Farewell To My Right-Hand Woman

Trying to hike and conduct interview, with Haeryun, the last time I was eight months preggo.

The toughest thing about being a reporter in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language is that functionally, you’re a child. I work without a key tool for reporting — the ability to communicate. That makes my interpreter and assistants in Korea and Japan as important and arguably MORE important than me to tell compelling stories.

Out on the streets of Seoul with Haeryun during the anti-Park protests.

For the past two years (almost to the day), Haeryun has been my right-hand woman. On her first day, when I had only been off the plane from the US for about 10 hours, the US Ambassador to Seoul was stabbed in the face. So there was no easing into the job. Korea news has essentially been non-stop since then. (Perhaps you’ve read about the missile tests, lethal poisoning deaths and impeachments on my patch lately.) To put together coherent pieces for air, not only does Haeryun do critical backgrounding and research, she also broaches sources and lines up interviews and concurrently translates them as I conduct interviews, she also works on her own when I’m traveling and goes out in the field when I can’t.

She acts as my Korean-speaking proxy, making the important human connections with sources that allow us to tell stories for our English-speaking audiences. On top of that, Haeryun also makes sure things run: That our driver Mr. Kim always picks me up at the airport on time, and that our office water delivery comes reliably and that our Foreign Correspondents Club dues are paid, etc etc.

Haeryun is a woman of many talents, here she’s running audio for a video project during a crazy facial procedure.

This week, Haeryun starts a new journalism adventure! She is going to the site Korea Expose, where she will be an editor and help oversee their staff of hungry writers who are diving into stories about Korean society and culture. We are all really excited to see what they will do there.

But that means she is bidding farewell to NPR’s Seoul bureau, the foreign post which she was instrumental in helping found. Together we have binge-eaten in front of thousands of strangers, crashed a Korean wedding, gotten lost on Jeju Island with the worst navigation device ever issued, witnessed the sorry state of caged, endangered bears, consoled grieving moms, followed alongside Korea’s marching single moms, covered way too many missile tests to count and spent way too many hours at the Seoul Immigration Office to make sure I could legally stay in this bureaucracy-loving country.

Always a good sport, she gets dragged into my noraebang (karaoke) sessions.

She is also my friend (one of my closest Korean ones, at that), shares my endless appetite (so she’s always a reliable eating partner) and has always been there for my entire family. So we will continue to hang and see each other, of course. But it’s the end of a chapter, so I wanted to make sure to give her a little blogpost tribute to say goodbye and thank you.

And a funny footnote: Despite all our time together, I still can’t pronounce her name right. This scene from Sisters pretty much sums up me and Haeryun, anytime I try to say her name:

Anyway… None of the Korea stories would have been shaped and told without you, Haeryun! We love you and will miss you.

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The Long Goodbye From DC, Part One

When leaving town, why have one big final blowout in which you accidentally consume too much marijuana and find yourself throwing up the entire way to the airport the next day (I’m just saying hypothetically, cough cough) when you can have a string of smaller goodbyes over the course of three weeks?

My former common-law work spouse Matt started his new gig at The Atlantic this month, our former boss Kinsey starts his new job in New York next month and my own move to Korea is imminent, so the first in the goodbye string was getting some of our old NPR colleagues together for drinks the same night the Packers showed America how to lose a football championship.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

So many smiling faces. I already miss a lot of these colleagues so much.

The other memorable part of this long goodbye tour is the DELICIOUS ETHNIC MEALS PEOPLE ARE MAKING FOR US. Eyder and his wife Cynthia dropped off authentic Texican enchiladas — Cynthia makes the verde sauce from scratch — and I ate three in one sitting. Chris Howie’s mom-in-law makes the most incredible Indian food ever and they had us over for a feast of I don’t even remember how many dishes. I got lost in a dream scenario of homemade naan, butter chicken, saag paneer, daal, oh man I can’t even describe.

Next, we wanted to see lots of DC drinking buddies and needed to get rid of a lot of random items in our house, like Magic Mesh, which Nick Fountain apparently wanted “real bad.”

So Friday night we had people over for a Hu-Stiles House Cooling, so that I could see lots of awesome people and give away items which included:

– Mark Sanford’s early book, The Trust Committed To Me
– A George W. Bush action figure
– A travel music stand
– Half a bottle of Jameson
– Some kind of Dutch knife sharpener
– A leftover party favor from my bridal shower in 2010
– A cat scratcher
– A screener of Richard Linklater’s Boyhood
AND SO MANY MORE AWESOME THINGS FOR YOU TO REMEMBER ME BY!

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

I mean, look at the excitement on their faces to leave with this bounty.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR  "olds." This weekend it's partying with the NPR "youngs." The olds definitely got drunker.

Last weekend we partied with the NPR “olds.” This weekend it’s partying with the NPR “youngs.” The olds definitely got drunker.

More goodbye-ing to come…

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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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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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Impromptu Collisions in San Francisco

One of the co-living homes I'm featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

One of the co-living homes I’m featuring in an upcoming NPR story.

