Goodbye Mr. Chips

The Mr Stiles-Chips tribute. Like that scene at the end of A Beautiful Mind, but instead of pens, chips.

The Mr Stiles-Chips tribute. Like that scene at the end of A Beautiful Mind, but instead of pens, chips.

Everyone should be congratulating me today, because starting next week, I will no longer have to work with my husband! We have worked together at two different news organizations now, from 2009-2011 at The Texas Tribune, and after that, here at NPR.  Now he’s leaving me (professionally) and  joining The Wall Street Journal‘s Washington bureau, as a data reporter on their economics team. After being a data editor and news apps creator for the past couple of years, he’s eager to do some beat reporting again.  He is awesome at it — a few months ago a Texas state lawmaker came to visit me at NPR and he ducked to avoid Stiles cause he’s still scared of him.

Anyway, the goodbye note from our boss, Scott, ended this way:

“Matt has worked on numerous interactive projects. Some highlights include a crowd-sourced directory of playgrounds designed for children with disabilities, an interactive that detailed the damage caused by the 2013 Oklahoma tornado and a database of workers killed in grain bins throughout the United States. He  has also championed data-related tools and training for the newsroom.

The list of Matt’s projects is impressive, but it doesn’t entirely capture the value he’s brought to the newsroom and the network. He’s played a vital role in our evolution as a news organization of real depth and expertise in the visual presentation of information. He’s not a spread sheet guy but a very fine reporter who has helped a whole bunch of people at NPR and in our member station universe think differently about their work and what’s possible in their work.”

As for his teammates, the legacy Stiles will leave behind is his inscrutable personality and dark sense of humor. Basically, the opposite of Mr. Chips. Incidentally, Stiles does actually LOVE potato chips. So as a tribute, his teammate Claire O’Neill arranged for his friends to bring bags of chips to pile onto the News Apps table all morning.

“It’ll be like that scene at the end of A Beautiful Mind when all the professors give Russell Crowe their pens. Except better because instead of pens … it’s chips.”

Congratulations, Mr Chips-Stiles.

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Goodbye to Emily, One of My Fave (and Best) Interns

I have a long and storied history with journalism interns. Back when I started as a beat reporter at age 21, sometimes sources would confuse me for the intern, and the intern for the reporter.

During the Texas Tribune early days, “Dan the Intern” became a real team member, so much so that I worked him into my The Office parody video to introduce the TT.

But then, Dan The Intern got back at me by calling me out in the very first HuTube vlog.

So, I tend to have a fun time with prodigious and puckish interns. Which brings me to Emily. Emily Siner started as an NPR intern last fall, but graduated to editorial assistant (a much better hourly rate) when we couldn’t afford to lose her when the semester ended. She’s become indispensable in short order, explaining Bitcoin better than I ever could, being a true partner for our online and on-air work and most importantly, always always asking interesting questions about the world. Curiosity — and follow through — are basically the whole game, in journalism. Emily also has a boyfriend named Matt, and y’all know I basically love all Matt’s.

Emily at her final digital news editors meeting.

Emily at her final digital news editors meeting.

Emily is headed to Nashville Public Radio, which means she’s staying in the family and going to eat delicious food. Wishing you many fun and educational adventures, Emily.

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What I’m Reading: SF Struggles, Vonnegut on Marriage, Manly Startups

This morning my new pal Om Malik tweeted out his list of what he’s reading, a list he’s been sharing for quite awhile. I find it really enjoyable, much like I love receiving friend Sean Bonner’s newsletter. The missives are basically his delightful stream-of-consciousness with reading that guides that consciousness.  I used to do some link roundups on this here blog, but have largely abandoned it. I think I’ll try and start it up again. A few of the pieces I read today:

Is San Francisco New York? (New York Magazine, with writing from San Francisco Magazine)

The team at my favorite magazine ever got the help of San Francisco Magazine writers to write a series of dispatches from SF, a city whose tech-boom-2.0-fueled identity crisis seems to foreshadow the kind of struggle America is about to have in a few years. I love the little vignette about ‘founder hounders’ — ladies who seek out tech company founders just before their company’s IPO. Absurd.

