Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Washington Watchdogs: An Endangered Species?

American Forum
by Dan Raby

When Sylvia Smith, former president of the National Press Club and reporter from Indiana, came to Washington, D.C. in 1989 there were 14 correspondents reporting for local Indiana newspapers. Today there are only two.

The sharp reduction of reporters covering the federal government and its potential negative effects is a major challenge facing the news media, according to leading journalists and media analysts at American University’s American Forum: “Washington Watchdogs: An Endangered Species?”

“The cop has left the beat,” said Wendell Cochran, a professor in the School of Communication and former journalist who moderated the panel.

With decreasing subscription numbers, the closing of numerous major papers and a generation which gets a large part of their news from the internet, newspapers are having to cut cost more and more to survive. One of the casualties is local Washington news bureaus, whose numbers have decreased by half since the mid-80s.

“Individual cities and towns no longer have a Washington presence,” said Suzanne Struglinski, the senior editor of Provider magazine and former president of the Regional Reporters Association. “They are not going to get the detailed information on their delegation specifically that bigger news organizations or a national network will pay attention like a local newspaper will.”

The panelists agreed that the loss of Washington reporters potentially reduces transparency in government. Cochran quoted a colleague who told him, ‘”You can’t let [the legislators] run around Washington without a chaperone.”

Melinda Wittstock, founder and CEO of Capitol News Connection, which distributes news to local National Public Radio stations, described a time when she confronted a representative in Congress about changing his vote to favor a bill after being quoted as opposing it.

“If you’re not there and you can’t witness with your own eyes and ears what’s going on you can’t possibly see the context with which events are unfolding,” Wittstock said. “You can’t tell whether a representative is the same person in Washington as they are back home. Trying to cover Washington from back home [with] a local perspective is next to impossible.”

Struglinski agreed. “You’re not going to have the relationship with the members of Congress if you’re just grabbing a press release and that’s it,” she said. “You have to have a background in it.”

Mark Whitaker, senior vice president and Washington bureau chief of NBC News, pointed out that the national broadcast media is just as troubled as local print journalism.

“[The danger is] more specifically in what you lose when you have fewer veteran reporters who know how to get that confidential information and have fewer news organizations behind them willing to go up to bat,” Whitaker said.

Whitaker acknowledged that the media were partially at fault for their problems. “When the internet first came along we were giving away the content for free. Why then would people pay to get their news online?” he asked. “It used to be that you needed investigative reporters to hunt down documents. Now if you’re really interested you can go and do it yourself.”

Wittstock pointed out that the internet may be the new frontier for news but there’s no real business plan. “We all have to be active and have our contact on the internet now, but how do we monetize the web?” she asked. “There’s a tremendous pressure to put it out there for free. Facebook has something like 200 million users but it can’t make money.”

But it wasn’t all bad news. “The Washington press corps is not so much shrinking as it [is] transforming itself,” said Tyler Marshall, a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist.

Marshall pointed to a study he just completed for the Project on Excellence in Journalism that showed although mainstream and local media staff levels are declining in the corps, reporters from niche publications and the foreign press are keeping the presence of the Washington press corps large.

Students in the 200-member audience reacted positively to the forum.

“They were candid about the state of the media and acknowledged the good and bad about a streamlined news business,” said Traci Brooks, a senior majoring in journalism and theatre. “I thought what they said about the internet’s opportunities and problems was really interesting considering that’s probably the future of news reporting.

Shanika Yapa, a sophomore majoring in public communication, said she was interested in the panelists’ career advice.

“The guests were really up front about the problems with blogs and the big news organizations,” she said. “I liked [Struglinski’s] job advice to take a chance with a small publication.”

The next forum sponsored by the School of Communication at American University is entitled, “Are the Media Making Us Dumber?” It will be held on March 31.


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Adventures of Spring Break

Here's a part of what Naomi Barlaz did while on her spring break. Naomi celebrated her Jewish heritage with her mother, her father, her sister, and her uncle (and me!)

This would be my opening to the news story.

This would be the part I voice over.

And here's Naomi with the sound bite!


Saturday, February 21, 2009

One Man, Some Time, and a Synthesizer: Paul Oehlers

The old battleship Yamamoto speeds through the emptiness of space with the nefarious Gamelons in hot pursuit. The ship was racing to retrieve a device that would make a radioactive Earth hospitable again. Accompanying all the action was the strange, space-age electronic sounds of moog synthesizer music.

This work of fiction – actually a cartoon called Star Blazers, which aired in syndication for four years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, changed Professor Paul Oehlers’ life.

