Do You Remember … Dancing In September

Goofing off with Googlers.

Goofing off with Googlers. Photo by Bruce Gibson.

Here are some things I learned from Google Chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt last night. He and Jonathan Rosenberg were in town as part of their book tour, and I was honored to moderate a conversation with them before a hypersmart DC audience of 600, at the Sixth & I Synagogue.

He likes those Hershey’s miniatures as much as the rest of us. When we were hanging in the green room before the show, I think he consumer about 17 of them in a row. Rosenberg even quipped, “I don’t think those are on your diet.”

He uses a Motorola Razr X, running Android, of course.

He prefers generalists over specialists, because the number one quality he looks for in people is passion. “It can be passion about anything,” he says. “But you can’t teach passion.” In other words, they want people who really care a lot, and they don’t care particularly about wedging people into particular roles. I love that.

He has new appreciation for Stephen Colbert and other comedians after learning how much time and energy Colbert spends getting into his character and preparing mentally to be so witty.

He’s not sure about the whole selfie thing, he says. But he gamely agreed to shoot a selfie of us. Luckily, photog Bruce Gibson caught us doing it, above. So meta.

Anyway. I’ve spent the last two months in such a state of constant motion that at no time have I not been rushing somewhere, recovering from what came before or preparing for what comes next. In no particular order I have: spoken in London on wearable technology and love, flew halfway to Cleveland to moderate a panel on the tech community in Ohio (only to be canceled at O’hare), reported stories on fashion that comes in a box, the PayPal-eBay split, net neutrality and other stuff I can’t remember anymore, spoken to public radio programmers about risky reporting situations, presented to the NPR board about Ferguson, threw a 2nd birthday party for my daughter, and interviewed billionaire Googlers about the inner workings of their company. On the same day, as if the random subjects I’ve been speaking on weren’t random enough, I was invited to moderate a panel on the future of reproduction.

Just the subject-shifting alone is enough for total cognitive overload. I do love nothing more than meeting new people and engaging with fresh ideas. But I also think I need some time to just not prep for anything or recover from anything. Onward.

Processing My Weird Week In #Ferguson

Moments before SWAT officers swarmed our car, fixing their rifles on us.

Moments before SWAT officers swarmed our car, fixing their rifles on us.

I was as far as once can be from a conflict zone — Aspen — the nights Ferguson, Mo., first erupted over the fatal police shooting of a young black man, Michael Brown. Busy meeting about the future of the internet, the details of why the QuikTrip in a St. Louis inner suburb burned were hazy to me.

When I got home on Wednesday night, August 13, a fast-moving flood of tweets indicated police were moving in on protesters — and journalists — in a siege that seemed like something out of a wartorn nation.

I was born in St. Louis and lived there until age 13. I even moved back to Missouri for college. Ferguson is not the community I called home, but greater St. Louis certainly is, so I sent an email saying I’d be happy to help in any way. The next day my editor called. “You ready to go to Ferguson?,” he said. And, he said, buy a one-way ticket.

I got there on early Saturday morning to looted businesses. After a night of calm on Thursday, the chaos returned Friday. On my first day on the ground I found myself sitting uncomfortably on the floor of a church, surrounded by already work-weary journalists, listening to Gov. Jay Nixon announce he was imposing a curfew on the town at midnight. The curfew would be indefinite.

The curfew didn’t work. Both nights it was in place (it only lasted two nights), a curfew seemed to only increase the tensions that many young black men said had been simmering all their lives. Before I left, my next door neighbor Miss Essie, asked if I could just stay home, instead. Miss Essie, who is black, has a 24 year old son. She said she saw what happened to Brown as something that could easily happen to her own 24-year-old son, Nate.

Monday, the National Guard moved in. I never did get used to the weird juxtaposition of heavily armed military staging in a suburban shopping center full of big box stores. And Monday is when I got caught between a line of protesters and police, flames flying across the windshield of a local girl’s car I’d ducked into for safety. A series of pops — fireworks — were followed by the launching of smoke grenades. Then I saw a flame flying at the police line, which they later said was a Molotov cocktail. Then the loudest blasts I’d ever heard at close range went off. Tear gas and gunshots, fired almost simultaneously.

