Making It All Click

December 10, 2012

With dizzying energy, Jack’s Boathouse owner Paul Simkin teaches students to move with the latest technology as the director of Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts, located in Georgetown. In his own way, he instructs them to stay current and focused on the big picture.

Because of the many media outlets in the nation’s capital and the digital media explosion, the center was established to meet the needs of 21st-century creatives. The center offers professional studies certificates in 3D animation, audio production, digital filmmaking, graphic and web design, digital photography and web development. The approximately 300 students enrolled in the programs are registered as full-time students or take classes at night as part-time students. The other programs include locations in Atlanta, Ga. and Waltham, Mass., west of Boston University’s main campus.

In addition to his work as a photography professional and educator, Simkin also manages and owns Jack’s Boathouse next to Key Bridge. Simkin, who bought the boathouse in 2006, rents out approximately 70,000 boats per year, he says. An avid kayaker, the Chicago native says the idea to buy the boathouse came to him while taking a conference call in the middle of the Potomac River.

As with anything in Georgetown, there is a historical context. Boston University’s CDIA D.C. campus is located in the Foundry building on Thomas Jefferson Street, in the space formerly occupied by the Foundry Cinema, which closed in 2002. The original Foundry building dates back to 1856.

The center’s spaces consist of administrative offices, computer labs and photo studios. Simkin’s office is on the ground level next to the C&O Canal, but the first thing you might notice is the skeleton that he uses as a coat rack. Equipment is everywhere. He has not yet fully moved in. One characteristic about Simkin is that he seems like he’s ready for anything.

“I can go anywhere in the world and shoot anything with that,” says Simkin, as he points to a pile of photography equipment.

Even though students pick one major on which to focus, multidisciplinary study is the name of the game.

“If you can show that you can put a site together, that you can put the illustration for your intention, whatever it is, you’re worth a million dollars to [people],” said Simkin. “It puts you light-years above all the other people of a similar ilk. That’s what we’re dedicated to.”

For Simkin, it is important to balance the practical and creative aspects.

“That creates a problem,” says Simkin, “because we aren’t teaching people to fix air conditioners and transmis- sions. We’re teaching art. So, on the one hand, we’re train- ing people to make money, but on the other hand we have to nurture a vision in someone.”

Instruction — and Structure

While at the center on Friday, Paul was approached by one of his students, Nouf Mallouh. She was working what the center calls her “Practicum.” Practicum is a student’s final project that requires them to provide work for non- profit, socially responsible organizations, which otherwise would not be able to afford such highly skilled digital work.

Mallouh is from Saudi Arabia. She’s studied both graphic design and photography at the center. For her practicum, she is working with the Literacy Lab, a non-profit organization that teaches reading to low-income students in Washington, D.C. She has a series of about 50 photos from a recent shoot
and wanted Simkin’s opinion.

As Mallouh goes through the photos, Simkin gives both positive and constructive criticism.

“Nice shot,” he says. “That’s a beautiful shot. Thank you. You’re very good at capturing faces. Take a compli- ment when you get it. She’s mugging for the camera. Next, please.”

Simkin gives Mallouh a lot of tips about where to crop photos but compliments her ability to capture faces and hands. After about 20 minutes, we leave the computer lab. Moments like those are what make the job for Simkin, who became director of the center in September. “One condition I made when I accepted the job was that I get to do stuff like that,” Simkin says.

As the center’s director, Simkin might not be expected to be as available to his students as he is and that he would leave that sort of work to professors.

“When they kick my ass like that, it makes me a better photographer,” Simkin says. “She had a very good sense of feeling, of kids. I freeze up around kids. I can’t just get in and be tight and be part of a scene. She has a natural incli- nation for that. So, I get to see a point of view that I would otherwise miss.”

“I really couldn’t imagine a better mentor,” says Erin Schaff, assistant director at CDIA’s D.C. campus, and who views Simkin as a great resource for photography students.

Schaff, who is from Red Hook in upstate N.Y., graduated from Kenyon College in May 2011 with a
B.A. in political science and came to Washington to pursue a career on Capitol Hill. After working in the office of Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and other jobs, Schaff began working part-time at Jack’s Boat- house in June and fell in love with the river.

“I had a full-time job, and I quit to work for him full-time,” says Schaff of Simkin. “It was kind of a big leap for me, because everything was kind of stable. Everything was going very well in the direction I thought I wanted to be going. So, it was a big leap, but it has totally been worth it.”

As someone who runs two large operations, it is no surprise Simkin needs someone to help keep him organized. Schaff provides that structure.

Never Getting Old

Boston University began opening its three CDIA campuses as film photography was being replaced by digital as the de facto medium for professional photographers.

“When we started five to six years ago, it was the end of film,” Simkin says. “It was the end of the dark room. These folks had the vision to make great photographs but at the same time to realize the end was there — and that it was not a defeat. It was a great opportunity to make great art.”

The school was founded on the principle that technology is constantly changing. This means that the center’s curriculum is continually changing. The center’s classes resume in January.

“Two years in digital stuff is huge,” Simkin says. “So, if we just stuck to the same one [process], we’d be in big trouble.”

This dedication to technology has been a constant for Simkin. When he was 24 years old, he was work- ing as a photo editor at the Associated Press. Then, he made a decision about photography.

