With a vibrant arts and culture scene and a growing population that makes it the second largest city in New England, Worcester is booming and GBH is there. Sam Turken, our Worcester correspondent, covers housing, the environment, and other social justice and economic issues. Sam has also reported for WHRO in Norfolk, Virginia, WBUR in Boston and WLRN in Miami, Florida.
Why did you become a public media journalist?
Growing up, my parents always played NPR in the car. I became enamored with the sounds of radio and the mental visuals that audio storytelling can create. I realized in college that becoming a public radio reporter was possible and something I wanted to do.
I’m also a public media journalist because I seek to be a messenger for people who otherwise may not be able to tell their stories. As reporters, we have to always remain objective. But I do believe that public media is a form of community service that improves people’s lives.
What are you reading or listening to now?
I recently started reading The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Michael Chabon. It’s a combination of a murder mystery thriller and love story set in an alternate reality in Alaska.
For what I listen to, I have a routine. I tune into Marketplace’s podcast at night while I walk my dog. I’m also a huge fan of Planet Money because the podcast uses humor and colloquial writing to engage listeners and clearly explain complicated issues. For my own radio writing, I try to employ a lot of Planet Money’s techniques. I also enjoy listening to other classics like Radiolab and This American Life.
Who is your role model or inspiration?
There are many journalists I’ve worked with and learned from over the past few years who I’m incredibly appreciative of. They’ve helped me get to where I am in my career. There are also other folks in the radio and podcasting world whose work I really admire. My personal inspiration will always be my parents and older sister. They’ve been through so much with the passing of my other sister from cancer a few months after I was born.
What is one word to describe your job?
Describe an impact that a story that you produced made.
Last year, I began reporting on systemic barriers that make it hard for nonprofit organizations led by people of color to secure philanthropic funding. I had heard the funding mainly goes to more established, White-led organizations. My reporting led me to produce multiple stories about this issue, including one that highlighted a school bus in Worcester that had been turned into a mobile classroom. About a month after we published the story, someone sent Judy Perry, the owner of the bus, an anonymous $25,000 donation to help cover the bus’s expenses. She then received two grants from the city of Worcester, one for a whopping $227,000.
Today, Judy’s bus is on the road teaching kids, and she plans to host after-school programming on it for years to come.
What are your impressions of Worcester?
Worcester is a dynamic place full of rich cultures thanks to its many residents of different ethnic backgrounds. The city’s also growing a lot, which has had both benefits and drawbacks. The cost of living in Worcester has risen significantly in recent years, squeezing people who’ve long called the city home. At the same time, new restaurants, shops and apartment complexes have made it a destination for more people.
See more of Sam Turken’s work here.