Friday, October 20, 2006

What a Day!

You wouldn't believe the day I had Wednesday, September 27th. It was busy as usual, but completely exciting because I was at the Capitol capturing sounds for my Intern Edition story.

First, I had to get my press pass, which by the way, I'm proud to say I accomplished obtaining it all on my own. Getting a press pass took a little maneuvering--I had to call the media office to find out about the process. I went through the correct paperwork and then obtained a letter from the news desk stating I was "legit."

It felt good walking freely around the Capitol building. What I really enjoyed was getting to hang out in the Speaker's lobby just outside of the House floor. The lobby is where members of Congress go to relax in between votes, and of course, it's also the place where the press likes to hang around in order to grab interviews. Once the votes started happening, it became pretty hectic, with lots of mingling between the press and the Representatives.

Incredibly, I was able to personally interview three members of the House: David Price, Adam Putnam, and Debbie Wasserman-Shultz. At first, I didn't think I would get any interviews with any of them, but there were ushers that helped me out. It was also really cool seeing the congresswoman from my home state, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, and the staff director I worked under as an intern with The Committee on The International Relations’ Subcommittee on the Middle East and Central Asia.

-Jason Hesch, Audience and Corporate Research

It's Not Easy Being Blue: Making Inroads With Republicans

Alexandra Caldwell is an intern with NPR's Online Department. Below she shares a humorous story of how her favorite radio story led her to an interesting revelation about the contentious nature of politics:

My Mother, the most liberal woman you’ll ever meet, has come around to the idea of censorship. It started when I left for college. It was then that my mother realized how much of a buffer I had been. Throughout high school I was the one subjected to conversations with my father that revolved entirely around politics.

My father works from home, thus my parents spend the entire day together. He works hard but because his job entails him conferencing via telephone it gives him a lot of time to surf the internet…finding all the liberal propaganda he can get his hands on. When George W. Bush won the election a piece of my father died inside. Since then he’s tried to fill this hole with that “liberal media” from the World Wide Web like those of Molly Ivins, the Crisis Papers, the Democratic Underground, JibJab, and You Ain’t a Cowboy, to name a few.

When I went to college my mother became the sounding board for my father’s outcries. She was bombarded before her coffee; she spent her afternoons trying to steal my father’s soap box away from him and her nights wide-awake listening to him mutter in his sleep about the state of the nation. Though I was off at school his obsession found me, too – from conversations with my mother and forwards from my father. I can’t tell you how many ‘Dancing Bush’ emails I received.

My parents never raised me to hate but I began to resent the hold that Conservative politicos had over my household. We were all angry. My father began to pull a Johnny Cash – wearing only black, in mourning over the Democratic Party. My Mother contemplated utilizing the parental controls on the TV and internet. Because of this outpouring of aggravation over all things Conservative I began to think of all Republicans as ‘the evil ones.’ This is why my favorite NPR story is the All Things Considered piece, "Doppelgangers Cause Confusion on Capitol Hill." All Things Considered told the story of look-alike Republican Congressmen, Steve King of Iowa and Tom Tancredo of Colorado. The piece was informative but also highly amusing. The best part? Besides the two men switching nametags at a White House Christmas party it was when Luke Burbank, NPR National Desk Reporter, questioned the Congressmen on their twin-like connection – “Can you feel each other’s pain?” he asked. I was driving while listening and was worried I’d wreck because I was laughing so hard. It taught me, in a Free to Be You and Me fashion, that along with it being okay to cry, it’s also okay to like the occasional Republican.

As of now, my Father has improved. He no longer bombards us 24/7 with liberal ranting, though I’m sure he wants to. His current obsession is much healthier – training our dog to, how should I say this, leave “presents” in neighborhood yards that once held Bush Cheney signs. You should know that I’m from North Carolina. That’s a lot of yards.

