KBIA-FM welcomes Katelynn McIlwain, Missouri School of Journalism alum, as first-ever audio managing editor

Katelynn McIlwain

By Austin Fitzgerald

COLUMBIA, Mo. (June 16, 2023) — Katelynn McIlwain, BJ ’22, MA ’23, is now the audio managing editor at KBIA-FM, the Missouri School of Journalism’s NPR-member station. In the new position, McIlwain will oversee students in daily news operations and seek opportunities for collaboration with other news outlets.

“Katelynn has shown great aptitude and excitement for public radio,” said Ryan Famuliner, news director at KBIA and an associate professor. “She really impressed us with her ideas in the interview process, both for how we approach news and what we can do with students. I know that she’s going to do well.”

Katelynn McIlwain
Katelynn McIlwain

McIlwain previously served as editor in chief of Vox Magazine, the School’s community magazine, and she spent time as both a morning and afternoon anchor at KBIA. In her new role, she won’t only be managing students in the newsroom; she will also teach freshman journalism students about the basics of news reporting in a classroom setting, a slightly surreal experience for the recent graduate.

“It’s so odd but so cool,” McIlwain said. “I’ve looked up to my professors ever since I was a freshman, and it’s an honor to be able to work alongside them as colleagues now. I’m so grateful to be able to help students have a great experience like I had.”

A winding path

McIlwain didn’t begin her college career with radio in mind. Like many at the School of Journalism, she discovered her passion along the way.

An avid reader, she initially thought of herself as a long-form writer and followed that interest to the top student position at Vox. But the audio-focused portion of her multimedia class, taught by KBIA reporter and producer Rebecca Smith, opened her eyes — and ears — to the potential for public radio to tell deep, engrossing stories.

“I got so emotional hearing people’s voices and hearing them resolve deep-seated conflict through conversation on air,” McIlwain said. “Crying in class, I was like, ‘I want to do this.’”

The moment echoed an earlier chapter in McIlwain’s life, when documentaries in a high school film class turned her toward journalism by revealing how good writing can be harnessed to tell true, impactful stories.

The change to radio represented an important shift in the trajectory of McIlwain’s educational and professional careers, but moving between magazine and radio is far from an unprecedented leap — KBIA won a Gracie Award earlier this year for a podcast that began as a story for Vox, and Smith said at the time that the nature of radio lends itself to cross-pollination between mediums.

“The core of radio is good, compelling narrative writing,” Smith said. “There are always going to be people who want to do audio, and there are always going to be people who want to do daily news. Collaborating empowers us to tell a broader wealth of stories.”

Now, McIlwain’s audio managing editor position formalizes that inter-medium approach in a way that meshes neatly with the concept of the One Newsroom, where students and leadership from each of the School’s professional outlets come together to plan coverage. An explicit focus of her job is to help coordinate collaborative efforts between KBIA and the other outlets, and it’s not just her writing-intensive, cross-medium background that makes her colleagues feel that she is up to the task.

Janet Saidi, KBIA’s long-form audio producer and an assistant professor who taught McIlwain in her advanced producing class, said her former student has the right attitude.

“I really think she is the sort of person who can take KBIA into the future,” Saidi said. “Her willingness to listen to people, to find meaning in people’s experiences, will drive her leadership. She brings so much curiosity, respect and thoughtfulness, and that is such a great approach.”

McIlwain herself sees the job as a perfect fit not only because of her skill set, but because she is able to start her journalism career at the place that she said helped her take a strong, self-assured first step into that career in the first place.

“This has been my academic home for the past five years, so everything about where I’m at feels right and natural,” McIlwain said. “If it weren’t for the J-School, I don’t think I would have been prepared to step into a role like this right after college. I’m grateful that I do feel prepared, maybe even in ways that I hadn’t known.”

Updated: June 16, 2023

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