Traversing the Inevitable Bumps in the Road

By Dean’s Intern Katy Grossman at Voice of America

Katy GrossmanMy internship with Voice of America’s documentary department began during a transitional period: the Senior Executive Producer with whom I am working released her most recent film earlier this year, and much of our time in the beginning of the Summer was spent brainstorming documentary ideas and holding informational interviews with possible subjects. Some of those interviews went more smoothly than others; this is a story about the latter.

As a government agency, some of VOA’s programming is inspired by the current administration’s focus and pet projects. In this case, we were asked to look into possible documentaries about climate change and specifically climate refugees, using a character-driven approach that would use an activist as the main focal point for the piece. Through our research, we discovered an activist that we thought could be interesting: a Chinese teenager who had been arrested and kicked out of school for her protests outside her local municipal building. We learned that she was currently in Berlin, which would make her much easier to film than if she were in China, and set out to try and talk to her.

I sent her a private message through Twitter, and we exchanged numbers on an encrypted messaging app. This is where everything went downhill. Keep in mind that she is six hours ahead of us.


Me: Hi, this is Katy Grossman – I sent you a message on Twitter about a potential climate change documentary. Would you be available for a call today?


Her: Yes, is it possible to have a call with you tomorrow at 1:30pm GMT+2?

Note – the time she offered at 9pm would be 7:30am EST the next morning. My boss was not inclined to accept.


Me: Would you be able to do 4pm your time? Otherwise, we could potentially do 1:30/2 on a different day.

The only response I received was a thumbs down reaction an hour later. Is this normal Zoomer communication or something more? As a 30-year-old, I wasn’t sure.

So began several weeks of phone tag across the Atlantic. We did eventually manage to get her on the phone at a more reasonable time, although she showed up for the 8am phone call at 9:00. After talking for some time and sending her more information about our project, we planned another call for the following day. Unfortunately, we never got her on the phone again. After another week and a half of planning a call and then getting no answer, we decided to pivot our focus to other projects with more responsive people.