A 1996 Williamsport Area High School graduate recently was part of a radio production team honored with the most prestigious award in broadcasting.
Brett Myers, as part of a four-person team of reporters and producers at YouthRadio, received a George Foster Peabody Award last month for an investigative series exposing the prevalence of child sex trafficking in the radio station's hometown, Oakland, Calif.
The story, "Trafficked," revealed the shocking truth about prostitution in Oakland - that many of the prostitutes actually are children and victims of trafficking.
The team behind “Trafficked” is rewarded for its hard work with the receipt of the George Foster Peabody Award. Pictured are Graham Smith from NPR’s “All Things Considered,” Charlie Foster, Brett Myers, Denise Tejada, and Monica Anderson from Youth Radio’s production team.
"When people hear the words 'sex trafficking,' they tend to think of women from abroad ... But it's actually an American problem as well," Myers said. "Young women as young as 12 are stolen or coerced off the streets and made to work as sex slaves. They're thought of by most of us as prostitutes, and they're actually victims."
Myers said the team spent about seven months researching the story, conducting interviews and compiling data.
"It was fraught with journalistic challenges. Together we were able to push through in the research. We interviewed at all levels of government," he said, adding, "We worked really collaboratively with NPR (National Public Radio) for this story, and it wouldn't have happened without them."
Myers also took the photos that accompany the story, and the story is available in written and audio form on the YouthRadio website, www.youthradio.org.
Myers said YouthRadio wanted to tell the story "from the victim's perspective, which we hadn't really seen done."
Because of its work with young people in the community, Myers said YouthRadio often is able to speak with people who normally would not share their stories with media.
"We have a lot of trust in the community, so we're uniquely situated to make in-roads with these young people and the organizations who work with them," he said.
Sharing the story from the victims' perspective made it hit home for many listeners, Myers said: "I think that fundamentally, it's a story that took listeners into a world that they probably didn't know about before, and it was really visceral, so it made that world real for them."
Myers said the story opened his eyes as well to problems in his own community.
"It was the same for me that I imagine it was for most of the readers and listeners ... It was like a world was opened up," he said. "I realized my own complicity in it ... If nothing else, that I wasn't doing more (to help)."
He added that while the story focused on Oakland, the problem is much more wide-spread.
"It's really easy to think about this as an urban problem, or a problem in poor cities ... but it's a national problem and it's all over the place," he said.
The importance of the story was recognized with the Peabody Award, which, according to its website, "recognize(s) distinguished achievement and meritorious public service by TV and radio stations, networks, producing organizations, individuals and the World Wide Web."
The award was established in 1940 and since has become known as the most prestigious award in broadcasting. While more than 1,000 stories were submitted this year, just 38 received the award. Myers said he received word that "Trafficked" had won a Peabody Award on March 31. The YouthRadio crew involved in the story took a trip to New York City and received the award during a reception at the Waldorf Astoria on May 23.
Myers' father, James Myers, said he heard the story after his son told his family about the award.
"I got a chance to hear it on the radio as well as read it online and see the photos that he had taken," James said. "I was very proud. It turned out really well and the topic was very pertinent and kind of an amazing story to be able to research."
James and his wife, Diane, still live in Williamsport, where Myers grew up with his sister, Stephanie.
Myers said the WAHS teacher who most impacted his life was the late Thomas Kelchner, who was head of the school's art program.
"He ran the art department, and was just a tremendous influence and a really passionate guy. I really learned a lot from him," Myers said.
After high school, Myers headed to New York University, where he majored in photography and imaging.
"I was basically training to be a documentary photographer, and I got a really excellent education there," he said.
While Myers still loves photography and continues to use his skills at YouthRadio to take photos for the website, he soon developed another passion - this time for public radio.
"I spent a lot of time in the dark room as a photographer and I fell in love with public radio and that form of storytelling," he said.
Myers took an internship with Sound Portraits Productions, which makes radio documentaries, and then worked for StoryCorps, the largest oral history project ever undertaken.
"I worked for StoryCorps for many years. I traveled the country in the back of an Air Stream trailer recording people's stories," Myers said.
Myers joined Kitchen Sisters, a pair of sisters who produce independent public radio programs, a produced a story for NPR's "All Things Considered" before joining YouthRadio in 2006.
Myers works for YouthRadio as a producer, a job that he said varies from story to story but includes heavy involvement from the time a story is pitched or suggested.
"It's tracking that story from the very beginning to completion... Gathering interviews, doing research, editing the sound, mixing the pieces," Myers said.
Myers said working with young people is his favorite part of the job.
"I get to report stories for a national audience... but I also get to work one-on-one with young people. The young people are probably the coolest part of my job. I have relationships with kids between the ages of 14 and 24, and they influence my life and I influence theirs, and we make these stories that are important and have value," he said.
Myers added that YouthRadio's reach in the community extends far beyond radio programming.
"The organization is so much more than this one thing," he said. While the organization's original mission was to diversify the airwaves in terms of age and race, he said, "Twenty years later, we're a full-on community organization and a professional newsroom."
YouthRadio offers educational health services for young people in Oakland, from workshops on teen dating violence to healthy snacks programs to therapy services, and Myers sees infinite potential in the organization's future.
"It's hard to imagine what we couldn't do," he said.