Your Name: Mark Pagán
City: Brooklyn, NY
Spirit Animal: Elephants and Frogs
Food: Arroz con pollo
Favorite Sound: Walking on gravel
I work at BRIC in Downtown Brooklyn. In our Community Media department (Brooklyn Free Speech), we offer free and low cost media education opportunities for Brooklyn residents to get trained in TV and video making. I saw the output of many of our Community Producers and felt like their work would be stronger in a different, less crew-based medium. I’ve become increasingly fascinated with radio and audio as a media maker myself. The crew and resource necessities of television and film content can feel overwhelming. I love the immediacy of creating audio and the inherent intimacy with the audience. In 2015, I made a pitch to BRIC in Downtown Brooklyn to focus our upcoming initiatives on podcasting and community radio as a way to build a new generation of Community Producers in Brooklyn. The support was unanimous and they more of less said, “get it started.”
I watched myself and other media makers struggle with telling their stories through video and the issues surrounding financing, equipment, and personnel. I’ve been listening to radio and podcasts for years. A few years ago, a friend recommended listening to The Heart. There was something about the use of sound and the personal, idiosyncratic way it created stories that I really visualized intimate audio storytelling in cinematic terms. Once that clicked, I thought it was an ideal platform to bring to our current and incoming media making community at Brooklyn Free Speech.
Lofty shoulders but I think of Studs Terkel and Sahel Sounds when I come into work everyday. Studs was a king of the interview and engagement with anyone who stood in front of his microphone. Sahel Sounds might sound like a random inspiration, but I’m fascinated with the work of Christopher Kirkley. He’s been collecting the work of West African musicians via cell phone and seemingly impossible devices for recording and archiving the beautiful sounds coming out of this region. There’s something both celebratory and quietly defiant about his work. And in the end, both of these men are building and advocating for global community content.
I don’t have a model of what we’re doing at Brooklyn Free Speech Radio to base this on. That’s liberating but also very challenging because it will take some trial and error while we build confidence in the community that will be sharing their work through audio for the first time. It’s bringing out the community organizer and politician skills in me – namely, convincing a community to have faith that their voices will be activated by what we’re building together.
I’m learning how to be an audio producer, engineer, educator, community radio advocate, and editing wiz. All at once.
I’m really afraid of wasting time and failing publicly. Perhaps unrelated, I’ve become terrified of flying and claustrophobic spaces in the last few years. Not proud of that.
Always tell people where you’re coming from in your life and remember first names. These probably sound like odd answers but they are the initial steps to building trust. I’ve had a number of meetups to bring people into our community of media makers. Often, I want to let them know that I too am a media maker, I too am nervous about my work, and I too am learning with them. But it is my job to be there to help them with the tools to get their voices out there. Often the next step during these meetings, is inviting people to share their names and ideas and building within a group a celebratory tone surrounding the ideas they shared. I keep using people’s names and examples of their work during these meetups, presentations, and classes. It’s a very simple way for someone to leave feeling like “hell yeah, I can make a slamming radio story or podcast.”
This is a brand new endeavor for our organization and there are many people that have faith in me and the project. If it were to fail (no one creates audio or most community members don’t remain active), I run the risk of losing credit within an organization and a community that put their time into building this program with me.
Keep your advocates close by and buy them dinner every once in awhile. My life is wonderful because I have done a lot of work to keep wonderful, supportive friends and colleagues in my life. During the moments of doubt, they’re input has recharged me in ways a complimentary brick oven pizza would never compare.
Transom, Transom, Transom! I can’t sing their praises enough. As well, the work of StoryCorps, Radio Diaries, Maria Hinojosa at Latino USA, and the work of Radio Ambulante.
Telling people they’ll be making radio soon. Honestly, that look of creative hope is really powerful. As well, the toys of making radio! Oh my god, getting a bunch of people together and geeking out with microphones and Zoom recorders – it’s those times where I can’t believe I’m doing this for a living.
Ultimately, what do you hope your passion project will offer to the world?
Very simply, offering alternate, amplified, and diverse voices to a medium in need of diversity.
Extra Credit: What book, movie or song do think Up With Community readers should definitely check out?
Dangerous question to ask a film and media nerd!
I’ll just say these are (a few) things that make me cry because they’re beautiful celebrations about community and reminders to keep things small, human, and funny: Music by Elizabeth Cotten, Raising Victor Vargas, the documentaries of Les Blank, Tattoos on the Heart by Greg Boyle, Etger Keret’s 7 Good Years, Brene Brown’s Power of Vulnerability Ted Talk. and the work of Daptone Records.