Third Coast Conference brings together journalists to celebrate radio, documentary work

Medill welcomed hundreds of radio producers, audio artists, journalists, and documentarians this past weekend to the Third Coast Conference. Through this premier celebration of the best radio and documentary work, audio enthusiasts and Northwestern students and staff came together in Evanston for the three-day conference to share ideas and connect with colleagues in the radio industry.

The conference convenes in the Chicago area every other fall and is celebrating its 10th anniversary. The event included an array of programming, from large presentations to breakout sessions, skill-based workshops and small group discussions. According to Cecilia Vaisman, a radio journalist and associate professor at Medill, the conference pointed to the nature of the changing media world and the place that radio has in it. 

She explained that general sessions included innovative discussions such as a look at fundraising through Kickstarter for Radio 101. Third Coast also presented conversations with National Public Radio’s “This American Life” host and executive producer Ira Glass and a presentation by Jad Abumrad, host of “RadioLab,” two of the most important personalities in today’s radio world. 
Vaisman, along with Associate Professor Louise Kiernan, served as faculty liaisons for the conference. 

This year also represented a special partnership between Medill and the conference. A limited number of free tickets were available for students to attend conference sessions. Students and faculty were also invited to the McCormick Tribune Center lounge to engage with conference presenters. 

“Even though I’m not an audio storyteller I do think a large part of my job as an educator at Medill is to create opportunities for my students,” Kiernan said. “Right off the bat this seemed liked an amazing opportunity for us to be part of. We were able to expose the students to some of the most innovative and creative storytellers out there.”

Before the official conference kickoff, Kelly McEvers (MSJ97), a foreign correspondent for NPR, met with Medill students, faculty and staff at a lunch on Friday.

“She was so candid, funny and inspiring and a good example of how we could collaborate with the conference and connect people there with our students,” Kiernan said. 

McEvers also presented at the conference and discussed her experience as a correspondent during and after the Arab revolutions in her presentation “Making Radio Against Most Odds”. She touched on the challenges of sharing audio stories with limited resources and from an unfamiliar culture. McEvers is currently based in Beirut and has covered Arab uprisings, the rebel movement in Syria and other stories through the Middle East and around the globe. She worked at various publications, such as the Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh, and as a freelancer, typically focusing on narrative journalism. 

“It’s really hard for us to understand what it means to be willing to die for freedom,” she said regarding her reporting on uprisings across the Arab world. “I hope my stories do those people justice. That’s why I’m still doing it.”