“I’m editing photos, when I see these dark room guys. These are guys in white jackets who would print photos,” Simkin says. “I ask one of these guys, who were about as old as I am now, ‘How much back- ground is there to being a dark room guy?’ It turns out that the guys were photographers earlier, and they had shot on 4 by 5, the kind of stuff you’d shoot Marilyn Monroe with in the ’50s and the ’60s. Those pictures were great. The quality was great. So, when the 35 millimeter [film] came out, they didn’t want to shoot 35 millimeter, because it was so small and the pictures were grainy. They held on to their 4-by-5 view of things, and then the world passed them by. And they were printing my pictures.”

“I made the decision I was never going to get old as it related to the image.”

Boston University’s Center for Digital Imaging Arts will be partnering with the Georgetowner for its
fourth annual photography contest. Email submissions to by Jan. 8. Winners will be honored at a Jan. 17 reception. For more information, visit
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Michael Saylor on the Next Great Age of America

October 25, 2012

Editor’s Note:
We are so thankful to Michael Saylor for sitting down with us last month. We got such a positive response to the first article that we’re back with more insights from Georgetown resident and the Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of MicroStrategy, author of “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence will Change Everything.”

It was at the beginning of the era of the personal computer, when the world, according to Saylor, “took a hard left.”

“The Latin-Roman alphabet is superior to symbol-based languages, like Japanese and Chinese, for writing software code. Look at a keyboard. How do you create a keyboard for a language like Chinese that has 25,000 characters?”

The PC era gave us Microsoft, Oracle and Intel, then Dell, HP and IBM. When the World Wide Web came about, it was EBay, Amazon, Yahoo! and then Google at the forefront. All American companies, all using English as their primary language, for programming and for business. Today, if you want to become a software programmer, no matter what country you live in, you have to learn English.
“If you speak English you can purchase everything cheaper. If you sell in English, you will sell everything, your product or service, more expensively…The center of gravity of Western civilization is English.”

Saylor sees other factors, beyond software programming, contributing to America’s Newest Great Age. One of them is the formation of the European Union – hear his take on that.
Another is that the mobile wave provides people around the world, both adults and children, with easy access to American culture and ideals.

“We aren’t just exporting American technology. We’re exporting American technology, American values, American products and services, American currency, the American legal system. It’s all becoming a standard in this creeping way.”

Saylor sees the United States as the biggest beneficiary of the formation of the European Union. Click to hear his take (4 minutes)

“Technology doesn’t work at all; technology fails…until it succeeds.”

Much of Saylor’s perspective on the mobile wave is driven by his studies at MIT. In addition to aeronautical engineering, his coursework covered the impact of science and technological advances on society.
All new technologies begin with an idea. There are often fits and starts at the beginning, while the innovator is working to overcome obstacles so that the idea can become reality.

Click here to listen to Saylor’s Take on Technological Innovations in Aviation (4 minutes)

Saylor gave us a quick lesson in this, illustrating the history of aviation from the Wright Brothers to the space shuttle. It’s a fascinating study (hear it here), one which he sees the software industry mirroring.

Not too long after we put a man on the moon, aviation technology advancement slowed considerably. At the same time, computer and software technologies progressed to the point where the general public could begin to use them. As consumer adoption increased, advances have come rapidly – all the way from the desktop computer in the 1970s to Internet access on your smart phone today in 2012.

Regarding Privacy Concerns: “At the end of the day I’m not concerned about the plight of consumer; the consumer is the big beneficiary of the mobile wave.”

Click here to get Saylor’s insight into consumer privacy concerns and how they will be resolved (3 minutes)

If you’ve ever used Google maps on your smart phone, you were probably happy that it knew your current location and could use it as a starting point to give you directions to your destination. There’s a good chance that targeted content or advertising, based on what Facebook or other entities know about your online habits, has led you to products, services or information that you enjoyed.
But there are two sides to this technology. While it can be comforting to track the websites your teenager is visiting and his or her location throughout the course of a Friday night, would you be comfortable with your employer, marketers, the government or other entities knowing what you’re doing online and where you are at each moment of the day?

Many are concerned about the erosion of civil liberties. Some people readily admit that they find this aspect of the mobile wave “scary.”

Saylor acknowledges the concerns, but he sees the benefits of the mobile wave outweighing the potential downsides. He’s a big advocate of transparency, meaning that consumers are told upfront what information is being collected on them and how it will be used. He sees current privacy laws evolving to keep up with the new challenges brought by the mobile wave.

The sub-title of Saylor’s book is “How Mobile Intelligence Will Change Everything.” So, will it? It’s an engaging read. [We encourage you to pick it up (or download “The Mobile Wave”) and decide for yourself](

There Is Hope After All

October 24, 2012

The noise has been deafening. The sport of the post presidential and vice-presidential debate punditry has grown from a torrent to a deluge, moving from on-air to online and virtually everywhere else. After the now-famed Romney Resurrection,
Saturday Night Live dared to hilariously get inside the heads of the candidates. Obama, it posited, was distracted thinking about how he had forgotten to buy the first lady an anniversary present. It would have been even funnier had it not been what we in the media all seem to have been trying to do since Obama-Romney I got us all nattering.

The coverage seems to be only reinforcing this weird epoch of journalism today which wobbles between punditry and a “just the facts” dirge.

