The Only Advertisement You Will Ever See On This Site!

Jackson's Computer Services

Let The Wife Take Care Of Your Computer Needs







June 4, 2007


A weblog about the politics and affairs of the old and glorious City of Albany, New York, USA. Articles written and disseminated from Albany's beautiful and historic South End by Daniel Van Riper. If you wish to make a response, have anything to add or would like to make an empty threat, please contact me.

NEW! Albanyweblog now has RSS!
Click on this link to add this site to your RSS feed.

June 4 , 2007

The Blogger Hits The Big Time

Talking about Truth and Power at a regional youth conference

How about that. Even though it’s over and done with, I’m still shaking my head and decompressing. It’s going to take awhile to clear this out of my nervous system. Who would have thought that ranting and blathering into a website would turn me into a respected member of the media?

Well, not exactly respected. But to my utter shock and surprise, I found this among my email last May 25:

Dear Mr. Van Riper,

I would like to invite you to be a speaker at the 2007 HOBY New York East Leadership Seminar.

Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY)
Founded in 1958 by legendary actor Hugh O’Brian, Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY) seeks to motivate and empower individuals to make a positive difference within our global community, through understanding and action, based on effective and compassionate leadership. With one outstanding student selected from each high school, more than 180 sophomores from throughout eastern New York will get to participate in our three-day seminar, which will take place at RPI in Troy, June 1-3, 2007.

During the weekend, there will be five panel discussions; we would like to include you on our Media/Communications Panel: Information may be free, but is it accurate? I think your experience with your blog would add a great dimension to this conversation...


Cheryl L. Brenn,

Director of National Programs, East Region
HOBY - Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership

After I got off the floor and climbed back into my chair, I started to wonder, what would motivate Ms. Brenn to expose these impressionable minors to the likes of me? Surely she has perused my blog. Ms. Brenn got back to me on the 29th to answer that question:

I wanted to get someone with a blog on the panel, I was looking more for a "public opinion" blog - and I came across yours.

Ah. I see. I took note that the conference was taking place on June 1st, a week from when she invited me, which is kinda short notice. I naturally assumed that Ms. Brenn got a cancellation and settled for me.

But as The Wife pointed out, “Who else can she call, Democracy In Albany? Not too many people around here do what you do.”

Yeah, I could see DIA in front of those kids with a bag over his head and a voice scrambler. Anonymity has its price, which is one big reason why I happily stand behind my obnoxious rantings and borderline slanders. Poor DIA can never tell us where he goes or who he talks to, or he'll reveal his identity. I’m sure DIA leads a full and interesting life, but we’ll never know for sure, will we?

Come Friday the First, I found my way inside the extraordinarily ugly Darrin Communication Center on the Rensellaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) campus in Troy. I looked in on a lecture hall packed with about 150 sixteen year old kids dressed in red shirts, just come back from lunch. They were singing and cheer leading in loud, familiar unison.

 Leading The Songs And Cheers And Chants
Leading The Songs And Cheers And Chants

Eventually someone noticed me, and I got to talk to “Bob,” the conference leader. (I’m kicking myself for not catching his last name.) He’s an enthusiastic guy, a volunteer who is perpetually thrilled with how these seminar weekends inspire the kids to make the most of their lives.

“This is a crucial time for them,” he told me. “Their decisions now could make or break their lives. Today, they started at 6:30 in the morning, and they go to late at night.” But, he added, “They have the rest of their lives to sleep if they want to.”

After a couple of young ladies interviewed me in the hallway, I was led down to the bottom of the lecture hall and seated at a table. I was one of four panelists, representing newspapers, radio and TV. And the internet. Check out my fellow participants:

Steve Ferrence, Anchor for Time Warner’s Capital 9 News

Monica Bartoszek, Senior Editor for the Hearst-owned Albany Times Union

Julia Taylor, Producer and Host for Northeast Public Radio’s WAMC

Dan Van Riper, Some Guy on the Internet.

Was I nervous? Well, I was terrified of messing up in front of the kids, I’d been having trouble sleeping and digesting for the past two days. After all, this was the first time I’d ever done something like this. But once I got a load of my fellow panelists, I settled right down. Them, I could handle.

Steve Ferrence turned out to be a personable guy. He’s young, in his twenties, having graduated from Ithaca College in 2003. But he already has a long resume that ranges around the country. We chatted during breaks, interrupted occasionally by young ladies who came up to talk to him with big smiles on their faces.

As soon as Monica Bartoszek took one look at me she expelled air and turned away in disgust. Yeah, she knew who I was, and she knew my blog. I did try my best to be friendly, but all I could get was the bare minimum of courtesy from her. I can’t imagine why she was like that. Was it something I said? Or maybe something else I said? Or something else?

I didn’t get much opportunity to talk to Julia Taylor, I believe she was not interested in any sort of conversation with the likes of me. I did ambush her afterward and she graciously shook hands. She’s the host and producer of a raft of shows at WAMC, including Roundtable, 51%, and Vox Pop.

The View From The Panelist's Table As We Were About To Start
The View From The Panelist's Table As We Were About To Start

After some more cheer leading and a ritualized shushing exercise (led by Bob) we started the panel discussion. The young folks who conducted the interviews of the panelists introduced us and presented brief biographies. And the first speaker was... me.

