Sunday, April 19, 2009

Lack of Funding Limits Libraries

BY Katie Burns-Yocum

Washington D.C., libraries are in financial crisis and there is no longer adequate funding in the city budget one citizen told Mayor Adrian Fenty at the Dupont Circle Citizen’s Association monthly meting.

Despite the day of snow and ice, the March 2 meeting of the DCCA was still held at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Dupont.

“If we can’t keep them open, why are we building more?” Dupont resident, Robin Diener asked.

Diener is executive director of the D.C. Library Renaissance Project. According to the organization’s website,, the purpose of the DC LRP is to generate support for the D.C. library system and hold it to higher standard.

The district’s libraries are facing a shortfall between capital funds, used for construction and building projects, and operational funds, used to pay salaries.

As a result, many libraries have had to shorten the number of hours they are open in the morning, when school groups visit.

Diener suggested using volunteers in the mornings so that the libraries could stay open. According to Diener, Volunteers from Friends of the Library would “lay down their lives to help the library.”

But, according to Diener, chief librarian Gennie Cooper does not want to use volunteers to fill in hours that payroll is unable to cover. This makes libraries less available to the public and gives them a harder time fulfilling their role as “partners in education.” Diener did not explain Cooper’s opposition to using volunteers.

“The libraries have no money,” said Diener, citing four libraries that closed in 2004. “We have to take action.”

Many libraries only need historical renovations to remain opened. Historical renovations entail any necessary renovations to meet safety codes, while preserving the historic structure and aesthetics of the building.

There are three libraries that require these renovations, including the Georgetown library, according to Diener. Instead these building are closed and new ones are built despite the lack of funds.

Fenty called part of this library problem a “struggle to keep funding,” meaning that the city has to take the funding allotted for libraries and use for another project, such as street repairs. At one point there was $2 million available for the district’s public libraries. He said this money is no longer available.

According to Jack Evans, Ward 2 councilmember, the city had $191 million in surplus last fiscal year. The city’s fiscal year runs from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1. Evans said the city will have a predicted $750 million shortfall for the next fiscal year. “We will have to tighten our belts,” he said.

According to Evans, the budget’s focus will be on the “school system, public safety, and human services,” such as Medicare and Medicaid.

On other topics, Fenty said that a seat in the House of Representatives would take the district’s ability to “barter one step further.” Currently, the district does not have representation in either house of Congress, where decisions concerning taxes are made. This would give the district a voice in the government.

Success in gaining a seat in the House will give the “opportunity and momentum to go after two senators,” said Fenty. The speed at which this possibility is moving closer to reality is “encouraging.”

Another topic that raised questions was the “rooftop robber” in Dupont Circle. Two police officers were present to address the issue and provide residents with tips to protect their homes, including advising residents to install a lock or alarm on attic windows.

Since Dec. 5, over 20 burglaries have occurred in the 1700 block between P Street and V Street. The burglar gains access through unsecured attics and skylights between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. There has been one arrest in the case, but the robberies continue.

The DCCA holds meetings the first Monday of each month at 7:30 p.m. in a different location in Dupont Circle. All meetings are listed on the website


Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Where Have All the Washington Watchdogs Gone?

by Katie Burns-Yocum

Many of the “Washington watchdogs” – journalists who cover the White House, Congress and federal agencies -- have left the kennel because of budget cuts and the changing focus of the media , panelists at American University said Tuesday night.

On Feb. 17, AU’s School of Communications and WAMU 88.5 FM teamed up to co-produce American Forum “Washington Watchdogs: An Endangered Species?”

The forum, which works to uncover under-reported, over-looked issues involving the media, features panelists from across the journalism spectrum, but all agreed that the job of journalists covering Washington politics is “holding the feet [of politicians] to the fire.”

The Forum, which was covered by live bloggers and students tweeting, or updating their Twitters, was also broadcast on WAMU 88.5 FM as well as live on CSPAN.

