Saying A Proper Goodbye

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

Kinsey had to listen to a lot of speeches about him on Tuesday. (Photo by John Poole)

We didn’t want it to happen, but it did. Our boss Kinsey, who headed all NPR’s content and technology, got re-organized out of a job a few weeks ago. There is a longish take on the situation (reported here) which includes elliptical language about a stunningly Game of Thrones-ey situation, involving decades-old fiefdoms and fights among NPR and its stations over the network’s direction.

Since it happened so abruptly, we didn’t have a lot of time to prepare the tribute. But I thought the best way to show him our appreciation was by making something, because in all the talk about his visionariness, the reason he was so effective because made visions reality.

The other thinking that went into this was that whatever we built, the best way to pay him tribute was to work as a team, to symbolize our continued support for one another and the ability to quickly organize ourselves. That team had to bring together the people who make stories and the people who make technology, ’cause that’s a huge part of Kinsey’s legacy — making sure that product and editorial were lifting each other up.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

From the Infinite Kinsey branding page.

So in our break times and overnight and on weekends, we made Infinite Kinsey. Modeled on NPR One, a listening app that gives you segmented audio that follows you on any device, the Infinite Kinsey is an endless stream of audio tributes for Kinsey Wilson, about Kinsey Wilson. We collected more than sixty audio tributes in the span of a week. They came from NPR employees past and present, and from all corners of the country. Some audio messages were sent in from as far away as Hong Kong and the airport in Istanbul.

Since it was a product, it needed a launch. Tuesday night at a goodbye gathering, I got epically blasted and we unveiled the player to its single intended user. It has a branding page and even a product launch video, a parody that Friend Claire put together, with great help from a bunch of NPR folks who volunteered to do some really goofy video shoots with us.

Goodbyes are so so hard, especially the ones you never wanted to happen.

But it’s important to put closure on this chapter — not just for KW’s sake, but for those of us who will continue at NPR. With our parting gift to him, we will kinda get to follow Kinsey wherever he goes, a stream of voices telling him he’s rad.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

Claire and Becky, manning the tech table for the Infinite Kinsey rollout.

I’ve Got Seoul But I’m Not A Soldier

It’s announcement time! I’m switching roles and becoming an international correspondent for NPR. That’s very cool. But what’s cooler is I get to open up a new Korea/Japan bureau for the company, based in Seoul. You know I like the beginnings of things.

For most of 2013, Friend Javaun and I would randomly yell “Annyeong” to each other from one floor to another at NPR headquarters, where the fourth floor overlooks the third. Never did I imagine that Annyeong could become a daily, non-ironic greeting.

I lived in Asia for a spell when I was 19 years old, with an all-male hip hop group that had just signed on with Warner Music Taiwan. The lead artist was an alum of a hot 1990’s Asian boy band called “L.A. Boyz” and my roommates were forming Machi, which went on to enjoy brief fame and a hit collaboration with Missy Elliott. The afternoon I went out for a movie with those boys in crowded shopping center was the only time I’ve ever experienced what it’s like to be chased by paparazzi and screaming teenage girls.

I think back on that time as a vortex. I know I lived those months in Taipei, but the experiences were so heightened and frenetic and strange that it still doesn’t feel real, even these 12 years later.

Now I live what is more akin to a “grownup” life. A real job. A spouse. A spawn. Two cats. My geriatric dog. And we’re about to uproot ourselves and charge into the Asian vortex, together.

We’re planning to move at the beginning of 2015. I don’t know what to do with our house yet. I am panicked about getting to see the final episodes of Mad Men without too much time delay. I worry about my 16-year-old dog surviving a cross-planet move. I am unsure of my own abilities to cover a place where I am illiterate.

But I’m also filled with excitement and wonder and gratitude for the chance to do this. I know how rare a privilege it is these days to get a chance to work overseas, supported by a large, well-funded news organization. As my friend and mentor Kinsey said, it’s invaluable experience that will change and shape our lives.

Whoa, right? We’re planting the NPR flag on an action-packed peninsula! Can you imagine the culture stories? This is the place where they just hosted a competition to see who could zone out the longest. C’mon, that is gold!

Onward, into the vortex.

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We Got Briefly Lost At The White House

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

Yeah, the briefing room totally looks like a TV set.

After a really difficult couple of weeks at work (which I’ll get into someday), producer Nick Fountain and I took the two and half mile Uber ride to the White House to interview Megan Smith. She’s the new U.S. Chief Technology Officer, and formerly a senior executive at Google. We went to three wrong gates until winding up at the right one. Process of elimination!