Journalism startups full of white men (The Guardian)

The Guardian’s Emily Bell calls out this era of white-men-led news startups, i.e. Nate Silver, Ezra Klein, Glen Greenwald. “The new micro-institutions of journalism already bear the hallmarks of the restrictive heritage they abandoned with such glee,” she writes. Nate Silver recently responded, admitting that 85 percent of his applicants are men and “that worries us.” He follows up by saying, “We’re hiring the best candidate for the position,” which worries me. Because “best” is subjective, and if you extend this defense too far, you could fall into believing a meritocracy myth that is so pervasive in the mega-gender-unbalanced world of tech. I’ve written about that before.

Kurt Vonnegut on Marriage

When a couple has an argument nowadays, they may think it’s about money or power or sex or how to raise the kids or whatever. What they’re really saying to each other, though without realizing it, is this: “You are not enough people!” A husband, a wife and some kids is not a family. It’s a terribly vulnerable survival unit.

This makes a tremendous amount of sense, especially in the face of studies recently that show our expectations of our spouses are higher than ever, which makes marital satisfaction lower. Conclusion: Our spouses can’t be — and shouldn’t be — our everything. I maintain that the key to success in my own marriage is the tremendous amount of freedom my introverted husband gives me to party hard with — and seek connection with — people-who-aren’t-him. h/t Sean Bonner

 

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SXSW 2014: Magic Night

South by Southwest, for all its somewhat dystopian unwieldiness, is also a place where chaos breeds the best kinds of spontaneity and streetside serendipity. Today I ran into dozens of old friends and familiar faces quite literally on the street, but tonight, a string of good luck made for the most magical, memorable and hilarious SXSW night yet.

1) Justin, Reeve and I ran into one another on the street and the guys were complaining about hunger. I was complaining I needed to put my computer down. We three stopped by my hotel room and walked in to find two huge bags of Taco Cabana (my favorite fast food) had been delivered courtesy of my friend Todd, the COO of Taco Cabana. It was the perfect mix of tacos and endless flour tortillas and queso and guac, and delivered at the perfect moment.

2) The weather this weekend is downright shitty, with temperatures hovering around 40 and a misty rain falling all day. Reeve didn’t want to be out tonight without a jacket, but decided to suck it up and join us for a special cast party for AMC’s upcoming drama, Halt and Catch Fire, down at my favorite Austin hotel, Hotel St. Cecelia. The event was intimate but  a clearly well-produced situation. Comfy classic seating, heat lamps and fancy decor were set up with Halt and Catch Fire blankets so the screening for about 60 of us could feel like we were in a really expensive living room together. As we were leaving, AMC handed out jackets. Reeve needed jacket, jacket appeared.

Me: What are we doing? Scoot: Rage partying! YEEEAH!

Me: What are we doing? Scoot: Rage partying! YEEEAH!

3) The one guy I regretted not chatting with at the party was actor Scoot McNairy, who plays a brilliant engineer on the new show and was also in some movies like Argo and 12 Years A Slave. I met him earlier in the day when my pal Voggie was coincidentally interviewing him while I was interviewing the showrunner, and was sad we didn’t get to visit. Only, luck struck again! An hour after we left the cast screening and after attending another event, the three of us decided to do a non-SXSW locals bar. As we walked up, we realized the CAST HAPPENED TO GO TO THE SAME BAR. Fate. Everything came full circle and ol’ Scoot hung out with me and Justin for hours, drinking beers, talking Texas and trying to profile the people in the bar who might have weed. I think Justin is still recovering. I should check on him.

 

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Liveblogging My Day With Two Toddlers

Hello from Baltimore, Md., where about 1,000 data journalists and the-people-who-love-them have converged on an EveryMarriott for NICAR 2014. It’s the annual gathering of the best nerd journalist/technologists in the land, convened by the National Institute of Computer Assisted Reporting (which needs a name change, yes, we know everything is computer-assisted).