Even as journalists work harder than ever, nobody seems very happy. Especially not the audience if a Gallup poll – brought to our attention, of course, on Facebook – is to be believed. It says an all-time high, 60 percent of us, now “have little or no trust in the mass media to report the news fully, accurately, and fairly.” Perhaps worse than that, in recent conversations with graduate and undergraduate journalism students, even these driven youth who represent the future of this industry feel that, at best, today’s media is so-so. These are people want to do this for a living. One more tasty treat of negativity – the University of Colorado closed its famed journalism school last year partly citing loss of relevance and recently Emory University in Atlanta announced a similar move with its growing journalism department. Others are sure to follow.

ATM comes not to bury Caesar, but to give a call to action to save him.

With the permission of our valiant publisher, I am taking a column away from observing or commenting or critiquing to urge. To misquote a frequent television ad, “It’s my journalism, and I want it now!”

I urge anybody interested in being a part of creating that future of journalism to support the Kickstarter campaign for DecodeDC – the new podcast devoted to reporting on Congress in a way nobody else is.

Yes, we have venerable publications like the Hill, Roll Call, the entire Congressional
Quarterly family, and even the future-is-now Politico devoted to the daily throes of our legislative and executive bodies – but few have proven able to cover Congress like former NPR Congressional correspondent Andrea Seabrook. For anybody wondering why her voice has disappeared from NPR airwaves, Seabrook decided this summer that she couldn’t continue to cover Congress as a daily mud fight any longer. “It just didn’t seem to be doing anybody any good any more. What was the point? I was becoming as much part of the problem.” So instead Seabrook decided she, and we, deserved something different.

Seabrook left to start an independent podcast called DecodeDC at In her first two episodes, she truly humanizes Congress and simultaneously eviscerates all that should be eviscerated. They are worth listening to. They are good. Very good.

And worth supporting.

Seabrook is turning to people who want great journalism to support her and provide the seed money needed to fully fund a year of DecodeDC, and she has turned to the online money-raiser – Kickstarter.

Kickstarter is a wonderful way for ordinary people can play venture capitalist, venturing to put their money where their mouths are. If you are one of those who loves, is interested in learning something more than the latest mud slinging, and wishes journalism reached for something better than it seems so often to be today, take a listen and then support. Seabrook has until 6 p.m. Oct. 19 to raise the money to fund 28 more episodes.

Michael Saylor: Riding the Mobile Wave

October 15, 2012

“The mobile wave is going to sweep through and obliterate billions of jobs and millions of small businesses and that’s going to be viewed with trepidation by politicians, unions and businessmen, all three, because they’re going to see their world disrupted. But at the same time, it opens up the possibility for three or four billion people in the underclass to get a Ph.D.”

So says Michael Saylor, Chairman of the Board, President and Chief Executive Officer of MicroStrategy and author of “The Mobile Wave: How Mobile Intelligence will Change Everything,” published earlier this year by Vanguard Press.

Saylor sees the agricultural revolution as a model for the changes the mobile wave will bring about. In 1850, 67 percent of Americans worked on farms. Thanks to vast improvements in farm technology which led to massive and rapid increases in productivity, today less than 2 percent of the US population is employed in agriculture. This allowed 65 percent of the population to shift away from farming, learn new skills and contribute to the economy in other ways.

“For the civilization to move forward we need to generate millions of new skills,” Saylor says. “The secret is education. Right now, we spend $2 trillion a year on education, and we spend it poorly. We teach people the same way we have for 100 years.”

But mobile can change all that. By moving education online, the best professors and teachers can expand the number of students able to learn from them. When textbooks move online and become software, they become “magical.” Students can inexpensively perform experiments online, simulating not only simple things, like boiling water, but things that are impossible now, like playing with a pendulum on Mars.

Even better, the incremental cost per student drops dramatically when learning goes mobile. Saylor predicts that a Ph.D., which can cost $100,000 to attain today, could be only $10,000 in the future. These newly minted minds will have the information and time they need to tackle civilization’s most pressing problems, things like super strains of viruses which have become immune to present day antibiotics. Saylor has launched the Saylor Foundation ( to make his vision a reality. Based in Georgetown, it currently offers 13 areas of online college-level study, including biology, economics and mechanical engineering, at no cost to students.

But education is just one area being impacted for the better by the mobile wave.

New technologies will make our identities mobile, and “100 times easier to prove and 100 times more secure,” Saylor says, than current employee badges, credit cards, personal signatures and other credentials, which can be forged. Our mobile identities will have unique identifiers which change every few minutes, but which anyone on a mobile device can use to confirm that you are who you say you are.

Mobile identity technology will make it easier to control access to sensitive areas like schools, where we only want students, parents, teachers and other authorized personnel to enter. It will also make it possible to verify quickly your identity to someone thousands of miles away. This is the direction that MicroStrategy is moving with Usher, its free app which allows users to manage events with Facebook but which will become a virtual wallet for credentials. Saylor predicts that mobile identity technology will be widely used within the next five years.

Speaking of Facebook, Saylor says, “If you don’t use Facebook, my advice to anybody would be to become a Facebook user. It’s time to get on the bandwagon. You can’t really live outside of that stream.”

What’s the next big thing? “The most powerful idea in the world in the year 2012 is the software application network,” said Saylor. YouTube, Facebook and Wikipedia are examples of networks that allow people to share information and photos. “So what about a teaching network, a safety network, a payment network? All these things are living in the domain of plastic cards and pencils and pens now. They will become networks. I can’t say which one will commercialize first, but we’re already investing in intelligence networks (MicroStrategy’s Wisdom app) and identity networks (the future of MicroStrategy’s Usher app).”

