2007_05_gary_baumgarten.jpgEveryday at 5 PM EST, Peabody award winning journalist Gary Baumgarten sits down with the likes of Arianna Huffington, Dr. Keith Ablow, and Mia Farrow for a one on one discussion. But this isn't for TV or the Radio, it's for Paltalk's News Talk Online , a web based talk show that allows listeners from all over the world to get the answers they want by asking the questions themselves.

How did you get involved with Paltalk?
Six or seven years ago I was doing a series of stories for CNN Radio about free stuff on the Internet. Paltalk happened to be located a block from the CNN studio. I walked over and interviewed the founder and CEO, Jason Katz. I liked him and the program so much that we quickly became friends and he made me the system's volunteer ombudsman, helping users resolve interpersonal relations on Paltalk and cutting through customer service red tape.

We've been talking for quite sometime about me bringing content to the program because, like everyone else in the "old" media, I believed the Internet to be the new frontier. Paltalk is this huge community of 4 million unique users who create their own virtual auditoriums to use video, text and voice chat to discuss anything of interest. When Jason decided it was time to bring in professionally generated content as well, he offered me this position as news and programming director, and I decided to take the leap from CNN to Paltalk.

What do you hope to achieve with Paltalk?
I think it's very unfortunate that too many political and religious leaders of the world are shouting at one another and calling each other names, rather than working for commonality to avert conflict. On Paltalk, the people they profess to represent get to circumvent those leaders and their agendas and talk with one another directly. I don't expect people to necessarily agree with one another, but I'd like to provide a forum where they get to know, and at least understand, each other's positions.

How would you assess the modern state of journalism?
It's in transition. Newspapers now publish online. They no longer hire still photographers. Instead they employ "multi-media experts" and equip them with video cameras.
The Internet's also forcing news organizations to re-assess their story coverage. News outlets are critiqued constantly and immediately. People who otherwise wouldn't have voices can communicate to people all around the world, which is good for the news media because it forces continued re-evaluation of story selection and the product that's produced.

I'm actually optimistic that, because of this, the quality of mainstream journalism will improve, although they'll have to compete for audiences, which can result in continuing diminishing numbers of readers, viewers and listeners.

What are some issues that you are passionate about that you would like to bring to the attention of Gothamist's readers?
Free expression has always been my passion and continues to be. Paltalk gives me an opportunity to encourage others to express themselves. Anyone can open a room and give his or her opinion on pretty much any topic, so long as they don't threaten or advocate violence. We should as a global community be encouraging more exchanges of ideas like this.

How can the Internet be used as an instrument of positive change?
The Internet allows for people working on socially redeeming projects to get the word out. We had a guy on my show who is passionate about his cause, eradicating malaria in Africa. I don't think most people in my audience were aware that children die in large numbers from a disease we in the developed world thought had been wiped out long ago. When he said that you can save two African children from death with a $5 contribution for a medicated mosquito netting to cover them at night, the audience responded by making donations. They never would have contributed had they not learned of the issue on the Internet.

Please share your strangest "only in New York" story.
While at CNN Radio I went to interview three transsexual showgirls who were fired from their jobs at Twilo's Nightclub (now closed) because their equipment wasn't original. The interview took place in their lawyer's office, who told them I was coming from CNN. They, of course, assumed that meant CNN TV.

So when I show up for the interview, they are dressed in their nighttime finest. And I mean FINE. But they were really unnerved by the fact that I hadn't brought a camera.
The interview was fast becoming a disaster, so when the dancer sitting closest to me said, "So we got dressed up for nothing?" I responded, "Girl, I thought you got dressed like that for ME!"

We all had a great laugh, which broke the ice, and it serves as one of the most memorable interviews I've ever conducted. It got great play the next morning on CNN Radio too!

Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Maybe this is because of my news background, but I'd say Walter Cronkite comes immediately to mind for the standard he set while at CBS News. And Tony Bennett, who, I believe, recognizes his place as the most important living representative of his musical generation.

Given the opportunity, how would you change New York?
Get rid of the private cars on Manhattan! Make New York pedestrian and bicycle friendly!

What's your idea of a perfect day of recreation in New York?
I love walking along the Hudson River. The linked series of parks showed great commitment to enhancing New York's quality of life.

Best cheap eat in the city.
Cheyenne Diner on 9th Ave and 33rd St. Hands down.

Catch Gary and News Talk Online every weekday at 5 PM EST.