Star Blazers was the first place that exposed me to the moog synthesizer,” Oehlers said. “It sounded awesome and I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do with my life.”

The moog synthesizer is a versatile instrument. It looks like a keyboard with countless knobs and switches above the keys. The sound of the moog synthesizer is complex. It can be made to sound like a piano with added effects, such as on Stevie Wonder’s albums, or to sound completely distanced from anything resembling a piano.

Oehlers takes advantage of the instruments flexibility. He’s comfortable with the synthesizer because of his early connection to music. For him the instrument is a tool he bends to create whatever sounds he needs to fit the part.

Music became an early part of Oehler’s life in Vorhees, N.J. He wrote his first composition at 9, and later learned to play the drums, piano and organ. At 14 he started college composition courses. “I was hooked on making music but I didn’t like to play in front of people, so composing was the best thing,” he said.

Oehlers now enjoys creating the sounds he first heard as a kid. His film scores range from the haunting, sparse, quiet hum found in his work titled Phreximus to the jittery, twittering of his work Little Bug.

His complex orchestral pieces bring a vibrant nature to the cold, electronic sound of the synthesizer and create an ambient swirl of melody and harmony. His pieces have been performed at festivals around the world including the Seoul International Electro-acoustic Music Festival and the Institut für Neue Musik und Musikerziehung in Darmstadt, Germany.

He was one of the few composers selected to be a fellow at the MacDowell Colony, one of the oldest artist colonies in America. In 2006, he created an electronic composition, Out of the Ashes, for the Nature Conservancy and the Fulcrum Point New Music Project, a Chicago-based music group which performs multi-media works.

His music has been played seen in an award-winning independent movie, Most High, released in 2004. Most High starred director/actor Marty Sader and actress Laura Keys. The film looked at crystal meth through the eyes of an addicted man. “I was recommended by a mutual friend of Marty Sader because he thought my music would be good for a movie about a man freaking out and falling apart from drugs,” Oehlers said.

Most High went on to win eight awards, including the most prestigious independent film award, the Gold Starfish, from the Hamptons International Film Festival.

Today, Oehlers is the director of American University’s audio technology department. Sitting in Ruby Tuesdays on Van Ness Street eating a buffalo bacon burger, he wears his typical black hat, black jacket and blue jeans. He talks with his two good friends at the university, Matt Weiner, the studio manager at the university’s recording studios, and Jason Lurie, the facilities manager at the Katzen Arts Center. They laugh at the idea of Oehlers being interviewed but the conversation takes quick turns from composer John Williams to the best horror movies to the state of classical music, which Oehlers views as an obsolete style.

They all remember when Oehlers took the job in 2004 and the mess the audio technology department was in.

“We had only one G4 computer in a class room,” said Weiner, a former audio technology student at American.

“It was good for an early 1990s program but in 2004 it was 10 years out of date. It was borderline criminally inadequate.”

Kristof Aldenderfer, a former student of Oehlers’ who now teaches audio technology classes, agreed. “We were in a small room with no air conditioning. The [sound isolation] booth was at a weird angle and there were dead mice found sometimes on the floors,” he said.

Oehlers said he felt the job was a calling. “I had to save these students,” he said. He took the position after the previous director stayed only one year.

“Students in my classes would have to group together to do projects since we didn’t have enough computers,” he said. “It was like Russian roulette. Every day we would have to guess which computer was going to fail. I had groups lose eight months of work in random computer outages. In the end I had to grade the students based on what I had seen before the crash.”

Today the audio technology department has a number of computers, each with updated digital audio software. The studio where students once had to wear shorts to keep cool, even in the winter, is now fitted with an air conditioner and better technology. Dead rats are no longer on the floor. The number of students in the program has stayed constant at around 55 people with audio technology as their major or minor.

“To be in the audio technology field you have to have the right personality,” Oehlers said. “It involves hours in front of a computer and mixer. There’s not a lot of meeting girls or rock stars, but it’s better than a degree in music. It’ll actually get you a job.”

Jobs of alumni of the audio technology department range from working as an audio engineer in New York who mix tracks to the head of the audiovisual department for the U.S Coast Guard in the Department of Homeland Security.

Oehlers, who has four degrees in music, including a Ph.D. from the University of Illinois, said there are still needed improvements in the AU program. “The program has slowly gotten better. I wish I could do more.”

Oehlers knows his department is small but he says he believes he has a significant number of students for more attention from the university. “We just have the worst student to teacher ratio at 30:1. I used to teach three classes and work with students on 20 different independent studies each year.”

For now Oehlers said he is content with the way his life and the program are going. He’s looking at writing more music for films and is applying for another McDowell Colony fellowship.