Sound Off

Many of us NPR interns started out as NPR addicts. We came to believe in radio, and the next logical step was to make radio. What were the stories that hooked us? Adeline Goss, the Executive Producer of Intern Edition, will start us off...

Alix Spiegel, This American Life, "Pray"
Dave Isay, Sound Portraits, "Ghetto Life 101"
Dave Isay, Sound Portraits, "The Sunshine Hotel"
Dave Isay and Richard Sandler, Sound Portraits, "The Gods of Times Square"
Dave Isay and Stacy Abramson, Sound Portraits, "Witness to an Execution"
Jay Allison and Joe Richman, Radio Diaries, " Laura Rothenberg: My So-Called Lungs"
Jay Allison, Radio Diaries/New York Works, "Walter the Seltzer Man"
Jay Allison and Annie Cheney, Radio Diaries, "Concerning Breakfast"
Jay Allison and Nubar Alexanian, Transom, "Perfect Hearing"
Joe Richmond, Radio Diaries, "Thembi's AIDS Diary"
Robert Krulwich, All Things Considered, "The Little Coffee Plant that Wouldn't Die"
Scott Carrier, This American Life, "Running After Antelope"
Scott Carrier, Transom, "The West Desert"

Interns: submit your own favorites by writing to byu@npr.org.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Rock, Paper, Scissors!

RPS 2006: The Saga Begins

As a reporter for Intern Edition, I plan to attend the Rock Paper Scissors World Championships in Toronto and win three important things: 1) $7000 CAD, 2) a reputation as the greatest RPS player on the face of the earth, and 3) respect as a broadcast journalist. From where I’m sitting now (i.e. my desk), it seems I have two major obstacles in my path: 1) mental toughness, and 2) statistics.

Last summer I made my debut on the RPS Circuit at the DC Nationals, where I bowed out in the first round alongside Cheddar Ted, the JoJo to my KC. To give you a glimpse of my experience, here is an excerpt from my post-tournament diary:

After winning the first best of three set then going up 1-0 in the second, I managed to give it all away to this dude with some sort of Viet Cong combat helmet on his dome. Apparently, this bro ruined a pep rally at my friend’s high school by hiding in an overturned trash can and walking into the step show, where he had to be tackled in the trash can by a gang of faculty. He also cheated by delaying his throws and looking at my hands instead of into my eyes like a true gamer. I attempted to alert our completely oblivious, chain-smoking judge to this underhandedness, but I’m pretty sure she had no idea that she was at a Rock Paper Scissors tournament. Perhaps she believed she was working at an outpost of Staples that was being ransacked by Neanderthals.

After a few depressing moments at the bar, the night was salvaged in some street RPS games upstairs where Cheddar beat the #16-ranked Awesomer Thanyou in a cash game. Awesomer, whose real name is James, also lost in the first round of the tournament and by my calculations squandered about $150 in side games. He seemed poised to play a best of three match for his house. In summation, he seemed like a man with nothing to lose. My brief conversation with him went like this:

Me: Yo Awesomer, how long have you been in the game?

Awesomer: Only a couple of years. I went to the World Championships in Toronto last year. It was awesome.

Me: Was it “Awesomer” than this?

Awesomer (seriously): Hey, man, don’t make fun of my name.

After this experience, I know that RPS is no joke, and if I am going to emerge victorious in Toronto I know I have a lot of training ahead of me in the next month. So far I have mostly been playing games against my mom for use of the television (this is a lie) and using this online RPS simulator (http://www.shotgunrules.com/rock_paper_scissors.shtml), which is like the modern-day equivalent of putting chess moves in bottles and throwing them into the ocean. In other words, very unfulfilling and mostly useless.

This is just the beginning…


-Christopher Schonberger, Weekend Edition Saturday

Monday, October 16, 2006

Finding Common Ground

“So a Hindu, a Jew, and a Mormon walk into a coffee shop….”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one. It’s not a joke; it’s my life—my life at NPR.

