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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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

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“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.

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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.’”

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Notes from Eden

Somewhere above 9.200 elevation on Powder Mountain. See if you can spot my crew — the tiny dudes in the photo.

Somewhere above 9.200 elevation on Powder Mountain. See if you can spot my crew — the tiny dudes in the photo.

Just got back from rural Utah. More specifically, a place called Eden. Wandered high up in the clouds. After riding a rock crawler to nearly 9,000 feet elevation, I followed Summit Series leaders Jeff and Thayer to a point so high I panicked about how I’d “hike” (in my running shoes) back down.

“Hand eye coordination is not my thing,” I kept telling the guys.

But hey, it was for an interesting story about how Team Summit recently closed the purchase of said mountain, the largest skiiable mountain in North America. Note to self: If you get to hang out on a peak overlooking four states for your job, don’t complain.

Tune in for the piece later this month. For the purposes of this personal blog, some notes from the road:

- I drove a Ford Expedition for the first time, because Avis apparently ran out of smaller vehicles. It felt like driving a bus. I was white knuckling it for most of the ride north into the mountains, but eventually I loved it and stopped being scared that I’d accidentally maul an elk.

- Speaking of rental cars, while standing in the garage awaiting my oversized vehicle, I looked across the way and saw a familiar-looking attractive man. I thought to myself, that guy looks like a Romney! Just as I was running through the names of the five Romney boys in my head, a car attendant popped out and said to him, “First name?” and he responded, “Tagg.” TAGG! He’s it.

- Last time I was in Utah was in 2011, when I covered the National Governors Association meeting in Salt Lake and became buddies with the legendary Washington Post scribe Dan Balz. We had some beers with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, I taught Dan how to tweet a photo and we’ve been friends ever since. The mountains brought back memories of that random weekend.

- On the mountain, the Summit folks live and work in what feels like a dream summer camp for grownups. They have a cook that makes only gluten-free, Paleo diet approved foods at meals they all share and eat together. They also have an ashram, fresh juice each morning, a trainer, and all the skiing and snowboarding they want while it’s in season. Basically I was wondering why I still live in a sometimes soul-depleting urban environment and not on a mountain, instead.

- Almost missed my flight home due to unanticipated traffic, an evil GPS and the slowest possible milk scanning device ever. I’m still nursing Baby Eva and pumping while I’m away, which means when I go through security, each bottle must be scanned with a special device individually. I was the last person to be let on board before takeoff.

- How about that Delta Airlines? I love their cookie snacks, but I also really enjoyed their quietly subversive in-flight safety video. I watched it all the way through because I realized they were hiding little visual gags in there throughout.

Tough Week, Or The Toughest Week?

Satirical news source The Onion summed up the past week well:

“Maybe next time we have a week, they can try not to pack it completely to the fucking brim with explosions, mutilations, death, manhunts, lies, weeping, and the utter uselessness of our political system,” said basically every person in America who isn’t comatose or a complete sociopath. “You know, maybe try to spread some of that total misery across the other 51 weeks in the year. Just a thought.”

Pal Justin texted this to me, halfway through this week from hell: “What does it say when a justice of the peace murdering a district attorney and his family is at the bottom of the news totem pole?” (I’m not even sure that story made it into our newscasts. Nor did the sentencing of the Travis County District Attorney for DWI. She’s serving 45 days in jail. Normally I would think that was a big story, too.)

Oh, and then, last night the week was capped off with a destructive earthquake in China:

“As Boston celebrated last night, the week from Hell managed to end with one more tragedy: A 6.6 magnitude earthquake hit southwestern China’s Sichuan province on Saturday. Right now, 156 people are said to be dead, and an estimated 5,500 are injured, making the earthquake the country’s worst in three years. We’re just hoping marathoner and West, Texas resident Joe Berti wasn’t around.”

Journalism and social media both got a reminder to just chill out and take a breath. Reddit sleuths went down as many bad trails as promising ones, implicating innocent people in the process. The New York Post was particularly egregious in its fact ignorance, reporting 12 people were killed on Monday and that a Saudi national was a suspect. (Neither of these reported “facts” proved true.)

Oh, and our newsroom was split into two buildings, producing our afternoon show, All Things Considered, from 1111 N. Capitol, and the morning program, Morning Edition, from 635 Massachusetts Ave. As tragedy struck blow after blow, we were struggling to coordinate news reporting and broadcasting while in between the final phases of our staff move. By Friday, the old building and its parts were getting dismantled around us. The moving and salvage crews outnumbered NPR staff. Yesterday, in the middle of our efforts to report a manhunt that shut down the city of Boston, the TVs got cut off. This prompted a move to 1111 half a day early.

President Obama called it a “tough week.” I’d call it a curl-up-in-fetal-position-and-rock-back-and-forth-week.

As you reflect and process and drink heavily (you deserve it), consider consuming any of the following:

Your kids, your parents, your friends, your lovers: Hug ‘em tight. Hug ‘em tight.

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Last Days in the Old NPR Building: Saying Goodbye With Clever Graffiti

Five furniture auction guys were outside as I pulled up to work today. This afternoon, NPR’s signature show, All Things Considered, will broadcast from our soon-to-be-bulldozed headquarters building for the final time. Tomorrow, Weekend Edition Saturday airs from 1111 N. Capitol, our shiny, gorgeous new headquarters in the city’s Northeast quadrant.

Knowing that our landlord plans to demolish this building has led to some brilliant goodbye graffiti on the walls. A stamp that reads “EVERYTHING WILL BE BETTER,” a familiar trope we’ve heard about the new building, shows up in mirrors and stairwells. “You can see people’s inner monologues about the building as you walk down the hallway,” friend Denise said. I’ve been tickled by the creativity and the doodle skills of my colleagues.

Thank you to my friend and former boss Joel for chaperoning me into a shockingly yellow men’s room for a photo. And whoever wrote the descriptions under emergency signs as if they were high art … I think you are a genius. (Click on any image to start the slideshow)

We employees are moving in four phases. I’m here until the bitter end, next Friday. But digital media — the talented folks responsible for our apps and API and design — as well as multimedia, music and some of the newsroom, like the Washington desk, leave this afternoon. Farewell, 635.

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