He said he believes, though, that the audio technology field is often stereotyped and his department is misunderstood.

“I want to show people that working with music doesn’t mean that you’re just a DJ or you just drink all the time,” he said. “There’s a lot more too it then just that.”


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Inauguration Report: Seventh Street Snafu

Feb. 4, 2009

Inauguration Gates

Dan Raby

WASHINGTON, D.C.- For most of the 2 million people who traveled to the National Mall to witness the inauguration of Barack Obama, the event was an enjoyable and exciting moment in history. But it was a different story for many of those who faced frustration and delays as they tried to enter through the Seventh Street Gate.

Seventh Street NW was the location of one of the 13 gates that were designated entrances to the National Mall. The large crowd that arrived at the street saw four shut down security gates, which they expected to open at 7a.m.

Soon 7 a.m. passed, then 8 a.m., then 9 and then 10. When the gates finally did open, police would not let anyone through. The crowd began to get frustrated and angry.

“I don’t know what’s going on,” Emily Sholley said. Sholley, a Washington D.C. native, had reached Seventh Street at 2 a.m. and had waited six and a half hours. “We really have no chance of getting on the Mall if the other gates are open;” she said. “I’d rather they just lie than not tell us anything.”

Sholley chose to stay and wait. Others, like Washington D.C. native David Caulfield decided to leave for home. “I just can’t stand being in the weather anymore. I’d rather watch Obama on my TV,” Caulfield said.

Every few minutes rumors would spread through the crowd. People began getting text messages from DC Alert stating that a water main had broken between the gate and the National Mall. A generator powering the metal-detecting security wands had broken down and police officers were manually checking everyone.

The crowd that a few hours earlier was cheering and waving at every car and helicopter that passed bywas now rife with frustration. The threat of a mad rush at the gates emerged.

Several in the crowd complained about police officers in nearby building pointing and waving at the crowd. At one time the crowd booed and hissed loudly as officers took pictures from the building’s windows.

Caulfield was furious. “[The police are] trying to prevent a riot by not telling us anything,” he said, “but if they keep leaving everyone in the dark they’ll get one.”

Tiffany Moore agreed. Moore had driven from Atlanta in hopes of seeing Obama take the oath of office and was

wearing numerous articles of clothing covered with Obama’s face. “I’ve come so far to see Obama,” she said. “I’ve been a big supporter of his since day one and the fact that I might not be able to get in and see him leaves me frustrated.”

Moore eventually left Seventh Street to walk to the Washington Monument in hopes of being able to see Obama on wide screens set up.

Unlike the group stuck at Seventh Street, the crowds at the Washington Monument were able to quickly find spots and prepare for the swearing in. For New York City resident Vivian Kean, the area was perfect.

“I’m glad to be away from the crowd,” she said. “Here you can stretch your arms and even sit.” Kean got to the area via Metro at around 5 a.m.

A small group, including Caulfield, went home, their trips ruined by the delays and weather.

Sholley, however, said she was happy. “This is something I would do again to say I was there, but I’m glad it’s only once every four years.”


Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Guy Behind the Blog


Though this blog may be titled "Rabid Journalism" you shouldn't get the wrong idea. I'm not the type of person to froth at the mouth and possibly bite somebody. My name's simply Dan Raby and after years of "Raby? Does that mean you have rabies? Ha Ha!" I've grown to accept my last name and all its humorous variances (including Rabbi, Baby, Rabble). I am not a rabid person. I would like to think I am an easygoing person but the name was catchy and I enjoyed it.

Here are some little bits of information about me that I hope you will enjoy:

  • I have ridden in a golf cart with the amazing pop/rock singer Meat Loaf after he saw me singing one of his songs during a charity golf game.
  • I have played bagpipes for the PC guy in the Mac computer commercials when he needed someone to accompany him in a poetry reading.
  • I have my own radio show at American University where I improvise two-hour-long radio parodies. It was voted one of the best shows at the station.
  • My greatest dream would be to get to work at an NPR station as a producer.

I hope that gives you at least a glimpse into my personality. My good friend and roommate Jack Freund said that “Dan Raby’s creativity and sass are what makes this country great.” While I wouldn’t go that far, I do love to draw, design, write and really just try to make the world more colorful and exciting. If you want to talk music- everything from the new Beyonce hit (who doesn't love Single Ladies?) to seventies African folkfunk- I'm your guy. I'm also from the South (Raleigh,NC) which makes me kind of an oddity around American.

I hope that paints at least an abstract picture of who I am. There are more blogs to come! I hope they both entertain and inform you.