All I can say is that whoever decided the order of speakers has a tremendous sense of humor. I got to set the tone of the discussion. Oh boy.

I didn’t do too badly, I guess. More than enough ums and uhs, I’m afraid. I talked about how looking for accuracy is looking for the truth. And the truth is dependent upon who is telling you a thing. You have to ask yourself, what is this person’s agenda, why do they want you know what they are telling you.

And I asked the kids to consider power, how much power does the person have over you as they tell you a thing. I mentioned that I am often astounded at how my little blog can influence people’s thinking. So imagine, I told the kids, how much greater is the power of someone who is broadcasting through a newspaper, or a television.

Accuracy, I said, depends on many sources and many points of view. That can be found on the internet, and that is why the internet is driving the rest of the media today. That’s as far as I went with that. I didn’t want to upset anybody sitting next to me.

I ended with some advice. Always examine the source, and always make decisions for yourself. Look for sources of information that you can trust, but never trust anyone completely. “That’s all I have to say,” I ended lamely.

One of the kids presenting the panel asked, “What did you think of Dan's presentation?”

“OUTSTANDING!” the kids yelled in unison.

Okay, they did that for everybody, but it sure made me feel like a a real swell fellow.

Oh, one other thing. A while back The Wife got me my very own iPod, which I lay on the table in front of me. None of the adults knew what it was so they didn’t pay any attention to it. But the kids knew that I was recording everything. Here’s an mp3 of my halting, nervous speech for your listening pleasure:

[Link to an mp3 of my speech]

I thought that I was polite enough. I only used the phrase “corporate media” two or three times.

After that, my fellow panelists adopted a decidedly defensive tone. It’s not like they had to. I mean, I didn’t accuse them of eating babies. Not that day.

And I don’t believe I called them “foot soldiers for the corporate political agenda, working day in and day out for the establishment of a corporate dictatorship.” And not one single time did I say that “corporate media workers do more damage to our society in one day than all of the bomb throwing terrorists have done in the entire history of our country.”

Nope. Never said nothin’ like that. Not that I recall.

Then came question and answer, near the end of which I got into a terse exchange with my fellow panelists over corporate influence on the media. Monica from the Hearst-owned Times Union challenged my mild assertion that corporate owners influence the output of reporters that work for them. “How do you know that?” she said. “Yeah, how do you know that?” all three said. “Back up your statement with facts,” Monica mocked.

I replied,”I could turn that around on you and ask, how can you prove that the corporations don’t influence what you do?” I then pointed out that corporations are interested in one thing and one thing only... the bottom line. Of course they are going to tailor their product to enhance the bottom line.” The kids appeared to find all this head to head very interesting.

The Other Panelists, L to R:  Steve Ferrence, Monica Bartoszek, J. Taylor Speaking
The Other Panelists, L to R: Steve Ferrence, Monica Bartoszek, Julia Taylor Speaking

At last, we panelists broke into smaller groups to answer questions. By that time my brain had started to scramble and squeeze into the space behind my eyeballs. I recall babbling senselessly in answer to some of the kid’s questions, lord knows what I said. By the end of the sessions I was repeating myself.

Everything at this seminar had a definite beginning and an end. There was a closing ceremony for the panel where each of us panelists received a certificate of appreciation:

Each of us received a HOBY t-shirt and an official HOBY spiral notebook. And that’s not all. Four sets of three of the kids were assigned to giving each panelist a group hug. Which each hug the room erupted with, “Ooooh, Sassy!”

Monica Bartoszek tried to worm out of her group hug, but the kids were having none of it. They corralled her and she stiffly received her hug with a grimace. What a way to treat a senior editor for a major media corporation.

I was very, very impressed. I can see how these seminars can fire these kids with enthusiasm for getting the most out of their lives. I do have to admit that I was initially suspicious when I received the invitation to speak. What was HOBY’s agenda, who were they working for? Moonies? Corporate terrorists? Al Qaida? Republicans?

Nope. They are an independent 501c3 running on a shoestring budget, volunteerism and enthusiasm. As far as I can tell, they are beholden to nobody. They are exactly what they say they are, an organization that wants to inspire young people to excel.

Yeah, it would have been really cool to have gone to one of these HOBY seminars when I was sixteen. Maybe... things would have been different.


Did I add anything worthwhile to the discussion, did I do or say anything positive for any of the kids? Well, gee, I don’t know. But I did impress one young lady.

She came up to me in the lecture hall as I was getting ready to leave. “I thought you were great,” she said. “Thanks for standing up to the others.” (Actually, she mentioned one of the other panelists, but I won’t say which one.) And I shook her hand. She looked really pleased.

Outside the hall, the other three panelists surrounded Bob, worrying him about possibly getting tickets on their cars which they had parked illegally nearby. I strolled lazily outside into the hot late afternoon to retrieve my pickup truck which was parked safely off-campus, fiddling with my iPod as I walked.

Prior Post * * * Next Post

This site maintained by Lynne Jackson of Jackson's Computer Services.