In Saylor’s book, mobile Internet is the fifth wave of computing, following the mainframe, the mini-computer, the desktop computer and the Internet PC. So what’s the sixth wave? “The point that we cross the man-machine interface and we’re able to receive information and give an instruction without our hands or our voice – a direct neural link,” Saylor says. “At this point, the entire world becomes merged with cyberspace, like the holodeck on Star Trek.”

6 Quick Questions for Michael Saylor:
Current Mobile Phone? Apple iPhone 5
Social Network: Facebook or Google+? Facebook
Number of Friends on Facebook? 4,000
Favorite Low or No-Tech Hobbies? Travel, boating
Stock to Own: Facebook or Google? Both — and Apple and Amazon
Best App Most People Haven’t Yet Heard Of? WhatsApp, a cross-platform mobile messaging app

Michael Saylor: “It’s Kind of a Fluke That I’m Here at All…”
“I come out of a generation of men that grew up loving science fiction. We read Arthur C. Clarke, Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov and our aspiration was to be an astronaut, go to Mars and build spaceships. And when I was in high school I wanted to be a fighter pilot, be an astronaut, go to Mars and build spaceships.”

After leaving high school, Saylor followed his dream, joining the Air Force and earning a degree in aeronautical engineering from MIT, where he studied spaceship design and learned how to fly. But his plan was derailed in the final semester of his senior year when he was misdiagnosed with a benign heart murmur, disqualifying him from combat air duty.

Shortly after that, Congress cut the defense budget. So, instead of going on active duty in the military as an engineer, he served in the Air Force reserve weekends and summers and went into the civilian world.

Saylor told us this story as he proudly showed us a plaque in his office. It had recently been given to him by Astronaut Greg Johnson, a high school friend who was a pilot, not just once but twice, on the space shuttle Endeavour.

The plaque featured MicroStrategy’s IPO prospectus and pictures of Johnson in space holding it. He had taken it with him on Endeavour’s last flight. So, it had been to the space station and circled the Earth for two weeks.

“He’s what I wanted to be – he flew F-15s, fought in the Gulf War, became a test pilot, became an astronaut, went up on the space shuttle and he’s still with NASA right now. So, that was a different path, and really I would have done it if I could have done it. I’m not saying I would have gotten as far as he did, but that’s what my aspiration was.”
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The Outsider

May 3, 2012

In the not-for-the-faint world of D.C., you do not exist politically if you are not loathed by at least one group. But David Frum is in an elite category – he is hated by both sides of the fence. A stalwart speechwriter of the W regime, no friends on the left. Then excommunicated by the right when he dared to suggest that Republicans were blowing it in their blind opposition to the healthcare bill, a posture he has maintained vociferously regarding the current Republican posture on the debt ceiling, “you don’t play chicken with default.”

“Yes, my views put me in a minority these days,” he admits bedecked in a blindingly white jacket befitting the tropics that have descended on D.C.

But what ATM was curious about is how Frum, lawyer-schooled-journalist-resumed-formerly-White-House-employed, turned being suddenly on the outside into something of a personal media empire. His website, Frum Forum, has become the voice of the less uncompromising (but not necessarily moderate) right, he is omnipresent as a political analyst for CNN, he gives about 20 speeches a year and he is finishing up his 7th book – this latest one a novel about D.C.

In the age of the new media, Frum has done what so many are trying unsuccessfully to do. He has created an identity on the web, attracted readers and kept people’s attention.

And he doesn’t want to talk about it.

“Media is the plural of medium. Medium is just the conduit. It is like wanting to talk about electricity – you want to talk about where it comes from and how; not about the poles and pylons. We are pylons.”

Instead, what Frum wants to talk about is his fear; his fear that well-meaning people in power are about to drive this nation off a cliff.

“Frum Forum is not about making money, it is not about me. It is about responsibility. My goal is to be heard. We have the responsibility to be heard. To be part of the conversation. And I think we are.”

For an hour, despite repeated determined ATM attempts to steer the conversation to his journalism pedigree (he worked as a freelance writer in Canada, as an editorial editor for the Wall Street Journal and is the son of one of Canada’s most famous journalists), Frum deflects the attention from himself to why he is doing all this media.

Each thrust at discussing his empire is parried into a guided tour of some of today’s most intransigent political issues adding shades of grey and the occasional primary color to the issues being hashed out in public in black and white. Global distribution of wealth is indeed skewing to the ultra-rich. That is wrong but just taxing the ultra rich will not work because they will always find a way around it. Rather than take away from one side let’s find a way to help the other – for example in the last 20 years we have reduced crime plaguing the poorest citizens. Today’s financial issues stem not from war but from the voracious leveraging a relatively few bad loans (multiple bets being made on the same few chips). Unfair to blame Obama for the economic woes even if you don’t like how he is handling them. The country is not as partisan as it seems – the current angry tone is rather the product of Congressional rule changing and gerrymandering. Our system of government cannot work if the “opposition” just exists to oppose. Party affiliation should play no role in local community politics; candidates should stand on their personal integrity.

For the self-made outsider (“I am still firmly a Republican”) who put the words into the mouth of a president so loathed by many, here was the surprisingly considered discourse that we all claim we pine for. In Frum’s world, those who disagree are not depicted as lepers to be despised or worse and hence banished to a desolate wilderness; rather their ideas might be viewed as wrong but not mean-spirited.