We (my fam) and the Bowerses (another fam with a similarly-aged tot) are staying at a lovely row home appointed with lots of doilies somewhere between Federal Hill and Locust Point neighborhoods of Baltimore. All four adults are journalists — the husbands are both on the NPR News Apps-turned-Visuals team — so in order to free up the guys and Becky B. to attend the conference, I am in charge of the toddlers today.

“You’re not very maternal,” my spouse says, citing my general dude-like sensibilities. But a girl can try! Since the girls are napping, I’ll offer my “live-ish” blog of the day and attempt to continue throughout. This will be really different than that day I live-blogged jury duty, that’s for sure:

8:47am: Becky, Stiles and Bowers leave me alone with a pair of one-and-a-half-year-old girls. After they leave, Eva runs to the window and puts her nose to the glass, looking out. After about two minutes of standing there, she goes, “Bye bye!” (I’ve been working on a bit where I deliberately laugh at jokes WAY after the punch line. Perhaps it is rubbing off on my daughter.)

9:15am: I dispatch with Eva by putting her down for a morning nap. She talks to herself for the first 15 minutes. I hear her trying new consonants while Amelia (a.k.a. The Squeezle) and I read Goodnight, Moon downstairs. We tried to play with one of those books in which you push on various buttons for different songs, but I discover Eva has destroyed it somehow, and it’s now cutting off songs after a few notes and/or buzzing. downdog

9:53am: Squeezle is also down for the count, after she and I played some serious Simon Says. I did a downward facing dog yoga pose to see if she would do it, she one-upped me by reaching her head to the floor. I subsequently tried several times to down-dog my head all the way down to the floor but could not match her flexibility.

10:07am: Toddlers tend to phase out morning naps at this age, but both girls awoke earlier than usual this morning (sometime around 6:30am instead of 7:30am). So I think I might have at least an hour to myself. Should I open my work email or watch last night’s Scandal episode? Besieged as I am with SXSW-related pitches lately, I think I’m going with Scandal.

10:17am: Don’t judge me, but since I want to save Scandal to watch with a friend — that show is much better when you can trash talk it while watching — I’m going to watch Grey’s Anatomy instead. Again, don’t judge. I realize it’s bad.

11:35am: After finishing most of Grey’s Anatomy, I hear Eva stirring. Then she calls “Mama! Mama!” Rest time is over. Sounds like Squeezle is still asleep, so I feed Eva lunch, first. She has now downed a bowl of cooked tofu, a blueberry pancake and a pouch. This may not be enough to satiate her, however. She has the appetite of Michael Phelps.

11:54am: I have just ordered a cheesesteak. And seasoned fries! Should be delivered in 30 mins. I do not plan on sharing these with the girls. ALL MINE.

12:15pm: Started jamming some Mariah Carey’s greatest hits in the kitchen. Eva is only somewhat interested into it, despite my great hopes that she’d enjoy “Dream Lover.” We then had a pretty raucous pillow fight in the guest room.

12:22pm: My cheesesteak/fries arrives at the same time Eva poops her diaper. Moment of decision: change her or down cheesesteak? I did the responsible thing.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

Lunching with the Squeezle.

1:03pm: First toddler-destruction of the day is at the hands of my daughter Eva, who yanked the open cheesesteak wrapper off the table, releasing all my unfinished cheesesteak bits with it. At least I was able to finish the fries, first.

1:19pm: Amelia’s awake! She’s pretty groggy from her long slumber, but I’ve distracted Eva with a Sesame Street episode on my iPad while I feed Amelia some lunch. She’s into it.

1:49pm: Eva’s got some sweet dance moves, as you’ll see in the clip. She’s entertaining herself while Amelia and I finish lunch.

2:18pm: Eva keeps trying to hand objects to Amelia, who is skeptical of all these giveaways. The only thing she happily accepted was her pacifier, when Eva stuck it right into A’s mouth.

