Doug Ramsey (BA, 1956) hits high note in journalism

By Simone Willynck –

Doug RamseyThroughout his life, Doug Ramsey (BA, 1956) has followed the journalism career path. He’s had many different experiences and opportunities that led him toward that field ranging from writing a history paper in eighth grade to managing an armed forces radio station to creating a popular jazz blog. The variety of jobs Ramsey has encountered has taught him, and helped him in teaching others, the value of high standards involved in journalistic writing.

Growing up in Wenatchee, Ramsey’s interest with journalism started at a young age. In eighth grade his assignment was to “find a story” and write about it. Ramsey decided to write about the man who invented the Tucker automobile, who so happened to be in Wenatchee at the time. After turning in the report, his teacher told him, “You should think about being a reporter.”

At the same time, Ramsey was growing fond of jazz music, with two legends living in his town; Don Lanphere and Jack Brownlow. The music inspired him to begin playing the trumpet at age 14; an interest that would prove to have a profound impact on his career, later in life.

Ramsey began his pursuit for a career in journalism as a freshman at the University of Washington. It was here at the Department of Communication that he learned to understand and value high standards in journalism through the teachings of inspirational professors.

At the UW, Ramsey served as Senior Class President and was involved with The Daily. With this immersion into a print journalism career, Ramsey found his passion for reporting. He incorporated his passion of jazz music into his writing.

After graduating from the UW in 1956, Ramsey was fortunate to find a job as a reporter at The Seattle Times. But fewer than two years after getting this job, Ramsey decided to leave The Times to go into the Marine Corps. “This is during the era of where if you didn’t join something, you were drafted,” he said.

Ramsey excelled in the Marine Corps and soon became a second lieutenant, assigned to a helicopter squadron in Japan. Then, out of the blue, Ramsey was assigned to manage an armed forces radio station in Japan. This unexpected opportunity changed Ramsey’s outlook on his career after his tour. “That is when I really fell in love with broadcasting as a form of journalism,” he said. Once his tour was up, Ramsey began searching for a job in broadcast.

Over the years, Ramsey found himself in many different positions in the newsroom. He worked as anchor, reporter, director, producer, and chief correspondent. In Yakima, he served as an anchor and news director in 1960; he worked as an anchor in Portland in 1963, and again in New York in 1970; in 1973 he was a chief correspondent in Washington, D.C. He quickly moved up in his career, becoming a news director in 1975, maintaining that title from San Antonio to New Orleans to San Francisco.

Ramsey recalls some highlights from his career, like traveling with President Richard Nixon while he was Chief Correspondent in Washington, D.C., and rebuilding a television news department from the ground up. He also became Senior Vice President for the Foundation for American Communications where he was in charge of educating professional journalists. With this organization, he taught what he found to be important aspects of journalism, helping people understand public policy issues and the news process of sources in business, the independent sector and government. Ramsey said this was the greatest satisfaction he got from his work in journalism.

Throughout his career, Ramsey has incorporated his love for jazz into numerous pieces of writing. He’s become an award-winning author on the topic, receiving the Lifetime Achievement award from the Jazz Journalist Association in 2003. His two books are Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond, published in 2005, and Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, published in 1989.

Ramsey has also become a popular blogger. The idea came about during a lunch with friends in 2005. Ramsey was meeting with his publisher and mentioned the minimal outlets available for jazz writing. His friend Terry Teachout, the drama critic for the Wall Street Journal, suggested that Ramsey create a jazz blog. His blog Rifftides has been active and buzzing ever since. In 2010, it was voted the blog of the year by the international membership of the Jazz Journalists Association. Along with working on his blog, Ramsey also continues to write pieces for The Wall Street Journal and other publications.

His contributions to news and jazz journalism make him an exceptionally inspirational alumnus of the Department of Communication. But Ramsey said he hasn’t reached complete success. “I am a perpetual student. I have always tried to learn to be better in whatever it is I am doing.”