“Are you at least having fun?”

There is a pause on this. The thought of fun seems to have not occurred to Frum. A journalist turned pol who is now the journalist-pol, why wouldn’t this be fun? He has a website, a following, a voice that is being heard, if not always welcomed. The pause lasts a bit longer as he seems to search for something hidden in a corner.

“Our current situation is too perilous to be having fun.”

Frum seems to have forgotten that today’s evolving new media has reached a stage of the cult of personality where individual Twitter feeds, blogs and even by-lines are increasingly about the self. And his self has a higher profile today than ever before, partly because he seems to relish sticking his finger in so many eyes. Yes, that should be fun.

And yet there is the distinct sense that Frum would be just as happy, perhaps happier, if he didn’t think his voice was needed quite as much right now.

Web 2.0, I remember that…

It was not so long ago that the buzz in media was all about Web 2.0 – the sharing, the interactivity. It seemed so stimulus-fresh. And now, like the stimulus, it now seems to have been such a good idea – back them. But 2.0 doesn’t even have a Facebook page! So what is the media buzz now. Web 3.0? Sorry numbers, you are out of fashion, too.

The word today is Mobile. We are, apparently, all Goin’ Mobile. Not just tweets, or texts – everything is mobile. Mobile is your 2.0 “on you.”

And it’s not just the iPad or the tablets or the next generation of smart phones which are really mini-tablets (the new Samsung has a 4.65 inch screen, almost as big as some old televisions…. remember those?). It is what those micro devices do. With new free mobile apps like Audioboo, which allows you to record and post audio or QIK which does the same for video – you are your own walking production studio.

It was barely pre-Obama that “remember when you made calls on a cell phone?” was the “haha” moment. Laugh no more. AT&T’s latest promotion: free calling when you sign up for a texting plan. Texting is where the action is – talking is so Neanderthal (and not worth charging for, apparently). So a thought… just like National Public Radio changed its name to NPR because it is more than radio, perhaps it is just time to drop the phone – as in “Have you seen my new cool Smart?”

And if journalists were not having enough fun over the last few years, this means yet another shift.
Raju Narisetti, managing editor of the Washington Post, noted at recent conference at the University of Maryland that the problem with journalists today is they do not respect the readers. He didn’t mean it in the traditional fashion of “we shall decide what you need to know.” Instead, he was referring to a more sophisticated concept of producing content in a way that reflects how readers are consuming news. His example was a great story with a dynamic opening tale that lost its readers because they had to swipe seven screens before they got to the point of the story.

Some are already predicting that the stationary computer is already obsolete.

But for all us dinosaurs out there, it is good to know we can still roar, even if unconvincingly. In a delicious twist of timing, this Halloween, NBC rose like the undead and inaugurated a new newsmagazine, Rock Center – designed to be a fresh “60 Minutes.” Stacked with a pantheon of legends such as Brian Williams, Ted Koppel and Harry Smith, true giants of the network age, it felt like an old-timers game. They wrote the book – in their day. Note to Mr. Williams: leave the banter to your Twitter.

Comedian/journalist John Stewart turned up for the end of the show and summed it up. “This is why you have test shows.”

But can it go mobile?

The Daily Caller: Leaving Bruises

In the book and then movie Money Ball, a contrarian baseball general manager defies the sport’s orthodoxy to build a winning team, if not a champion team.

Welcome to the journalistic equivalent: the Daily Caller.

Founded by the orthodoxy-dismissing journalist Tucker Carlson, of the old CNN Crossfire, MSNBC and later Dancing with the Stars fame, and his college roommate Neil Patel, the two-year old online publication delights in its sharp elbows and its unconventional style.

Certainly the legacy media reaction – that the Daily Caller is more up-start than Start-Up – couldn’t please its founding figurehead any more. He relishes in discomforting the comfortable, as he did with his hiring six months ago with David Martosko, a man with a blunt style, no formal journalism experience and a track record as a PR hit man for conservative causes. And yet, they both exclaim, look at the numbers. “Somebody out there likes us,” referring to the online unique viewership that has exceeded 3.5 million a month – beating the New Yorker and Vanity Fair.

But what is most interesting about the Caller today is not the is-it-or-is-it-not a right-wing political rag as common consensus proclaims; what is interesting is that it has staked its place on the edge of journalism. From the kinds of stories and the willingness to call out names (the publication is a politically equal-opportunity burner), it has the feeling of a place in a hurry to get some sharper elbows back in the journalism fight.

Its offices in at L and 17 certainly feel like they are in a hurry. The Caller’s home is more bullpen than newsroom, and looks like it was furnished from a used office furniture warehouse, encircled by a few offices and a ping pong room complete with a working keg. It’s the journalistic equivalent of an Internet start-up, which it is – a journalistic Internet-start-up. And just two years in it’s very close to profitability, according to Carlson.

And despite a few regrettable journalistic faux pas, they are pushing themselves onto the dance floor, breaking stories and relishing in doing anything journalistic that will make the old school wince. But in an adamantly journalistic fashion. The focus, editor Martosko says, is to cover politics in a way that non-political junkies will find “compelling.” But the non-journalist Martosko loses that mischievous smile of someone about the pull a prank when he starts to talk about how they do that. While, he says, they are intent on throwing out the old tactics, the Caller is more committed than ever to accuracy and objectivity. Carlson adds “truth and fearless. All, I hope, with a sense of humor.”

