Just when it seemed we’d have to start numbering super Tuesdays like super bowls, the Republican primary is all but over and, although Bernie Sanders will continue his campaign, the Democrats’ delegate math is against him.
This was my fourth primary as a journalist and my first since leaving a full-time newsroom gig. That meant I experienced 2016 partly as a freelancer and partly through the eyes of my journalism students. (About those students: I’m utterly biased, but didn’t they do some fantastic work when the Democratic debate came to UNH in February?)
The journalism landscape changed a lot between 2012 and 2016. I bumped into reporters from the New York Times and CNN, but there were just as many journalists working for BuzzFeed, Vox, Vice and other digital startups.
Meerkat and Periscope made live video a huge part of campaign coverage, allowing the Union Leader to pretty much break the internet with this and giving one of my classes a chance to watch – and question – Hillary Clinton during a Concord Monitor editorial board interview last fall. Wifi was more ubiquitous, even in rural areas, making this primary feel more intense, more scripted, more public.
Instagram has been around since 2010, but this was the first national campaign where it was standard fare. For me, Instagram became an experiment in short-form storytelling, a way to sketch the voices and scenes that give the campaign trail its texture. Here’s one example from that Bush event last April:
My best 2016 memory, though, is playing political tourist with my cousin Drew, a government major at UT-Austin. He flew into Manchester the weekend before the primary, and we spent the next few days crisscrossing the state in search of would-be presidents. We saw Bush and Rubio at elementary schools in Concord and Bedford, met Kasich at the Puritan Backroom and watched Cruz address a packed town hall in Peterborough.
In downtown Manchester, we saw campaign finance reformers, wandering journalists and piles of Trump signs ready for a rally and this guy:
My first byline of the year is on this column for USA Today about the many feminist plot points in the new Star Wars movie. It was a lot of fun to write, and my mom got to dig up a photo of kindergartner me wearing a fantastically DIY Princess Leia costume.
The response to the column has been robust and interesting. Here are some of the highlights:
First, strong female role models matter for boys and men, too. For more, check out this great piece by Mike Adamick. And those kinds of characters need to be available on and off the screen. That’s not always the case as evidenced by the blight of female action figures in games and play sets.
Second, one mind-bogglingly successful movie with kick-ass female characters and feminine framing is great – but pop culture remains a boys’ club. This Forbes article provides a good primer, pointing out that “gender discrimination, both in front of and behind the camera and in terms of the kind of stories that get told in cinema, has become so pervasive that the ACLU and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has stepped in to investigate.”
Finally, this conversation is about a lot more than space-nerd gossip. Stories matter because they’re one of the chief ways kids learn about social norms and the human condition. Here’s an easy-to-understand rundown of the latest research about the power of narrative in child development.
In my latest piece for The Boston Globe, I revisit a longstanding dispute about the origins of the Republican Party…. and uncover a bit of new information about a key organizational meeting that may (or may not) have taken place in Exeter, New Hampshire more than 150 years ago. Read the whole story here.
I’m teaching a digital reporting workshop at UNH this fall, and it’s been fun to dust off storytelling tools that I haven’t had occasion to use in any of my recent freelance work. Students in the course are spending the first half of the semester learning the basics of documenting stories with images, sounds and video. (Also on the syllabus: Social media curation, basic data visualizations and a bit of mapping.) Later in the term, they’ll continue to refine those techniques by covering beats in our community.
This week’s focus was on short-form audio storytelling. I assigned the students to create audio postcards from UNH’s homecoming festivities and publish them on SoundCloud. Yesterday, I brought my parents to the football game and, when I saw how close we were to the cheering squad, I decided to create an audio postcard of my own:
I used my iPhone to record the track. (An external mic tossed over the front of the bleachers would have been a good idea. The track isn’t horrible, but you can hear the guy next to me crunching his paper popcorn bag at a few points.) The sound was edited in FinalCut with the video setting turned off. (The students are using Audacity because it’s free.) The photos were taken with my Nikon D5100 and toned/cropped in iPhoto.
Inbox Essay makes its triumphant return today. As a reminder, I resolved back in January to make 50 essays in 2015. The project took a longish hiatus this summer, but regular publishing resumes right now. This week’s installment looks at digital dating/house hunting/identity building. Read it here.
Pardon the silence around here. It’s been a busy five or six weeks personally and professionally. Some highlights:
1.) I wrote a couple of pieces for the Boston Globe. Here’s an explainer of New Hampshire’s headachy campaign finance laws. And, for some lighter fare, a look at the Granite State’s quirkiest political memorabilia.
2.) I helped run a crowdfunding campaign so the Journalism and Women Symposium can provide mentorship and professional training to 10 early-career female journalists. We raised more than $15,000 to support this year’s amazing class of fellows. (I also started a Northern New England chapter of JAWS. If you’re local and want to join, drop me a line.)