Since 1985, the number of regional newspapers with bureaus in Washington, D.C., has declined by fifty percent according to moderator Wendell Cochran, an SOC professor.

Suzanne Struglinski, senior editor of Provider magazine and former Washington, D.C., correspondent for the Deseret News, said, “There is a lack of background without Washington bureaus.”

“There is no replacement for eyewitness journalism,” said Melinda Wittstock, founder and CEO of Capitol News Connection, an independent news service. “It’s about being in the room. You miss something when you do not have someone on the ground. You can’t understand the context.”

Mark Whitaker, Washington bureau chief and senior vice president for NBC News, said that news outlets without Washington bureaus have readers who will have trouble “understanding the implications as to what events in Washington mean to them.”

Many correspondents sent to Washington by small regional papers have had their “bureaus closed out from under them,” according to Tyler Marshall, journalist and writer who recently completed a study for the Project for Excellence in Journalism called, “The New Washington Press Corps.”

Marshall cited three trends in his study. He said the first is that the staff levels at mainstream media outlets are declining sharply. The second is that the Washington Press Corps is changing form to niche media and the third is the increase in foreign press in Washington.

He said there are more than 1,400 members of the Foreign Press Center. The FPC helps foreign media cover the U.S. and promotes “the depth, accuracy, and balance of foreign reporting from the U.S., by providing direct access to authoritative American information sources,” according to their website, .

People are focusing more on specific issues and beginning to form what is called niche media. According to one student, the problem arises when there in an imbalance because niche media tends to be biased.

The reason for the loss of many Washington bureaus boils down to a “line on an accounting page,” according to Struglinski, who is one of the correspondents whose bureau was closed.

Panelists also discussed the decline in readership of newspapers. Many newspapers are losing readership to online papers which have become increasingly popular.

Whitaker said the rise of the internet has led newspapers to give their content away free online. He blames the availability of free content for “the deterioration of the business model” that traditionally charged for content and advertising.

Facebook, a popular social networking site, has over two million members, yet no one will pay to use it. This is similar to the problems face by the online branches of newspapers. “Someone still has to pay for it,” said Wittstock.

Blogs also contribute to the decline in the number of watchdogs in Washington, the panelists said. “Blogs are not going anywhere,” said Struglinski. “Papers need to figure out how to use it.”

Papers are working to adapt to the changing lifestyles of their audiences. “We are an increasingly video-driven culture,” according to Whitaker. “Video gets good print to a larger audience.”

“People are always going to need the news,” Hilary Leister, a print journalism major at AU, said in response to the panelists’ comments. “They will probably just get it from different places.”

“Journalism and viewers deserve more than a podcast,” Struglinski said of trend of newspapers going predominantly online. Whitaker said his main worry is about the decrease in the number of traditional, experienced reporters as the mainstream media comes under increasing financial pressures.

The panelists also gave the students in the audience some advice to help them be better prepared journalists. Struglinski said students need to “have strong interview skills and basic reporting skills.” Whitaker said that students should develop their multimedia skills, but not to let their writing skills suffer.

“Journalists have to be able to write, edit, blog and tweet,” said Whitaker, referring to the microblogging site, Twitter. “We all need to embrace new forms of media without sacrificing time to gather information.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Opening Night at the Opera

First Broadcast assignment.
Slug: Opera Opening
Story Type: VO/SOT
Reporter: Katie Burns-Yocum
Date: 3/14/09

Friday, February 20, 2009

Professor Randall Packer Talks Opera and Multimedia

By Katie Burns-Yocum

Many people might not see the connection between a classical composer and the virtual computer world, but both play a huge role in the up and coming field of multimedia art.

One who can see this connection is former composer Randall Packer, the program coordinator and assistant professor of the multimedia art program at American University.

Packer is the author of Multimedia: From Wagner to Virtual Reality, one of the top texts internationally for teaching multimedia arts.