I was still ducking there, stunned, when suddenly an armored vehicle blasted its lights at the car where I hid. The rest of the press had gotten pushed back before the tear gassing began. But because I’d sought cover in the car wash, and then a stranger’s backseat, I got separated from my media brethren and was stuck in a dangerous zone. In a matter of seconds, the masked tactical unit — at least a dozen men — raised their rifles and pointed them at the car. The girls in the front seat had their hands up as soon as the lights blasted us. I dropped my phone and rolled down the window. “I’m press! I’m press!” I screamed. One of the armed men gestured to let us drive out of the melee, while the rest kept their guns trained on us.

But rolling down the window meant getting the worst of the gas wafting. It burns your eyes. It burns your nose. It burns your throat. It wasn’t until we were out of the most dangerous zone that other strangers could help us, handing us water and warning us not to rub or touch our eyes, or it would make it worse.

“My life just flashed before my eyes,” said Orrie, the driver who so generously gave me cover and navigated numerous police barricades to get me back to the command center, aka Target parking lot, safely.

I composed myself to file a report for our overnight newscast. Then I drove home to wash my eyes out some more and start reporting again on Tuesday. And again on Wednesday. And Thursday. Today, after a relative calm held for a few nights in a row, I got to come home. Being safely home has never felt so good.

Tags: , , , ,

Heartbreak Tally

Awarding of arbitrary points for things that happened today:

My emergency #NED jersey didn't help, I guess.

My emergency #NED jersey didn’t help, I guess.

+ 15 Got into Uber and the driver asks me if I’m headed to watch the game. I say yes. He offers to sell me his last remaining Team Netherlands jersey from his trunk. It’s Van Persie and it’s $40. The kismet drove me to make the purchase.

- 100 After 120 minutes of soccer without a score, the match ends in a penalty kick shootout, in which the Dutch lose after our first kicker gets his shot blocked. Gonna take a while to recover. Still no world championship trophy for the Dutch team, a longtime European football stalwart.

+ 10 Having my old friend and Denver Post sports columnist Ben Hochman to watch the game with me.

- 75 Ryan Gosling is apparently having a baby with Eva Mendes, which links them together for life. Crest. Fallen.

+ 90 All Things Considered aired my five-minute+ rumination on whether a burrito is a sandwich, an idea inspired by Noah Veltman’s five minute lightning talk on a side-passion of his, at the Knight/MIT Civic Media conference last month.

TOTAL: -70

Had I not lost Ryan Gosling, the chance to go through sandwich taxonomy on national air and get myself a Netherlands jersey in the nick of time would have ended this day on the positive side of the ledger.

Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.

Tags: , ,

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.

Tags: ,

2013: Work It, Make It, Do It

Testing out Snowshoe Mountain Resort's new zipline just cause, why not?

Testing out Snowshoe Mountain Resort’s new zipline just cause, why not?

Free from pregnancy and sobriety, I treated 2013 like I was coming out of a cannon, constantly in motion and catching up for all the alcohol I didn’t get to consume last year. It wound up being a great year for drinking since we went through sorry, sorry times in Washington — our creeping surveillance state came into sharp focus thanks to Edward Snowden, we went into the previously-unthinkable sequestration budget cuts early in the year and the utter intractability of our leaders climaxed in a government shutdown by August. The story of the year was HealthCare.gov’s disaster of a rollout, which became my primary work focus for the final months of 2013.

My travel was a little limited to short trips or taking Baby Eva with me, since I breastfed until this fall. But this was the first year I felt like I was arriving home when my flights descended toward Washington.

Professionally the entire NPR team moved into gleaming new headquarters and I found a new home covering the intersection of technology, culture and policy, a coverage area my bosses at NPR slid me into when I pressed for a beat that would allow me to spend lots of time in the field. And that I did — exploring and telling stories from all over: a bossless office in Michigan, a wholesale Asian grocery store in Houston, conducted interviews from atop a Utah peak overlooking four states, tried out the new zipline at Snowshoe Mountain Resort, went without WiFi and cell service for days, for a story about the National Radio Quiet Zone, slept in a safari-themed motel room (real mosquito net and everything!), cooked in a modern-day San Francisco commune, caught up with former National Spelling Bee champs, put my toddler on national air and told lots and lots of stories about the problems with government IT procurement. You know how much I love my job. 

