Coping with Covid
Gabriela Sepulveda '21 knew she wanted to cover Covid in a unique way when she started her final project in Gordon Young's Audio Storytelling course last year. The Communication Department class teaches students to report, write, record, and edit non-fiction stories similar to those heard on National Public Radio and This American Life. Sepulveda decided to focus on her mother, who navigated the stress of the pandemic with meditation and the guidance of Sadhguru, an Indian yoga guru and proponent of spirituality.
The story — "Mindfulness Mid Pandemic" — was hosted on The Santa Clara student newspaper website and went on to earn first place in the Audio Documentary category of the College Media Association Film and Audio Festival, a national competition that honors the best in college journalism.
We caught up with Sepulveda to hear her thoughts on generating story ideas, covering her own family, and the importance of trial and error in the editing process.
How did you come up with the idea for your story?
From the start, I knew I wanted my topic to be unique and new to listeners. Given that my mom is very dedicated to her meditation practices, it seemed natural that I would choose to take an angle on spirituality because I literally observed my mom meditating every day and heard her share what new things she learned. In other words, I felt Sadhguru’s presence was very alive in my household. It was intriguing, especially since I was having my own emotional challenges with online learning.
Covering a family member is tricky for a journalist. How did you approach the process with your mom?
Part of the challenge was my concern of awakening any "trauma" or emotional distress in her from the questions I asked. The ethics of covering her personal story had me worried when discussing her physical and emotional health following the deaths of three family members. I did not want to disrespect her experience by overemphasizing or overdramatizing her emotional state during this difficult period. I wanted to strike a balance that focused enough on the prime theme where, through my mother’s experience, one can see how she has powered through these difficult moments thanks to the unexpected opportunities offered amidst Covid through yoga practices.
You won a national award for the story, but what did your mom think of it?
She described the story as "buenísimo" or really good. She found it very professional and compared it to the quality of stories she has heard from organizations like NPR. I was deeply moved. She has excitedly shared the story with all our family members and gets emotional every time she listens to it.
Was there a part of the class that stands out as being particularly helpful?
One key idea from the class that particularly helped me throughout the editing process was the theme of "see with your ears." This idea reminded me of the importance of creating scenes with sound in the editing process. Another part of the class that was incredibly useful was the technical knowledge surrounding audio recordings. I was not familiar with the tips and tricks used by professionals for creating an at-home studio.
Any advice to current students on creating audio stories?
I recommend you listen to a variety of audio stories from credible news sources and actively observe the strategies used by these professionals. Take note of moments in the story that stands out to you. Perhaps it is a particular way a story started, or maybe a creative way a story transitioned from one topic to the next. Then put these stylistic choices into practice, make them your own, and allow yourself to be creative without being disappointed if you have to edit various times. Putting together an audio story will likely be a trial and error process where you decide on one thing, then you listen, and then you decide to change it. This is normal and necessary to create a final project that best represents your goals.
What's next for you?
I recently graduated from SCU in June 2021, and I am dedicating myself completely to the entertainment industry and my passion for music and acting.