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