“Opera is the oldest, most advanced form of multimedia,” says Packer. “It combines all the arts: music, dance, and theater.” This is a connection no one else saw according to Packer.

“My thesis was never considered before I wrote this book,” said Packer. “Now there are lots of scholars and artists who have embraced this idea.”

Packer’s office in the Katzen Arts Center is organized chaos. It is filled with three Macintosh computers, a table and file cabinet covered with papers and books. It has a window looking out on the second-floor art studios.

Since the multimedia art specialization is interdisciplinary, Packer is the only professor in this area and his students take classes in other departments including the School of Communications and other courses in the art department.

A graduate of UC Berkley with a Ph.D. in music composition, he began as a composer before becoming interested in the technology available to artists.

After 20 years of combining his musical interests with other media in different ways, he discovered that he was working in an area called multimedia.

After moving from California to Washington, D.C., in 2000, Packer began to explore the role of artists in political and social arenas, leading to the formation of the U.S. Department of Art and Technology, a fake government agency which exists only in virtual reality.

The USDAT “supports the idealized definition of the artist as one whose reflections, ideas, aesthetic, sensibilities, and abilities can have significant and transformative impact on the world stage,” according to Packer’s website

This project produced published articles, videos and live performances, and media installations around the world. One project was the USDAT Visitor Center in the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in fall 2003.

For the past five years, Packer has worked at AU to redesign the multimedia arts program, a new addition to the art department, to better teach multimedia history and aesthetics with multimedia techniques.

He said he wanted the program to become an integral part of the department’s interdisciplinary approach to art.

“I’d like to see that interdisciplinary approach go even beyond the arts and incorporate technology, political science, communication, and international relations,” he said in an April 2007 article in The American Weekly.

Despite spending most of his time teaching, Packer finds time to make his own art, including new art instillations.

“It’s not always easy” he said. “I try to involve my own work in teaching, try out ideas. I try to share my scholarship and research with my students.”

His work is mainly concerned with how individuals and the world they live in is influenced and impacted by new media forms.

“We live in a world permeated with media,” said Packer. “My courses give a view on the world that is good for understanding the world we live in.”

Packer sent all of his undergraduate multimedia students to the inauguration of President Obama on Jan. 20 and had them use the social networking site Twitter to communicate with one another and document the event.

They shared the experience technologically by documenting their individual experiences through Twitter and pictures to be brought together and presented as a dialogue.

“This assignment embodied multimedia art in that an experience was shared and interpreted collaboratively using technology and expressed collectively as composition,” said multimedia student Samuel Lavine. “Through this technological forms of communication were utilized to compose art.”

Packer said gaining a” critical and aesthetic understanding of the medium” and his approach can be a challenge for his students.

According to Packer, the key when helping students who are having trouble in one of his multimedia classes is to “make sure that they don’t give up. That’s the obstacle. They have to keep working at it.”

Packer teaches a General Education course titled The Artist’s Perspective: Multimedia and many of the students in his class have little or no art background.

These students have “so much energy,” says Packer. “They are much more enthusiastic and open to technology. They are eager to learn.”

Packer said he wished that more of the university’s students would explore multimedia art courses, which combine culture, history, theory, and technology.

But Packer said he does not simply want his students to interact with media; he wants them to become a critical part of it. This is practiced in the classroom according to graduate student Carolina Puente.

“My favorite part of his class is learning about new media artist and responding to their work through critical analysis,” she said.

Packer also challenges his students through having them do “criticism for new media artists and documenting their exhibitions,” said Puente.

“Some things he would describe as art or performance seem a bit of a stretch on the words,” said one of Packer’s General Education students.

According to Packer, one of his favorite things about teaching is “getting students excited about something they haven’t done before.”

Packer said he wants his students to appreciate art through the knowledge of and use of technology. He wants them to understand the aesthetic and philosophical implications of art as well.