Most of my favorite collisions with people come with less than an hour’s notice. That kept happening in San Francisco — a mark of my similarly last-minute friends, and maybe the ethos of the Bay area. I shall award my trip various arbitrary points, below:

+500 This view (from previous post) will never get old.

+60 The purpose of the trip was reporting for our upcoming Bay Area theme week and to attend the TED Women conference. Both went really well.

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

Why were our TED badges the size of our faces? (With Guy Raz.)

+50 When I landed at SFO on Wednesday, I saw on Foursquare that fellow Texas Tribune original gangsta H.O. Maycotte was in San Fran, too. Thank you, Foursquare, for the “people nearby” filter. We met for lunch 30 minutes later in the Ferry Building, right on the water.

Raina's sweet boy.

Raina’s sweet boy.

+ 20 Gal pal Raina and I ran into each other in the lobby of the Jazz Center where the conference was happening. She’s a new mom of a seven-week-old, and her darling, delicious baby was with her. I got to babysit so she had a minute to go to the bathroom. I mainly just stared at him and took pictures.

+75 Impromptu lunch with another gal pal from the Knight Foundation super-friends circuit, Kara Oehler! My producer on the communal living story, Cindy, happened to be Kara’s mentor from more than a decade ago. Kara also used to babysit Cindy’s kids. We three were able to do a delicious lunch at a french cafe in Lower Haight. Love those gals.

+35 Sneaking in some real bonding time with my digital news coworker Dana, who I’ve worked with for years but never spent any social time with. She invited me to join her at TED Women in the first place. We had a swell time getting beers together on opening night.

+ 10 I met interior designer Elizabeth “Beth” Martin while she was freshening up all the fresh flowers in Friend Matt’s condo. She offered a flower arranging tip since I asked — Don’t be too matchy. Soft flowers like peonies and roses should absolutely be paired with woodsy choices.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

The amazing Japanese toilet that both excited and confounded me.

+1,600  Japanese toilets. Thank you, Mr. Toto, wherever you are, for your seat warming, automatic lid-raising technology.

-400 I was too scared to try any of the rear or front washes, and don’t even know what it is that oscillates or pulsates, but I dig having all the options.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

Best night of the week was with brother-from-another-mother, Dave. I found him in the Twitter cafeteria.

+100 I dropped in on Twitter HQ with 30 minutes notice and didn’t text my brother-from-another-mother Dave to tell him I was in his building until I was actually sititng in “The Perch,” er, Twitter’s cafeteria. That resulted in a quick lunch room gab fest until we met up again for happy hour, during which Dave introduced me and my pal and colleague, host Guy Raz to The Hot Spot, a divey dive dive bar that serves a smooth shot and a beer with a scratch-off ticket. Guy actually won another ticket, only to lose on his second try. Maybe it’s a trap?

-25 Due to too many shot-beer-scratcher combos, we ended up drinking and eating at a random bowling place in the Mission (after first attempting and bailing on a sketchy food place that smelled of urine) and stayed out too late for me to watch Scandal on Matt’s new 4K TV.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

Matt was kind enough to update his new TV for Scandal, but none of us made it home in time to watch it.

+5 The television is now updated.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

My best friend from high school in Plano, Texas, Erin, is 9 months pregnant. So excited.

No points, just saying: There were white dudes everywhere. The ratio of men to women seemed to really favor women, at least everywhere I was at. I felt outnumbered by groups of men at breakfast, at bars, everywhere except the TED conference for women.

+500 Reunion with my bestie best best friend from high school, Erin Baudo, four weeks before her due date. I’m so psyched for her little bruiser.

+30 Erin let me nurse my hangover with breakfast at the Zynga cafeteria, where she works.

+50 The three-man NPR tech reporting team — Steve Henn, Laura Sydell and myself — got together in person in one place for the first time. We hung out at member station KQED and got some delicious coffee.

+30 A nice afternoon walk with Code for America’s Catherine Bracy.

+45 Sneaking away during TED lunch hour to shop in Hayes Valley with my pal Tina. Stopped in Chantal Guillion to sample their signature French macarons, had them shipped to a girlfriend in Texas. Should get there Monday.

+24 Pre-gaming one evening with a new friend from the 2013 collection — another Matt — Matt Wilson.

-10 Having to squeeze in so much in four days felt a little too intense.

 +5000 Seeing my favorite toddler this morning after being away from her for almost a week. Swoon.

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Weekend At Harvard With The Nieman Fellows

Just got back from the tremendous pleasure of spending the weekend wandering the campus of Harvard and the streets around Cambridge with some of my favorite people and colleagues. It was all part of the Nieman Foundation at Harvard’s 75 year anniversary, for which they invited back the decades of former fellows whose careers and lives were transformed by their 10-month experiences as fellows at Harvard.

Nieman alumni include the indefatigable Lincoln biographer Robert Caro, more than 100 Pulitzer Prize winners and altogether amazing, globe-trotting, muckraking journalists around the world. It was just preposterous to even get to meet some of these people in such a relaxed setting. They are ALL SO INTERESTING.

