By James Tinney
Published Feb. 2, 2019
KAZU reporter Erika Mahoney was working on a story that illustrated the dilemma facing children who are citizens, but whose parents are undocumented U.S. residents.
“If a family has undocumented parents, and they have children who are under 18, they need to set up a legal guardian for them,” Mahoney said. “And I thought that was really interesting.”
She reached out to the Monterey Bar Association and a long list of non-profits who work with immigration issues in the county. She had the facts, but she was looking for a more personal angle.
“I wanted to get a family, obviously to have a first-person perspective on this,” Mahoney said. However, families were understandably reluctant to step forward to tell their story.
“I had written the story without the family, and we were going to air it the next day,” Mahoney said.
I didn’t want to do those one-piece hits. I wanted to do ‘why is there a series of shootings in this neighborhood and what does that mean?’ And that was the opportunity that Krista and KAZU gave me.— Erika Mahoney
“We could have run the story as it was, and it would have been fine, but it wouldn’t have been as impactful,” said KAZU News Director Krista Almanzan.
Then, Mahoney’s phone rang. A family, with a 15-year-old daughter, was willing to talk. She drove over to Salinas that evening.
The resulting story earned Mahoney a National Edward R. Murrow Award, presented by the Radio and Television Digital News Association. It was the first national award for the station, which has won 23 regional Murrow awards for outstanding news coverage.
Commitment to Local News
“We are very, very committed to local news. That is a top priority — always has been, always will be,” said station manager Mik Benedek.
The story — and the award — illustrate the strengths of the news operation at CSUMB’s NPR affiliate.
Almanzan, who came to KAZU in 2007, said: “The first decision I made was that I would only do feature stories, long-form stories — stories where you could take a little more time and talk to more people and do some research.”
For years, Almanzan was a one-person news department, one-half actually because she also serves as an on-air host for “All Things Considered,” NPR’s afternoon news show.
The station also uses freelance reporters, which is how Mahoney got her start. She had been working for KION-TV, and when her contract ended there, she began working for KAZU. She was hired on a full-time basis in April, about the time her story on the undocumented parents received the Murrow Award.
Both Almanzan and Mahoney have worked in TV news, and know all about the daily pressures to fill a newscast. At KAZU, the situation is different.
Meeting High Standards
“NPR is not feeding us half a show, They are feeding the whole hour,” Almanzan said. “So anytime we decide to do something, we are going to replace something. So the standard has to be, whatever you put in has to be as good as whatever we take out.”
That allows KAZU time to work on stories until they are ready to meet that high standard. It also means Almanzan and Mahoney don’t have to chase the crime news that often lands on local newscasts.
“I didn’t want to do those one-piece hits. I wanted to do ‘why is there a series of shootings in this neighborhood and what does that mean?’ And that was the opportunity that Krista and KAZU gave me,” Mahoney said.
Read a related story about how CSUMB's investment in KAZU continues to produce benefits: Staying Tuned.