For the past month I’ve had the opportunity of working with the wonderful reporter-producer team of Guy Raz and Nishant Dahiya, outstanding journalists, and all-around good guys. Nishant is a master's student in international affairs and the son of an Indian naval officer. Guy is a Jewish-American who graduated from Cambridge with a master's in history, and I’m a country-music-loving die-hard conservative who just graduated from BYU with a degree in English. Talk about group dynamics. (Think “The View” with an added measure of testosterone). Before anyone goes putting Ms. Walters and her constituents on notice, however, I should qualify something: Guy is the only one of us with a strong enough T.V. presence to pose a formidable threat. Take care of him, and I think you can rest easy.

In all seriousness, travel time to and from interviews has afforded us ample time to discuss an array of issues and ideas, and we’ve had some truly fascinating conversations.

Once, we stopped at an outfitter on Quantico military base, and Nishant pointed out the sweet irony of the fact that the flak jackets and utility knives had “made in Vietnam” stickers attached to them. Another time, Guy introduced me to Newt Gingrich as “his biggest fan” and insisted I have my picture taken with him. He said it would be reassuring to my parents to see that their son wasn’t being “brainwashed by left-wing liberals” (his words). And once, we sat with rapt attention as terrorism expert Bruce Hoffman recounted the tale of a foiled terror plot at a counter-terrorism conference, only to have the conversation turn to Hollywood B-movies, the willing suspension of disbelief, and the worst action films ever made.

We’ve talked about God and war, democracy and justice, faith and foreign policy, baseball and fine dining. And while our palates seem to be as different as our political penchants, through it all we’ve managed to find some common ground, all the while allowing for moments of respectful dissent. We haven’t resolved any long-standing political crises, but we haven’t started any new ones, either. And I’m willing to bet we’ve all learned a thing or two along the way. I know I have.

P.S. Mom and Dad said thanks for the picture.

-Joshua Figueira, National Desk

Dear NPR...

At Morning Edition, one of my most thought-provoking jobs is reading and answering e-mails from listeners. I read up to 50 per day and respond to about 20 of them, signing each of my responses "Morning Edition"-- although it occasionally freaks me out that I have become a collective entity to my electronic recipients. I also become the listener’s advocate, directing notes to producers and editors if a particular story has generated a large response.

Many e-mails ask for more information about this or that, and my responses provide book names, story links and other facts. Often, listeners request information that I can't provide, because the "NPR" content they are interested in was actually produced at their NPR member station or by other radio networks. It's a common point of confusion among listeners, who think they are hearing a continuous, undifferentiated stream of "NPR" programs.

Then there are the many listeners who just want someone at Morning Edition to read their opinions . Those opinions can sometimes stretch on for pages.

Many of these emails are positive, directing a virtual pat on the back to reporters, hosts, or the shows in general. But others are outraged about our coverage, our omissions, our biases, or just the general state of the world. At the end of some there’s a familiar sign off : " Shame on you, NPR. Shame on you for becoming one of them." The "them" might be the Left, the Right and the Mainstream Media, depending on the listener's perspective.

Occasionally I feel a reflexive shrinking from the harsh criticism. Although I’m an intern, I’ve assumed some responsibility for this show and in some way, I’m being shamed as well. I'm also slightly outraged, thinking of the extremely smart and dedicated people that surround me each day. They put in hours on each of these stories only to have listeners disparage their work. "Who," I want to yell, " will do more for you?"

Being "fair and balanced" (a phrase I’ve heard several times here without any apparent sense of irony) means that you won’t please everyone - and if you do, you’re probably not creating great journalism. Once I've collected myself, the next moment of my emotional chronology is my pride in the outrage we’ve inspired. I marvel that there are people who really listen and take the time to write back three page rants with ten detailed questions - and who expect an answer from NPR. For many listeners (at least the ones that take the time to write) , NPR is a media that responds to the public. As listeners, they have a right to demand revision and change.

-Joanna Stein, Morning Edition