2:19pm: I’m now deejaying the dance party with classic The Cure songs, such as “Just Like Heaven.” Both girls dig it. Friday, I’m in love.

2:37pm: Eva started crawling up the stairs, indicating she was ready for her afternoon nap. So I’m back down to one kid. Amelia and I continue our dance party.

2:44pm: I smell poop.

2:45pm: I was right. Okay so we know both babies have excellent gastrointestinal systems. All healthy.

She didn't do it.

She didn’t do it.

3:11pm: Tiny humans are pretty hilarious play friends. It’s kinda like hanging out with your grownup friends when everyone’s punch drunk at 3am. For instance, Amelia just found some leather gloves in the house and we take turns trying them on. Every time it’s my turn, I try to do my best Johnnie Cochran “If the glove don’t fit, you must acquit” impression. Amelia doesn’t understand why I keep cracking up. OJ jokes really are generational.

4:15pm: After the Squeezle (Amelia) and I had a lovely quiet hour of reading together, Eva awoke ready to destroy some stuff, as usual. She ripped apart her Doctor Maisy book (which is one of her faves) and now I’m quizzing both girls on their IDing of objects in a “First Words” book. It’s a bilingual experience. Eva’s saying the things she recognizes in Mandarin Chinese, while I’m quizzing Squeeze in English.

4:54pm: One of my girlfriends, Skyler, just called.
Me: I’m with two toddlers right now.
Skyler: You’re with two tacos right now?
Me: Toddlers.
Skyler: Two tacos?
Me: No, toddlers.
Skyler: Oh, wow. It’s just a lot more natural to assume you’re with two tacos.

And with my spouse on his way home soon to relieve me and dinner to prep for the girls, I should wrap up this liveblog. All in all, not a bad day. Eva’s saying a new word — baby, and Amelia is CRUSHING IT at playing the xylophone. Thanks for reading along. Until next time…

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Bounce Bounce Bounce Bounced To Miami For My Birthday

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

Michael and Chris have become two of my closest compadres in my thirties, so I feel so lucky to have spent my b-day with them.

My semi-annual trip to Miami for my side-hustle collided with my birthday weekend. Just like I like it, absurdity ensued.

I’m really fortunate to have a crew of brilliant and hilarious friends down in the 3-0-5, so Friend Chris organized a whole day/night featuring my favorite activities: beachtime, sunshine, pooltime, delicious cocktails, celebrity sightings, Justin, meat and cheese, Korean liquor, the 90′s and private karaoke. These are some things that happened:

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Just seeing the glowing orb they call the sun was pretty amazing.

Justin, my partner-in-crime, came down for the shenanigans and while we were catching up at Starbucks, Jesse Something, The Bachelor circa 2004, walked in. He’s still on TV as an ESPN commentator, and he paused at the sugar/cream station and kept looking at me as if he either knew me or was waiting for me to realize who he was, but it took me too long. Wah-wah. I didn’t get to invite him to my birthday party.

After getting drunk on the beach thanks to a pitcher of some refreshing vodka concoction, we decided to do some poolside time at Soho House even though the water was flooded with children. I looked left and BAM! Spotted Sofia Coppola reading a magazine just a few chairs down from us. I was too chicken to say anything to her, so Justin and I took weird surreptitious photos. Then we noticed her husband — the lead singer of Phoenix — and her daughters, playing in the water. We avoided taking sketchy photos of the kids.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

The Coors Light ladies gave us free bead medallions which I will treasure forever.

Tim Elfrink (who just won a Polk Award, woot) lives in Miami, and our mutual Mizzou friend Nick was also in Florida escaping DC’s wintry gloom, so they joined in on festivities. We started at a divey pool bar with excellent cheesesteaks and $5 drinks.

We got some ridiculous Coors swag and posed with the beer girls. Then we had to drink some free Coors Light.