Many are not buying it and question the Caller’s term, “objectivity,” (they milked the Congressman Weiner story in a way some called unseemly) and some complain their headlines tend towards the National Enquirer. Tucker dismisses the criticism with “the beauty of journalism is everyone gets to judge and vote with a cursor. And our traffic keeps going up.”

But perhaps the biggest mark they may be arriving at is a recent long, critical article that appeared in the new Beltway bible – the Politico. Better to be attacked than ignored.

There have been mistakes, and Carlson says there will likely be more but they try to correct them as quickly as possible. But so far there have been none of the cataclysmic journalistic disasters of the type that have befallen the Post and the Times over the years and which many in the traditionalist ranks hope befall the Caller.

Some pointed out the staff turnover when Martosko arrived as a sign of real journalists fleeing the sinking ship, but in many ways the former PR-maven seems to embody exactly what Carlson is trying to do. Martosko brings that “make sure it grabs attention” ethos from PR and a guerrilla mentality that the Caller needs to produce more, more quickly. He proudly points at the near empty bullpen as evidence that he reporters and editors are out reporting. (An author’s note – The Daily Caller is a client of the Medill Graduate School of Journalism’s DC News Service where ATM is a professor.)

And Carlson is just getting started. His self-professed grandiose goal is to replace the media that is dying – the average daily newspaper that is “crap.” And this fall, the Caller staffed up a video team that it hopes will add videos as pugilistic as its words.

There are no checked swings from this ball team, and it’s not clear whether Carlson or Martosko would mind if some furniture got broken in the process.

Author’s note: The Daily Caller is a client of the Medill Graduate School of Journalism’s DC News Service where Amos Gelb is a professor.

Ari Shapiro & Pink Martini

If the world had a house band, it would be Pink Martini.

This 12-piece band from Portland can perform in so many languages that it was no surprise when Srgjan Kerim, the former president of the United Nations’ General Assembly, ordered 30 copies of Pink Martini’s second album, “Hang on Little Tomato,” and planned to share it during an official UN meeting.  

Bandleader and pianist, Thomas Lauderdale, says “Pink Martini draws inspiration from the romantic Hollywood musicals of the 1940s or ’50s . . . with a more global perspective.  We write a lot of songs, but we also champion songs like Ernesto Lecuona’s “Andalucia” or “Amado mio” from the Rita Hayworth film “Gilda” or “Kikuchiyo to mohshimasu (My name is Kikuchiyo)” made famous in the 1960s by the great Japanese group Hiroshi Wada & His Mahina Stars. In that sense, we’re a bit like musical archeologists, digging through recordings and scores of years past and rediscovering beautiful songs.”

Lauderdale met China Forbes, Pink Martini’s lead vocalist, while they were both in Harvard.  Three years after graduating, Lauderdale called Forbes who was living in New York City and asked her to join Pink Martini.  They began to write songs together for the band.  Their first song “Sympathique,” with the chorus “Je ne veux pas travailler” (“I don’t want to work”), became an overnight sensation in France and was even nominated for “Song of the Year” at France’s Victoires de la Musique Awards.

“Both China Forbes and I come from multicultural families,” says Lauderdale.  “All of us in Pink Martini have studied different languages as well as different styles of music from different parts of the world.  So, inevitably, because everyone has participated at some point in the writing or arranging of songs, our repertoire is wildly diverse.  At one moment, you feel like you’re in the middle of a samba parade in Rio de Janeiro, and in the next moment you’re in a French music hall of the 1930s or a palazzo in Napoli. It’s a bit like an urban musical travelogue.  We’re very much an American band, but we spend a lot of time abroad.  And, therefore, have the incredible diplomatic opportunity to represent – through our repertoire and our concerts – a broader, more inclusive America, comprised of people of every country, every language, every religion.”

Pink Martini has performed its multilingual repertoire on concert stages and with symphony orchestras throughout Europe, Asia, Greece, Turkey, the Middle East, Northern Africa, Australia, New Zealand and North America.  Pink Martini made its European debut at the Cannes Film Festival in 1997 and its orchestral debut with the Oregon Symphony in 1998 under the direction of Norman Leyden. Since then, the band has gone on to play with more than 25 orchestras around the world, including multiple engagements with the Los Angeles Philharmonic at the Hollywood Bowl, the Boston Pops, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, and the BBC Concert Orchestra in London. 

In 2011, Pink Martini performed at the Kennedy Center and at the Strathmore in Bethesda.  Unfortunately, China Forbes could not make either trips since she was recovering from vocal surgery.  She’s been performing a few shows since then, however, including the time when Pink Martini was on Jay Leno’s show. For most of the year, vocalist Storm Large filled in.  She has the voice worthy of singing the multi-lingual songs that Pink Martini has basically trademarked, and she can grab your attention with her sultry moves and playful old hollywood vibe. Despite their differences in style and personality, Storm Large worked very well on stage with Ari Shapiro.

When Pink Martini performed with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center earlier this year, Ari Shapiro, the White House correspondent for National Public Radio, also made his Washington, D.C., debut.  Shapiro has been moonlighting with the band for the last couple of years.  He is included on the band’s fourth album, “Splendor in the Grass,” as a guest vocalist on the track, “But Now I’m Back,” as well as the band’s holiday album, “Joy to the World”.  When he first glided on stage at the Kennedy Center, there was a bit of surprise from the audience.  “Yes, I am Ari Shapiro,”  he quickly quipped to the crowd. “And you don’t look like what I expected, either.”

