Raúl Moreno '03
Giving voice to news that flies under the radar.
It is summer 2004. The 9-11 Commission is about to release its final report, claiming that a "failure of imagination" across the U.S. government resulted in the terrorist hijackings that killed 2,752 Americans. In Washington, D.C., at the headquarters of National Public Radio (NPR), Willamette graduate and NPR intern Raúl Moreno is working as a production assistant for a radio news special, "The 9-11 Commission: An Audio Chronicle."
"I gathered scores and scores of transcripts of the different witnesses that appeared before the commission," Moreno recalls. He lists officials from the FBI and CIA, former counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke, and then-National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice as just a few of the voices he worked on. Then, after a moment's pause, he remembers one more voice. "My favorite piece of tape came from President Bush talking with reporters in Ft. Hood, Texas, about a classified memo," Moreno says. "I had to laugh because he was fighting to be heard over birds. I mean, these birds were really loud."
Moreno, who graduated in 2003 with a major in rhetoric and media studies, is quick to point out that behind most news flashes, there are rich, intriguing and often quirky "back-stories" to learn. And the complexities and subtleties of news stories are precisely what Moreno is studying today as a second-year master's student at Washington State University's Edward R. Murrow School of Communication. His dream is to establish himself in a public radio news beat such as environmental reporting and, hopefully, pursue a career at NPR.
The dynamic, unpredictable nature of producing news has long exhilarated Moreno. Sometimes, he points out, laughing, even the most insignificant experiences can be thrilling. Near the end of the 9-11 Commission hearings, after getting another round of coffee for NPR staffers, Moreno was suddenly tasked with dragging aside former Deputy Attorney General and 9-11 Commissioner Jaime Gorelick for a phone interview. Plowing through a mob of anxious reporters, Moreno managed to usher Gorelick into a side room. Waiting back in the studio was NPR's All Things Considered host Melissa Block, and their conversation made that evening's program within minutes.
A native Washingtonian, Moreno grew up listening to NPR's Morning Edition. When asked where his love of public radio stems from, he says "radio is much more honest than other mediums."
If you put NPR alongside television news, Moreno thinks one can see just how much more sophisticated public radio news is. "It (public radio) has simplicity, but it's not simplistic," he says. "When you take away the visual picture, you have to be that much better at crafting a story."
Moreno supposes that he first became interested in journalism in high school, when he wrote a report about news coverage of a plane crash in the Florida Everglades. At Willamette, he wrote opinion columns and news articles for the campus newspaper, The Collegian, a job that involved interviews with campus guest Desmond Tutu as well as African American studies scholar and prolific writer Dr. Manning Marable.
Willamette courses in creative nonfiction and rhetorical analysis further developed Moreno's interest in resonant narratives - particularly their power in public radio. "We are all storytellers," Moreno says. And in making his case for the unique qualities of radio journalism, he asks, "Who's crafting the best stories out there?" He answers his own question with hardly a pause: "NPR is."
Moreno is convinced that radio is the best profession - if not for everyone, at least for him. He's neither tied down to a desk nor encumbered by cameras and bright lights. He enjoys a little bit of traveling and a good deal of writing, meeting interesting people and following stories that impact people's everyday lives. "You connect with someone," Moreno says, "and try to understand an issue from their perspective."
Today, at Washington State, Moreno is writing his master's thesis. It's a narrative analysis of news coverage of the death of Army Sgt. Jacob Demand, a native of Palouse, Wash., who perished in the Iraq war. "I'm interested in how this story relates to nationalism," Moreno says. "Perhaps stories like this help little-known communities feel nationally identified. I want to explore how Jacob Demand might have become emblematic for the people of Palouse."
In summer 2005, Moreno will receive his master's degree and, hopefully, be accepted to a fellowship program or entry-level position in public radio. He is currently a top-10 finalist for the prestigious Kroc Fellowship, a nine-month training program at NPR that concludes with a three-month-long position at a member station.
Whether or not Moreno wins the Kroc Fellowship, one thing seems certain: His love for radio journalism will continue to be personally and professionally rewarding. He has carved himself a unique niche in the broadcasting field and, with his passion for "not-so-hot-and-sexy news," he may just become one of public radio's finest correspondents.
"I want to turn complex, underreported issues like algae blooms or the glassification of nuclear waste into compelling narratives - radio stories that raise eyebrows and stop people in their tracks, what NPR calls a 'driveway moment.'"
Oh yeah, Raúl says, one more thing: "Have you contributed to your local public radio station?"
Story by Adrienne Davich '05