Tucked away in our private-karaoke room by midnight, these are some of the selections performed by the group to celebrate the 1990′s, my halcyon days of youth:

“Birdhouse in your Soul” They Might Be Giants
“Spiderwebs” No Doubt
“Always be my Baby” Mariah Carey
“The Sign” Ace of Base
“Livin’ La Vida Loca” Ricky Martin
“Man in the Mirror” Michael Jackson
“Callin’ Baton Rouge” Garth Brooks
“Unpretty” TLC
“Too Close” Next
“Mmmm Mmm Mmm Mmm” Crash Test Dummies
“Thong Song” Cisco

So much fun.

So much fun.

Despite four attempts by different people, the song system was unable to choose R. Kelly’s “Ignition (Remix)” which is infinitely superior to what kept coming up — just plain ol’ “Ignition.”

Karaoke participants — on four separate occasions — chose R. Kelly’s “Ignition,” which is an inferior song that is most definitely not the catchy, viral “Ignition Remix” of 2003. Then I came home and discovered Jimmy Fallon had sang it for us.

While squished on our leather karaoke room couch for 12, pal Michael and I went through two and a half bottles of soju on our own. I think Justin enjoyed his own bottle on the other side of our karaoke coffee table. He nursed a hangover for two days, since we started drinking some kind of refreshing vodka stuff around 3pm that afternoon.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

Rebekah Monson is my favorite new friend of 2013. We killed it on some Garth Brooks together.

There is something involving 3am sandwiches at some famous place on South Beach, but I don’t remember it clearly except that Justin awoke the next morning with two of those sandwiches in bed with him.

On the actual night of the birthday, Michael Maness took me out to a smokey dive bar where he got to control the jukebox. Yes, there was David Allan Coe. And yes, we did stop to eat 1am Cuban sandwiches on the street. Happy birthday, indeed.

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Teaching Storytelling With The Help Of A Well-Written Breaking News Piece

The details students recalled from Wade Goodwyn's Moore, OK tornado story.

The details students recalled from Wade Goodwyn’s Moore, OK tornado story.

This quarter, Matty and I are team-teaching a digital journalism lab for Northwestern’s Medill Journalism School, which runs a DC program. During Monday’s class, I walked through some broadcast storytelling tricks that I’ve learned over the years, and most recently at NPR.

One of my favorite broadcast voices and writers is Wade Goodwyn, our Dallas-based national correspondent.  He’s not just someone I look up to — I’m also really lucky to count Wade among my sometimes-drinking buddies.

Wade was sent to Moore, Oklahoma just after a 1.5 mile wide tornado destroyed the town last spring. The feature he filed for the next morning’s Morning Edition program was so simple, and yet so brilliantly executed a piece of broadcast storytelling that Poynter spent time and space unpacking it line by line.

So I played it for the class one time and once the story ended, I had the students write on Post-its the individual details, scenes, characters or lines they remembered. The repeats — like a description of pink insulation dust glistening on a victim — got stuck on top of one another.

All this to say Wade’s writing was so powerful and well told that the students filled up an entire window with details they remembered from a four-minute piece. I hope Wade gets to see how his words lingered in the minds of his young listeners, and taught them some valuable lessons about great writing.

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My Monthlong Miscarriage

January was a weird month. I came home from Taipei with the bird flu. (Or something like it.) It knocked out my entire family for a week and a half. Sometime during the feverish blur, our toddler’s nanny quit and moved out. I scrambled to find childcare and ultimately flew my aunt in from LA for two weeks, which meant a house guest we weren’t originally expecting. When I wasn’t convalescing, I reported a few radio stories, blogged a lot, tweeted even more, traveled to Nashville and back, started teaching my Medill journalism students and drank lots of iced green tea. And all the while, I was pregnant. Kind of.

The adage is that you can never be “kind of” pregnant, but when you learn you’re pregnant with an empty gestational sac — the condo that’s supposed to house an embryo is without a resident — and after an agonizing weeklong wait, doctors find a lifeless, microscopic little bean in a condo collapsing all around it, that seems pretty “in-between” to me. So that was most my January.

