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Discovering The 'Silicon' In Silicon Valley

Ben Trefny

An update from KALW's Audio Academy class of 2020:

There’s a piece of paper that I’ve kept through my career because I was so struck by the concepts and goals that were printed on it. I try to keep them in mind as I pursue my stories.

The piece of paper lays out the Atlantic Media Chairman David G. Bradley’s criteria for various kinds of editorial awards he handed out every year. There was one that I didn’t fully understand when I first saw it. It said: “Spirit of Generosity.” I worked in the cut-throat environment of the Washington D.C. press corps — the idea of having a “Spirit of Generosity” wasn’t one that was discussed much on a daily basis, generally.

However, I’ve learned much more about the “spirit of generosity” quite a bit in subsequent years because I’ve been the beneficiary of it. That’s especially the case at KALW. Every single person I’ve met in the KALW newsroom is keenly interested in seeing each of the Audio Academy fellows succeed, grow wings and fly. In fact, I feel that they have a sense of urgency about it. They all listen and want to help you gain the skills that they have, and then they want to see what you come up with.

I’m incredibly grateful for the faith and trust that they’ve put in us, and it makes me want to work hard to prove that they’re not wrong.

So far, I’ve found that radio is a much more complex medium than print. I’ve found it to be a great medium in which to play, yet technically, it is also very challenging. There’s more room to be creative, but there are also more steps involved in making your idea into a finished piece of work!

There are many things that make KALW a unique workplace. One of the most important ones that all professional workplaces would benefit and learn from is the incredibly diverse range of people that work here.

The varied perspectives coming from the diverse life experiences in our class and at the station make for fruitful discussions when we’re workshopping story ideas. There are many examples to draw from, but one quick one: When I was confronted with the prospect of creating a story explaining why Silicon Valley is called Silicon Valley, I groaned and rolled my eyes in an editorial meeting. However, to my great surprise, 95 percent of the room really did not know why Northern California has that moniker. So they inspired me to really dig into it.

Digging into the details revealed the mind-blowing scientific discoveries that took us down a path of exponential change.

Now I think I have an excellent story for KALW and the Bay Area on the history of the iconic name, and as Americans say, I’m pretty “stoked” about it.

The KALW Audio Academy is supported by ACE: the Association for Continuing Education. This piece was originally published in ACE Spectrum, a blog for ACE Learning Centers like KALW to share their stories. 


Sarah Lai Stirland is a freelance journalist and editor living in the South Bay. Her reporting background is in technology, science writing, law and policy. For the past few years, she's written about issues related to aging.