While living up in Portland and before he even had a driver’s license, Shapiro actually snuck in to see a Pink Martini performance.  In the following years, Lauderdale heard Shapiro’s voice and invited the reporter to sing with the band.  Shapiro made his on-stage debut at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009.  Being NPR’s White House correspondent surely has its perks like being on Air Force One and spending time with the president. Still, with Shapiro’s GQ looks and silky butter-itone voice, he most definitely belongs on stage.  In an ironic twist, radio killed the video star.

At the Strathmore, Shapiro performed several songs on stage with Storm Large and Portland cantor Ida Rae Cahana.  In addition, Pink Martini also brought out a special guest: Japanese singing legend Saori Yuki, whom Lauderdale introduced as the “Barbra Streisand of Japan.”  And Saori Yuki did not disappoint.  In Pink Martini’s latest album, “1969?, Saori Yuki is the lead singer in most of the songs.  In the album and also during the performance, Saori Yuki sang a Japanese version of “Puff the Magic Dragon” as well as a Japanese version of “White Christmas.” Lauderdale explained that it was only recently that “White Christmas” was allowed to be performed in Japanese.  Considering what happened in Japan in 2011 with the earthquake and that the performance was one week removed from the 70th Anniversary of the Pearl Harbor, the significance of her performance was felt by everyone.

Since 2007, author Walter Grio has raised more than $100,000 through his philanthropy photo project, Shoot for Change, which has benefited numerous nonprofit organizations.  He is a regular attendee at the world renowned Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York, Berlin, and Miami, photographing the fashion runways of many of the top designers in the world.  When he’s not taking photos, he works full time managing software implementations for Oracle.  For the record, he has seen Pink Martini perform in Paris, London, Washington, D.C., Seattle, and in a couple of New Year’s Eve shows in Portland.  He thinks they’re all right.

NPR: Eyes on the Prize

July 26, 2011

There is a new level of irony in Juan-gate at NPR. Senior Vice President for News Ellen Weiss, who spent nearly three decades at NPR, recently “resigned” over the issue, and for CEO Vivian Schiller withholding her bonus. Journalist Juan Williams, whose mishandled firing led to these actions, built a career on brilliant journalism, including a nomination for a Pulitzer and his seminal work on civil rights in “Eyes on the Prize.” The irony is that his case has become a distraction from keeping the eyes on NPR’s true prize.

Lost in the accusations and responses about a news organization gone awry is the bigger existential threat to NPR. Although NPR’s listeners are abundant and loyal (bigger than the combined nightly network broadcasts by some measures), and its endowment flush, we should remember that Vivian Schiller took over an organization with a business model that is fundamentally broken. Schiller’s task is nothing less than reinventing the NPR business.

Here is the problem. NPR is not a broadcaster. For all its own fundraising and other undertakings, it relies heavily on local public radio stations to pay to air its programs. But NPR sees a major part of its future online. Yet if the “big money” broadcasts, such as Morning Edition and All Things Considered, are put live online, then there is no reason for listeners to tune into local stations or their websites to hear them. Obviously, that would eat into the listener loyalty to, say, WAMU (DC’s public radio station) and effect how much listeners will feel compelled to send into the legendary pledge campaigns, which make up a sizable part of their annual budgets and ability to pay NPR’s fees. Furthermore, these local stations control NPR’s board, a development after the stations saved NPR from shutting down in bankruptcy in the 1980s.

Schiller has a history of building new successful media business models, from CNN, to Discovery-Times documentary network, to leading the New York Times newspaper into its current online incarnation. But this is her biggest challenge yet. To be successful at NPR, she needs to find a way to reconcile seeming mutually irreconcilable needs and get the local stations to go along. Withholding her bonus and forcing management changes because of this one personnel issue doesn’t help in that crusade.

NPR has long had a checkered past in its handling of human resource issues. But wherever one stands on Juan-gate, if you are in any way invested in NPR’s existence, there is a far bigger prize to be focused on today. Survival. [gallery ids="99586,104913" nav="thumbs"]

The Player: Linda Levy Grossman

Linda Levy Grossman is reviewing photos for this article with WTOP’s Bob Madigan and me at RIS restaurant. Grossman, the Helen Hayes Awards president and CEO explains one of them.

“We wanted the recipients of the awards to have something that would distinguish them,” she says. “One of the staging assistants brought out Victoria’s Secret bags and I said, ‘I’m going to tell you right now, on behalf of the Helen Hayes awards for all you recipients: you’re all going to get lei’d.’”

Winners received, “lovely 68 cent leis from Oriental Traders – no expense was spared,” she says, as we laugh. “The Victoria’s Secret bag cost more.”

The night when the organization bestows awards on the finest actors in DC – this city’s answer to the Tony’s – is one of Grossman’s most inspiring and challenging ventures. “Immediately after the presentation the curtain comes down and I’m wandering around and hearing people say, ‘Gosh. I wish I had seen that,’” she recalls. “And I ask myself how can we lasso that energy and get them to the theater?”

The evening brings out the verve and creativity with which Grossman pilots the organization at the helm of the region’s performing arts. But it also demonstrates her demanding mission. While she sees more than 100 shows each year, she strives to ensure others also invest their money and time.

