing from the people who lived through that storm or learning that in South Florida sometimes the longest line on election day is for cinnamon rolls.

“That's a big part of what I always hoped our approach would be, what we call a sense of place journalism so that people living here really come away with a better understanding of each other,” said WLRN’s former editorial director, Alicia Zuckerman.

After more than 14 years at WLRN News, she left the newsroom to join the John S. Knight Journalism Fellowship program at Stanford University, where she is focusing on expanding access to audio journalism. She recently joined Sundial Now to talk about her time in South Florida.

WLRN’s new podcast, Detention by Design, which was edited by Zuckerman, is another example of "sense of place." It tells the story of how the arrival of Haitian and Cuban migrants by boat to South Florida in the 70s and 80s shaped the country’s immigration system.

“[It’s] not just a national story, but an international story. It is also a very local story. It is... one of the many stories of how South Florida came to be, South Florida as we know it today,” she said on Sundial Now.

Zuckerman’s career at WLRN started around 2008. She held many positions at WLRN, including founding producer of The Florida Roundup. Most recently, she was the newsroom’s Editorial Director and Executive Editor of On-Demand Audio.

She helped develop and edit podcasts, series and audio documentaries, like “Remembering Andrew.”

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Miami Herald
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Hurricane Andrew made landfall in South Florida in August 1992.

“I certainly came away with a much deeper understanding of why things are the way they are in south Florida. And I think it gave me a much deeper appreciation and, frankly, a healthy fear of hurricanes.

"I would never take a hurricane preparation lightly after listening to what that experience was like and what people lived through,” she said, about the catastrophic hurricane that hit South Florida in 1992.

Now Zuckerman is in Palo Alto undertaking her fellowship program. She is working on expanding access to this form of journalism that is so dear to her heart — audio journalism — and more specifically, creating better experiences for people with hearing loss.

It’s a subject that’s personal for her: Zuckerman's partner Mark Opatow, who was a professional musician, lost his hearing seven years ago.

“It was devastating, to say the least…it became part of my everyday life that I was working in a medium that not just Mark, but lots and millions of other people with some form different degrees of hearing loss, whether it's age-related hearing loss, profound hearing loss, less-profound hearing loss [or] deafness across the spectrum, could largely not participate in, could largely not appreciate,” she said.

In this new mission, she will be collaborating and learning with people who work in technology, accessibility and other aspects of storytelling.

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Copyright by Judy Blume and used only with her written permission. Not to be further reproduced or distributed except with her permission.
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Judy Blume in Miami Beach in the late 1940s.

During her conversation on Sundial Now, she also recalled The Sally J. Freedman Reality Tour, which was a walk through Judy Blume's Miami Beach accompanied by the renowned author herself.

Blume spent some time in Miami Beach as a kid, which she said was the most important of her childhood. Her book 'Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself' was almost a fictionalized biography of some of those moments of her childhood in South Florida and it was one of Zuckerman's favorites.

Years, later she would come to realize that she was living in Sally J. Freedman's neighborhood in South Beach.

“She was just an icon of my childhood. I, even in third grade, wrote a little, quote-unquote autobiography called ‘I Want to Be Like Judy.’ So the fact that all those years later there I was walking around my neighborhood with her was pretty, pretty exceptional - a pretty amazing experience to get to have. And I'm so grateful for that,” said Zuckerman, who hosted and produced an audio piece on this story.

Now, after calling South Florida home for more than 15 years, she says she’s come away with a broader idea of what local journalism is and can be.

“The approach is really different from national and international journalism. You're really speaking to and with people in your own community. And while that's not specific to South Florida, it's something that I really think I internalized during my years there,” she said.

“It's a kind of understanding about who you are creating journalism for, who you're reporting for, who you're speaking to. It's different. And I think that that concept of what we call a sense of place journalism is really important. And that is something that I take with me.”

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Leslie Ovalle Atkinson is the lead producer behind WLRN's daily magazine program, Sundial. She previously produced Morning Edition newscasts at WLRN and anchored the midday news. As a multimedia producer, she also works on visual and digital storytelling.