I started miscarrying on Chinese New Year’s Day. For the same reason I delivered daughter Eva without pain meds, I’ve always trusted my body to know what to do at the right time. As we rang in the new Lunar Year and the sun emerged for the first time in weeks, my body reliably ousted an embryo that would never become anything more. I felt both disappointed and relieved that my gestational limbo was almost over.

None of this is to say I treat this experience as unimportant — it is physically uncomfortable and emotionally disorienting. But I feel no shame about what happened. The more openly we discuss the range of female experiences, the freer we become. For better or for worse, for a huge chunk of us, the experience of womanhood includes miscarriage. I join a very, very large club. And I am better for being through it.

But dear god, I hope February is a lot more fun. 

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I Had A Really Weird Weekend In Nashville

This is the "Delta Island" that was in the middle of my hotel "lobby."

This is the “Delta Island” that was in the middle of the spectacle/hotel “lobby.”

I lost. In my increasingly tech-dependent existence, this was the weekend I completely disconnected from the physical world. It caused me great stress and a Saturday I’ll never get back. Here’s what happened:

I went to Nashville Friday night to give a Saturday morning training session for the Society of Professional Journalists, a swell group that I’m always happy to help out. I do a flying short course on the latest digital tools I like and use to make my journo-life easier, and it’s always fun to meet new people or go somewhere I haven’t gone before. Plus, Nashville is supposed to be a lot like Austin and my friend Val is down there, so off I went.

Things started out smoothly. Friday night, Val and I caught up over pork ribs and catfish and sweet tea before proceeding to a really swank bar next to a Sherwin Williams paint store. As it turns out, Sherwin Williams was a real theme of the weekend, since we meeting-goers were put up at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel, which is the size of a planet, and so self-contained with plants, restaurants, bars and other amenities that you really could just live there — for years — and sustain yourself without ever leaving the premises. It’s like a cruise ship on land. Or a dystopian biosphere. And that’s where Sherwin Williams sales guys hold their big annual convention, so I had to walk over a fake bridge (is anything “real” at a Gaylord property?) of about 600 men in order to reach the path to my room. And there were many turns and escalators and gaudy CONCOURSES I had to get through before I actually FOUND my room, which really was like searching for a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.

Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there's some taxidermy behind us, natch.

Really meaty catch-up time with Val. And there’s some taxidermy behind us, natch.

So the completely artificial lodging didn’t help in keeping me grounded to reality. (The training session did go well and was a highlight of my time there, as I loved the engaged participants.)

But then came my flight home, for which I arrived at my gate 40 minutes before takeoff. Which meant I was at least 15 minutes from boarding. I sat at the gate next to mine (C13) under a TV monitor, keeping myself busy by tweeting, texting Sudeep about stocks and watching news of the Columbia Mall shooting while wondering why my flight wasn’t boarding yet. I got up to wander around a store (where I saw a Taylor Swift album cover blanket, true story) and got back to the gate to ask what happened with my flight.

“It’s probably over Raleigh by now, it took off ten minutes ago.”

I was aghast. It was the only direct flight from Nashville to DC, and I cut my presentation short 15 minutes early just to make it to the airport on time. What. The. Fuck. Happened. Tears started streaming down my face as I asked for options (this is futile), and the gate agent did walk down the jet bridge just to be sure the plane was gone (yes), but responded by saying, “I don’t know ma’am, everyone else seemed to make the flight just fine.”

My only theory is that I was so lost in my texting and tweeting that I separated from the physical world and missed the FLIGHT THAT WAS BOARDING RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. I ended up having to wait another agonizing hour to get on a flight to Dallas — flying way west in order to connect to a flight back east — and not getting home until 11, missing my chance to see my darling daughter.

It is time to take a vacation from my devices.

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“Take what you love and make it the way you live your life, and that way you bring love into the world.” -Bill Murray, in his Reddit AMA

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