“I have been able to experiment with photography and poetry, film and music, all in the context of using a computer as an artistic tool,” said Lavine.

For Randall Packer multimedia art, creating it and teaching it is like “opening up whole new world that turns everyday kinds of experiences into something creative.”


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

McCain Supporters Embrace Obama

Inaug McCain
By Katie Burns-Yocum

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Even John McCain supporters converged upon the National Mall Tuesday, saying they believed Barack Obama’s inauguration as president was an important time for national unity.

Obama’s Inauguration Weekend, which spanned from Jan. 18 -20, was attended by a record 1.8 million people.

Many McCain supporters watched or attended the event. According to Courtney Klamar, a McCain supporter at American University, she attended President Obama’s inauguration because “this is a once in a lifetime experience, I want to be able to look back and say I was there. It’s a part of history.”

“Even people who don’t like Obama are excited,” said Sarah McGhee, a sophomore at American University. “This is a huge step for America; all this support even though they don’t agree with his message.”

Stephanie Scroggs, an Obama supporter and inaugural attendee, said that “McCain supporters are probably feeling sad but embracing this momentous occasion.”

One of these supporters embracing the occasion is Klamar. She said, “The current spirit of the country is not healthy. This inauguration symbolizes a new spirit for the country.”

“This is exciting, regardless of your ideals,” said American University freshman and McCain supporter, William Noel. “There’s an energetic spark in the city.”

Noel, who posted the Gallup Poll in his window daily, did not go to the event. He decided to stay away from the crowds and watch the live broadcast because the view would be better.

One McCain supporter wanted to attend, but stayed on the American University campus to cover shifts at the front desk in his residence hall. “It’s not out of bitterness, just helping out,” said Shane Carley, an American University student.

One of the largest groups present at the ceremony was that of the youth vote. “If it was McCain’s inauguration, there would certainly not be as many students,” said Carley.

“Maybe the same amount of people would be here if it was McCain’s inauguration, but Obama is a rock star. He unites people. People are here for Obama, not the inauguration,” said Klamar.

During the election, many Republicans felt that the media was too kind to Obama, yet Noel felt that in this instance all the press attention was “great, this is a big event, it’s a good thing, not negative.” Carley agreed, saying, “It’s their job.”

Despite differences in fundamental philosophies, McCain supporters do not wish any harm to the new president. Many felt that the high level of security was necessary.

Carley felt that the security precautions were necessary regardless of who was being inaugurated. “Having a president assassinated would be one of the worst things that could possibly happen in this country,” he stated.

According to Klamar the party change is not the main reason for the magnitude of Obama’s inauguration.

“It has nothing to do with political party,” she said. “Political parties are no longer the source of hope or change; the candidates are.”

Carley disagreed saying, “the fact that a Democratic president has been elected after a long and unsuccessful Republican tenure is significant.”

“The fact that he is a Democrat and thus at least has different fundamental philosophies is a significant change in itself,” Carley added. “Given the situation in which the country finds itself, that alone is important.”

This inauguration has rallied so much support “because of the difficulties and disappointment of the last eight years,” according to McGhee.

McGhee said that she would still attend the inauguration if it was for McCain because it would still be important to the country.


Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Inaugural Photographs

While at the We Are One concert, Presidential Inauguration, and Inaugural Ball I attended, I focused on getting pictures that other students might not be able to get. I had tickets to all three events, which gave me a view that other students did not have.

At the We Are One concert, I got a picture looking back on the crowd that stretched the length of the National Mall from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument. The view I had from the viewing stands provided me with this shot.

At the Presidential Inauguration, I wanted to get pictures of the people there which is where I saw the father with is two children. Since I did not have a direct view of the Capitol, I had to rely on the giant screens for close-up and birds-eye shots.

At the Inaugural Ball I attended, I stood pressed against a barricade for almost two hours so that I could get a close-range picture of President Obama and the First Lady.