Triumphs: Grew my first a vegetable garden, mainly full of cucumbers and lots of herbs to share with coworkers. Used soil from my new compost bin. TSA Pre-check. Making Fantasy Football semi’s in both my leagues, but my editor Uri somehow beat us all, in his first fantasy season ever. Winning celebrity death pool, again. Actually getting to drink through the nearly week-long party in DC for the White House Correspondent’s Dinner. The baby  grew into a lively, rambunctious Mandarin-speaking toddler.

Noteworthy Discoveries: George W. Bush’s work as a portrait artist, ABC’s Scandal, Scandal viewing parties, reading on my iPad instead of actual paper books (I don’t know why I held out so long), Huckleberry vodka

Great Disappointments: Death of Google Reader. Driving over my iPhone. Saying goodbye to my brother-from-another Dave Wright, who moved to San Francisco. Not seeing my parents and brother enough, since they are on too different continents.

New Experiences: Turkey (the country, not the meat). Croatia. Judging an Air Sex competition. Speaking at Harvard. Driving the tech blog at work. The Lactation Station. Narrowly avoiding having to pump in a bathroom at Tao nightclub in Vegas. Learning all about electromagnetic sensitivity and magnetic levitation.

Favorite Moment: When Eva started walking around in the kitchen all by herself while she was listening to herself on All Things Considered, her national radio debut. Dinnertime with four families together at a mountain estate in Colorado, with massive meals prepared by my favorite chef, Jimmy.

New Friend of the Year: Rebekah Monson, my new lady bro. She is always game to gorge on fried things with me, talk about big ideas, crack wise about the latest in low-brow pop culture and cuss a lot. Basically I have found my kindred spirit.

Memorable “Celebrity” Encounters: Interviewing super pop music producer Dr. Luke, leaving it to him to record himself in his studio. Gave a homie to Robert Siegel, my new homie. He was gracious to help me make my first Instagram video when the feature rolled out in the summer. Got coffee for the band, The National, as they played for about 60 of us in our new building. Joked with Tony Goldwyn (President Fitzgerald Grant III) about whether he would let me into a party after the Correspondent’s Dinner. And that party where Pete Cashmore tried to take a selfie of us.

Most Random New Text Message Buddy: Rapper Chingo Bling, who got me in touch with Bun B, and G-Dash, who texted GuU, who called to try and set me up with Paul Wall. Yep.

Dude's got a nice jawline. (With Pete Cashmore in May.)

Dude’s got a nice jawline. (With Pete Cashmore in May.)

Recurring Themes: Top knots (partly because my hair was falling out post-baby), gifs, Miami (4X), Homies, race and talking about raceMichaelManess! (I pronounce it as one word), data-driven baby (used an app to track all of Eva’s sleeping/eating/pooping for her first year) and, oddly, ski resorts. Somehow I visited four ski resorts this summer, in four different states.

Travel Log: 57,995 miles, 7 countries, 29 cities for me. 25,485 of those flight miles with baby Eva.

Previous Years in Review:
2012 | 20112010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006 | 2005 | 2004

Tags:

“The best thing about the kind of job I have is that I’m always partially doing what I enjoy, even when I’m working, and the worst thing is that I’m always partially working, even when I’m doing what I enjoy … As long as you’re happy and you’re not burning yourself out, you’d be a fool not to realize that it’s a very fortunate way to live.” -my NPR colleague Linda Holmes, who writes about pop culture

The Asian Reporters All Look And Sound Alike Problem

The disastrous rollout of HealthCare.gov is a technology implementation story in a big way, so I’ve basically been under water at work ever since Oct 1. Since it’s a huge story that encompasses many of our beats, it means that I’m working more closely with the Washington desk, which is where my fellow Asian NPR reporter, Ailsa Chang works.

Ever since Ailsa started covering Capitol Hill, my co-workers began complimenting me for HER great reporting. Whoops. Part of the problem is our names — Ailsa is pronounced “EL-sa” and Elise, well, has the same sounds. The other issue is likely that we’re the two Chinese-American gals who cover sometimes overlapping topics.