3.) Have I mentioned that I’m making a MOOC about the New Hampshire primary? The University of New Hampshire will launch it’s first massive, open online course (MOOC) this fall. The class is free and focused on the past, present and future of the primary. It’s taught primarily by political science professors Dante Scala and Andy Smith. I’m doing a lot of the technical production, plus giving a couple of lectures about political journalism. Sign up here.
Up next: Watching my baby brother marry a really great person next weekend and (hopefully) buying a house at the end of the month. In other words, it’s going to be a while before we return to regular blogging.
Digital in 2016 will be faster, more intense, and more mobile than it was in 2008, and that has repercussions for how this season’s crop of presidential candidates will behave and how their campaigns will unfold in New Hampshire and beyond.
I’ve made plenty of New Year’s resolutions in my life, pledging to eat more vegetable or run marathons or remove the coffee cups from my car at least once a week. (The first two were a success. The last one is, alas, a work in progress.)
This year, I’m trying something a little different and a lot more public. I’m resolving to make 50 essays in 2015 and share them with the world via an email newsletter. (Sign up here.) I’ll also post them here on the blog, but you should get on the mailing list anyway.
Why am I doing this? Because I like a challenge. Because I don’t like how easily my own writing drops to the bottom of my to do list. Because essays and newsletters were both Big Deals in 2014, and mixing them together for 2015 feels like the storytelling equivalent of pairing peanut butter with chocolate.
Muchhas been written about how good things are right now for the essay as a genre – although there’s still plenty of discussion around what that genre actually is. To me, an essay is like taking a road trip with a companion who’s chatty in all the right ways. Maybe she’ll tell you a story about herself, or describe the strange history of landmarks passed along the way. Whatever the topic, it makes you think.
I’m calling my project Inbox Essay, and here’s how it’s (probably) going to work: I’ll make roughly one essay a week. The topics will vary. You’ll read about current events, my thoughts on the creative process, random ancestors with interesting life stories, pop culture and food. Suggestions will be welcome.
Newsletters will come out on Thursdays. Each issue will contain an original essay, plus links to other things I’ve published, read or thought about that week. Most of these essays will be written, but I’m also planning to try other interpretations of the genre: audio, photo, video.
Please consider coming along for this adventure. You can sign up here.
Seven years ago, I helped tell a Christmas story that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I shared it with my students earlier this month, and I now I’m posting it here.
I’d spent months working with my former boss Mike Pride to interview dozens of local World War II veterans for a series of stories that would eventually become this book. The project focused on the memories of people still living in our community, but we also pulled a handful of narratives from journal entries, poems and letters left behind by veterans when they died.
Such was the case with 1st Lt. Enoch Perkins, who took command of a new B-17 bomber in the final weeks of 1944. Perkins had died about a year before we started our work, but his daughter had a copy of his journal, and she wanted to share some of it with our readers. Perkins was a great writer, and he kept a careful, vivid account of his travels – including an unexpected stopover at Grenier Field in Manchester, NH
Before I go any deeper into the act of human kindness that makes this tale so special, here’s a bit of backstory:
Many of the heavy bombers that helped the Allies win the war were assigned newly-trained flight crews at air fields in the Midwest. Those crews would hopscotch the planes across the U.S., then north to Canada’s east cost. From there, they’d fly to cold, remote airstrips in Iceland and Greenland, eventually landing in Scotland. One of the last places these crews would land on American soil was Grenier.
Perkins remained in Manchester for several days longer than planned because his copilot needed to recover from an ear infection. While he waited, he worked with a few Red Cross volunteers to make sure his crew and, as it turned out, dozens of other airmen would experience some holiday cheer thousands of miles from home.
Here’s the full story as it appeared in the Concord (NH) Monitor. Please take the time to read; you won’t forget it, either.
Someday (and I do hope it’s soon), I’ll figure out how to juggle teaching, freelancing and blogging. Until then, we’ll all just have to live with somewhat sporadic posting. Here’s a recap of what’s been going on in my world:
Dan Kennedy called me “smart.” Kennedy is one of several brilliant journalists who guided my graduate studies at Northeastern University. Earlier this fall, he interviewed me for this video about the future of local news.
One of this year’s most interesting Congressional races is unfolding in my backyard. The contest for New Hampshire’s CD2 is, in many ways, a microcosm of the narratives about race, gender and generational identity swirling around this election season. Here’s my story in the Boston Globe.
I got some student journalists hooked on politics. (#sorrynotsorry.) UNH co-hosted a debate between U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and Scott Brown earlier this month, and a group of journalism students got an up-close look at what it takes to organize that kind of event. Here are a few of the students leaving the debate hall to interview the supporters outside:
As of this writing, roughly 36 hours remain in the 2014 midterm elections. Here’s hoping for a more regular blogging schedule after that.