Then, we found ourselves wandering the White House grounds without anyone guiding us where to go. This happened to be the same time the press corps was gathering for an afternoon press briefing with the White House press secretary, Josh Earnest. So Getty photographer Alex Wong tried to help us find our way, but that meant following him into the briefing room to figure out what was next.

It was very disorienting to walk into that tiny room we see on TV everyday, as everyone’s rushing in for a press conference. Everything looks bigger on TV, for one, so the photographers in the back were joking that everyone’s in the way no matter where you stand. I made some comment about egress. (No one uses that word anymore. Maybe they never did.)

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Quick photo together before the afternoon press briefing.

Luckily, my friend Colleen spotted me and hung out with us so we weren’t so awkward. She covers the White House for the WSJ and you might remember her from That Time I Ran Into Obama In Denver, earlier this year. Took a few photos cause it’s not everyday you get lost and wind up in the White House briefing room. Then the press sec came in and Nick and I tried to be invisible, scrunched along the back wall, until someone finally fetched us and got us out of there. Later, my old assignment editor from South Carolina, Kim Deal, tweeted that she saw me wandering around in there.

The Megan Smith interview, which happened at the neighboring Old Executive Office Building, went great.

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What I’m Reading: Post-Labor Day Edition

How did this summer pass us by? I think it might be all the doom and gloom. I’ve tried to not think about it too hard, to avoid a malaise spiral in which I end up playing Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ over and over.

Anyway, now that I’m more or less recovered from Ferguson, I’m back to reading too many periodicals and posts. Some of them are:

The Worst Governments in America are Local Governments

Contrary to what we hear all the time about local governments being more responsive and accountable, this Jonathan Chait piece shows how state legislatures merely get elected because of the national mood, and local governments can be worse — downright oppressive. Ferguson’s problem is not police militarization, he argues, but the Orwellian attitudes that come with it.

With Big Data Comes Big Responsibility

Friend Om, who inspired me to put together these What I’m Reading lists in the first place, wrote this piece a couple months ago and it comes packed with a lot of big ideas. One of them I’ve been wrestling with is that so much of our privacy and subsequent feelings of security online are due to the benevolence of the Googles and Amazons of the world. How long will they be benevolent?

The WTF Did I Miss? recaps of Masters of Sex

If you’ve spoken to me anytime within the month of August, you’ve heard me wax rhapsodic about the wonder that is Showtime’s Masters of Sex, starring Michael Sheen and Lizzy Caplan. Their acting is heartbreaking and the show plumbs the depths of so many topics that fascinate me; love, work, identity, intimacy. But reading these spot on and belly-achingly funny reviews took my Masters of Sex experience to another level. You must read them if you’re a fan of the show.

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After Ferguson: Helpful Links For Journalists Covering Protests

NASHVILLE — This morning I’m joining Bob Priddy, Gregg Leslie and Robert Brooks on a panel about media rights following the treatment of some journalists in Ferguson, Mo. during the unrest that broke out mid-August.

By the second week of protests in Ferguson, Amnesty International observers were on the ground.

By the second week of protests in Ferguson, Amnesty International observers were on the ground.

Except for accidentally getting guns drawn on me, I was treated fairly and within my expectations, just as the longtime journalists on the ground there explained to Poynter’s Al Tompkins. But in the weeks media swarmed on the ground in the suburban St. Louis town, police detained, threatened and harassed reporters who were trying to gather the news.

Do we have a First Amendment right to news-gather? How should we prepare to cover a protest? Here are some helpful links:

CJR: Journalists: Know Your Rights

This is a great primer for journalists if you’re headed into a situation where you might have to verbally scrap with police.

The Washington Post: Yes, You Can Record the Police

Know before you go. “Courts have held that, as a general rule, individuals have a right to record law enforcement officers carrying out their duties in public spaces.” Here’s a 2012 letter from the Dept. of Justice backing that up. 

Medium: Dressed for Excess (Tips for covering civil unrest)

Journalist Quinn Norton has been to more of these protests-turned-riots than a lot of us, and she offers really practical tips if you’re headed into a similar situation.

Vox: If police treat journalists like that, imagine how they treat residents

Ultimately, this story is not about us, the press. As calm set in on the streets of Ferguson and the National Guard withdrew from the area, international press was still parachuting in, making the situation feel more and more like a spectacle. Al Jazeera America Ryan Schuessler detailed those weird days.

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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.

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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.

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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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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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“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

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