Matty created a poster for my desk as a guide. And yesterday when we were both on the Hill we took a pic together to help people out on social media:

But after all my public service announcing, I came back from the Hill only to get an email from an admin guy saying “You have an interoffice mail on Beth’s desk.” I rushed over to Beth’s desk, since I love getting mail, only to find it was addressed to Ailsa, not me.

/facepalm.

Tags: ,

Why I Bring My Daughter To Professional Conventions

Eva in the audience of her dad's session at AAJA's National Convention in New York.

Eva in the audience of her dad’s session at AAJA’s National Convention in New York.

Eva joined me at the Online News Association convention in Atlanta last week, where I spoke about civic data on Thursday, and took part in a responsive design panel on Friday. In her one year on this earth, she’s also attended NewsFoo in Phoenix, AAJA’s national convention in New York and South by Southwest in Austin. It’s always great to see colleagues and heroes of mine at these sorts of things, even though confabs require constant natural language processing (you talk to people ALL DAY AND ALL NIGHT) and generally take place at sprawling Sheratons and Marriotts, which can feel impersonal. But I wouldn’t even go if I weren’t able to bring my Baby E along. Which is why I hope conferences think more caregiving when trying to attract interesting speakers and attendees.

Eva is able to go with me to these professional conferences partly because my husband is also an NPR employee, so we both have flexible jobs and bosses that allow for us both to be gone and take turns caring for the child while we’re also doing our jobs. But besides this week’s Mozilla Fest, which provides free, high-quality babysitting for all its attendees, most of the time these conferences don’t make considerations for caregivers.

At South by Southwest in March, a huge industry conference which many say has outgrown itself, I had to leave every three hours, give up my hard-won parking spots and drive through traffic snarls in order to nurse Eva, before turning around and rushing back to work. My colleague, Kate, who was there the year before, was forced to pump every few hours from the crowded bathrooms of the Austin Convention Center.

My primary reason for bringing Eva with me to these conventions is because I want to be near her even though I’m working. When I was nursing, I had to be near her since the alternative was tedious, mechanical pumping. But the bigger picture reason she comes with is that I think we should normalize the need. Moms, working or not, should be with their babies — and that general philosophy should be better embedded into our work cultures. Ideally, parents shouldn’t be forced into a choice between traveling for work and being with their children. A few relatively inexpensive fixes could help — conferences could make childcare available or offer a way for parents who are bringing their kids to connect and at the very least, make sure the sites chosen include places to change and feed babies.

As Anne Marie Slaughter writes, “The United States lags behind almost all other industrialized countries in providing the goods, services, and incentives that make it possible for women and men to be caregivers as well as breadwinners.”

By making caregivers and caregiving a consideration, diversity in conference rosters can include really interesting women who would might otherwise decide it’s not worth the trouble of attending sans baby. You’ve seen the photos of long lines for men’s rooms at tech conferences, signaling the dearth of women who take part in these events. Perhaps just thinking a little more about meeting the needs of caregivers could mean a more well-rounded group of conference participants, and richer experience for all.

Mr. Zuckerberg Goes To Washington

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The Atlantic editor James Bennet interviewed Mark Zuckerberg.

The bazillionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, paid a visit to the Hill today to press lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to support some sort of immigration reform, which tech companies are interested in so they can get and keep high skilled, often Indian and Chinese labor. But Zuckerberg says his interest in the policy debate has extended to all 11 million estimated undocumented folks in the U.S.

As part of his visit, The Atlantic snagged him for a sit down interview in front of an invited audience. I went as press. The “#ThisTown” crowd attended, so David Gregory was there, all eight feet of him, and so were about 200 other interested Washingtonians.

Among the more interesting things Zuckeberg said was actually about his Mandarin, and how he set up a personal challenge to learn Mandarin and learned enough to communicate basics but found he had a hard time listening and understanding it when others spoke the language.

“I told my wife, I’m really bad at listening in Mandarin. She said, ‘You’re really bad at listening in English.'”

Tags:

Load more