The Evolution of Helen Hayes

For the last year and a half, she has been working with consultants on a Compass foundation grant to identify the 27-year-old organization’s true potential. A major focus: to translate her oft-quoted challenge of putting “butts in seats” into a loftier goal of branding. The CEO of two years wants to define Washington theater like Broadway or the West End.

“Before you go to London or New York you think: What am I going to see when I get there,” she says. “Imagine visitors coming here to go to the theater.”

The evolution will encompass changing the communications, strategy, governance, programming, staffing, funding and name of the organization (although the award’s will remain unchanged). It will build on the core functions that have helped expand Washington’s 20 niche theaters to today’s vibrant 79 since she joined Helen Hayes.

Grossman has spent more than two decades supporting the group, including 13 years on the leadership team. Yet she is modest about her accomplishments, unlike her friend and sometime co-worker, Olney Theatre Centre Producing Director Brad Watkins.

“The Helen Hayes Awards have really created the engine for the expansion and growth of the theater industry in Washington DC,” Watkins said in a phone call. “It is that sort of a central linchpin that has given such focus to the arts that allowed companies of varying size to flourish.”

In its new guise, the organization will continue to promote a culture of theatrical excellence and provide a stamp of achievement to those who shine. The $1 million organization will expand their advocacy for the arts, cultivating new audiences and building on an education program that has already introduced 40,000 children in District public schools and Boys & Girls Clubs to the magic of the theater. That project has special resonance with Grossman.

“I respond to that program so personally and am so enthusiastic about it because I was one of those children whose life was literally turned around by a teacher,” she says.

Childhood Dreams

The Baltimore resident aspired to become a pediatrician in the 11th grade, approaching it with trademark, if misdirected, enthusiasm.

“I was the poster child for future doctors of America,” she announces. “I volunteered in hospitals, I was a candy striper, I audited classes in medical school, I saw surgeries.” Yet despite flagging interest and dropping math and chemistry grades, she didn’t know how to alter her ambition. That changed when one class she enrolled in was filled and she was reassigned to a speech class.

“That was a pivotal moment in my entire life,” Grossman says. Ms. Ann-Michelle Bennett, the speech and drama teacher, saw potential in the shy and awkward teenager. She assigned Grossman to stage manage all the year’s productions. The newly directed and confident Grossman followed her idol to Emerson College, graduating with a degree in theater.

She came to DC after graduating, joining Harlequin Dinner Theatre a few years later. She worked long hours as she promoted the local touring company, living in a Germantown condominium development on a cul-de-sac with three coworkers.

“Linda was a culinary genius,” Watkins recalls. “Every now and then she would make wonderful, incredibly complex dinners that were far beyond what our unsophisticated palates could appreciate. We thought we were Knot’s Landing.”

The Harlequin led to other jobs, and she eventually ended up freelancing at the Helen Hayes. Over the years, Grossman has done virtually every backstage task—building sets, running light boards, stage managing, hanging lights and sewing costumes—as well as all deskwork, from communication to development.

Not surprisingly, Grossman exposed her son Benjamin to the theater at an early age. But her aspirations for him revolved around her desire for devoted care and the continued status as the most important woman in his life.

“I wanted him to be a gay dentist,” she quips. “He assures me he’s going to be neither, to which I say take a knife and stick it in my heart and turn it.”

Four years ago, after stage managing Shakespeare productions at Imagination Stage, Benjamin applied to the Baltimore School for the Arts, making his ambitions clear.

“I thought he would be an audience member,” she says. But Benjamin corrected her misconceptions.

“You’ve been taking me to the theater since I was two,” he told her. “You honestly think it wouldn’t have taken?”

True Appeal and Potential

To make it ‘take’ for others, she has to win time from popular and often heavily marketed pursuits like Facebook, television and movies. As she puts it, a theater ticket is “a purchase that is perceived to be risky, that is perceived to be expensive, that’s perceived to be something that ‘if I don’t like it, it’s two hours I am never going to get back.’”
However, she is working to combat this stigma. “There are phenomenal ticketing opportunities. It’s incredibly accessible. It’s two hours – take a risk. It’s not electronic. It’s alive, it’s real and it’s true.”

For some people, plays already hold huge appeal. Surveys show that theater and art attendance tends to be shaped like an hourglass: more shows in the later teens and 20s, a drop as people raise families, and a resurgence as they come back in their 50s and 60s. The graying of the audience is a helpful trend for theater.

But young audiences are a challenge, as education programs demonstrate. “When we talk to kids, we say, ‘Who has been in a theater?’ All the hands go up. Great. Tell me what you saw…and they refer to various movies.

“Then we ask, ‘Who’s seen live theater with real people on a stage acting out a story, a play, a musical?’… Not one.” But programs that go behind the scenes generate long-term enthusiasm from these first-time audiences.

Grossman would rather “under-promise and over-deliver” on the new organization. Yet she dreams about its potential impact.

“It could double the number of people who are currently in Washington theaters from 2 million to 4 million,” she says. “It could provide health insurance for actors and artists. It could more efficiently connect the about 130 education programs that are offered by area theaters with kids in area schools through the region who desperately need them.”

She pauses as she searches for a sufficiently dramatic word. “It could be dazzling.”

Click here to listen to the interview with Linda Levy-Grossman
February 23rd Interview with The Player Linda Levy-Grossman by Bob Bob Madigan, WTOP Radios Man About Town 103.5 FM