News director brings experience, reputation to Wichita public radio
Alieen LeBlanc is one of those people lucky enough to have a career doing something she loves, and Wichita State University’s public radio station, KMUW 89.1, is lucky to have her, according to General Manager Mark McCain.
“LeBlanc will raise the bar in local news coverage,” he said.
LeBlanc is a veteran journalist, producer and director whose work in public radio, television and film has earned national recognition. Her work has been featured on NPR, Voice of America, BBC, Monitor Radio, Pacifica and the CBC. Recently, LeBlanc was invited to Wichita to check out an open position at the station. This September, KMUW found its news director, and LeBlanc found herself a home.
She said it was the quality and friendliness of KMUW’s staff that convinced her to accept the job. LeBlanc was also impressed with Wichita.
“Your downtown is alive,” she said. “This looks like a healthy place to me.”
LeBlanc grew up in Detroit, and her path to Wichita took a scenic route through Kentucky, Illinois, North Carolina and Ohio. She went to Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Illinois to study technical theater, mainly as a lighting designer, and shortly after graduation landed a job at a local TV station running cameras for the weekend news.
LeBlanc worked in television in North Carolina for 11 years and worked her way up to station manager. From there she ran her own advertising agency before discovering a new challenge: public radio.
“A lot of people thought I went backwards, from television to radio,” said LeBlanc, “but I have been in love with public radio since college. I fell in love with it the first time I heard ‘All Things Considered.’ It was one hour of Susan Stamburg and Bob Edwards just talking together.”
Making the transition from television to radio wasn’t as dramatic a change as it seems.
“It wasn’t a big jump because I knew the visual way,” she said. “To me, storytelling is storytelling, just the medium is different.”
LeBlanc applied for a radio production position at WHQR, in Wilmington, NC, but was told that she was overqualified and given her own show. She produced a half-hour radio program every week. It started as an arts magazine. LeBlanc said she picked up tricks from studying Stamberg’s work about how to do visual art on radio. The show’s focus began to include hard news, and the first of her stories which was picked up by NPR was a hate crimes incident involving Camp Lejeune marines and several members of Wilmington’s gay community.
LeBlanc also has experience as a documentary filmmaker.
While working in public radio in Dayton, Ohio, she stumbled onto a story about a World War II code-breaking machine. She teamed up with the daughter of the machine’s designer to make a movie about it. “Dayton Codebreakers” still airs on public television today, and was nominated for three regional Emmys.
Her second film, “Who’s Minding the Planet?,” a film about an environmental company that monitors water resources, also received a regional Emmy nomination. LeBlanc’s most recent film, “Take Us Home,” the story of Ethiopian Jews, is in the festival circuit now and recently won the award for Best Documentary at the Hollywood Black Film Festival.
Her background in television and documentary projects has made LeBlanc an ideal candidate to improve KMUW’s local news coverage, and her experience with online marketing and video content has contributed to her digital media expertise.
“I’m really excited about where we are now because radio has become visual,” she said. “We’re shooting video when we go to do interviews, and that’s something I can add to the process here. There are all these different ways to tell the story, and now we can offer a little bit more.”
As for her plans as KMUW’s news director, LeBlanc said she is looking to expand the station’s ability to do more video editing, and she’s looking forward to working with the resources at Wichita State’s Elliott School of Communication.
“My goal is to help make KMUW into the area’s most trusted news source,” LeBlanc said. “That doesn’t mean covering every piece of news. What we often do are the big, deep stories that take the time and the energy other news outlets don’t have. We do detail. That’s what public radio does best; we get to all the layers and present the news in a balanced way so that listeners make up their own minds about what they feel about the issues.”
Another reason LeBlanc took the job in Wichita over other offers was that she didn’t want to be just a manager – she wanted to be out in the community, asking questions and finding out what makes people tick.
One story she’s interested in exploring is the extent of volunteerism in Wichita.
“I’m wondering if it’s something that’s in the water,” said LeBlanc. “There’s some sort of spirit of giving back here that is very attractive. I like it. I’ll be happy here.”