My friend Kara Oehler (co-founder of storytelling tool Zeega) and I both got invited to speak about innovations in storytelling before about 400 Niemans, with New Yorker Editor Dorothy Wickenden as our moderator. AGAIN — PREPOSTEROUS. But we just ate it up and had a great time. And god, the weather was just perfect and the whole scene — tents out on the lawn of Harvard’s Lippman House and outdoor bluegrass concerts in the park near Harvard Square and little babies of Nieman fellows taking tentative steps in the grass — it felt like a vortex.

NPR represents itself well in the Nieman family. So many of my colleagues are former and current Niemans that it was a special treat to spend time with them outside of work and meet some of my colleagues for the first time, in some cases. Here’s a shot of me with some of the NPR Nieman fellows, but it’s missing ATC producer Alison MacAdam, my radio editor Uri Berliner and a few others, who we couldn’t wrangle into one photo.

At the Walter Lippman House at Harvard, hanging with the NPR Nieman fellows past and present: Clockwise from left: Howard Berkes, Marilyn Geewax, Sylvia Poggoli, David Welna, Margot Adler, Dina Temple Raston, Jonathan Blakely and me.

At the Walter Lippman House at Harvard, hanging with the NPR Nieman fellows past and present: Clockwise from left: Howard Berkes, Marilyn Geewax, Sylvia Poggoli, David Welna, Margot Adler, Dina Temple Raston, Jonathan Blakely and me.

A huge thank you to the curators at Nieman who put on a memorable weekend and were so generous to invite me to be among this special group. I’ll remember this for many years to come.

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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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The Lactation Station (And Other Nursing Adventures)

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

This is how Eva and I spend a lot of our time together.

Someday when I am old, I will look back on these days of new mommahood, when at least four times during the workday I find myself in a windowless 3’x5′ room, on the other side of the wall from our national security correspondents, attached reluctantly to an electric breast pump while overhearing conversations about the ramifications of unilateral disarmament.

To be clear, I think nursing is awesome. I truly enjoy providing both physical and emotional sustenance for Baby E in one loving act. It’s really no sweat, either, since Eva is my only baby. My Chinese great-grandmother nursed seven (7) babies in total, earning her the respect of many generations and lasting evidence of her hard work — mom tells me my great-grannie could actually fling her drooping boobs over her shoulders. Impressive on many levels, that lady.

But the difference between nursing a baby and pumping milk for a baby is like the difference between visiting Venice and going to the Olive Garden. Pumping is tedious and soulless and in my case, always really awkward when I emerge from the lactation station and make eye contact with the national security guys who surely overheard my pump as they were discussing war and Syria and what not.

I am glad I had a daughter, because maybe one day she will have a baby of her own, and she, too, can experience the wonder and the weirdness that is motherhood.

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The Final Countdown Before The Bulldoze

Our current building, which won't exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

Our current building, which won’t exist soon. (photo via Flickr)

The hundreds of us who work at NPR are 51 days away from leaving our current crumbling edifice for a shiny, environmentally-friendly new headquarters on North Capitol Street. The old headquarters will be bulldozed almost immediately to make room for some fancy mixed use development.

With the move to our new building imminent, everyone’s stopped caring about the current one. The facilities guy, Don Gooden, caught me stapling random things to the wall today, my first day back at work after four+ months off with Eva. I said I would graffiti the place next, and then maybe hide some dead bodies in here.

He shrugged, smiled and said, “Do what you gotta do!”

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Recommended Reading: My First Link Roundup Powered by the NPR Plugin

I like to pretend I don’t actually have any real responsibilities, but I actually did move to DC last year to take a job. It called for launching a new news brand — StateImpact — a local-national network headed up by NPR in DC and staffed by NPR member stations around the country. Last year, StateImpact hired two reporters in eight pilot states to launch a new site in each state. Now it’s off and running.

We continue to train, edit and support the sites and their journalism. In addition, the team here in DC regularly develops features for a customized WordPress platform that is used by every site in the network. The customized platform was first built two years prior, by our sister project, Project Argo.

Argo has now open-sourced its theme(s) and all the plugins they developed to make their reporters lives easier. (StateImpact has more fun tools, mostly geared toward data-driven reporting, which we have yet to open source.) One of the now-public plugins is for link roundups — curated aggregations of the best links on your beat. Team Argo identified these roundups as an important part of a blogger’s daily or twice-daily routine, but a pain in the ass to actually put together because it involves a lot of cutting and pasting and hyperlinking. The Argo Link Roundup tool, which all our StateImpacters use regularly, allows you to create a roundup without ever cutting or pasting a thing.

This is my test drive of the plug in here on HeyElise. But it actually is a collection of the best pieces I’ve read in the last 24 hours. (Especially the story about draft bust JaMarcus Russell.) Assuming this goes well, I’ll be doing more link roundups in the future.

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