Makeover time!

Quick note: I’m spending the final days of 2016 overhauling this site, so please excuse whatever mess I’m about to create and come back in January to see what’s new.

As always, thanks for reading.



A Pulitzer (almost) lost to history

I spent a weekend last fall in the basement of a public library in rural Maine, picking through century-old letters between two sisters, Laura Richards and Maude Howe Elliott.  They were both writers and both living the kind of creative existences that were rare for women in that era.

Together, they produced a sweeping biography of their mother, the abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe. (If that name takes you back to grade school history, it’s probably because she also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.)

In 1917, her daughters became the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize but, as I discovered in my research, neither was associated with the honor until recently. You can read the full story here.

#TBT: New Hampshire primary edition

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.

I’m still mulling what the outcome of the GOP race says about the state of political journalism and wondering if the general election will go much beyond gender politics. But it seems like a good time to inventory my own coverage of the 2016 primary, which began last April when Jeb Bush brought a couple of key lime pies to Concord:

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:

Another favorite taken in Bedford the weekend before the primary:

And here’s one from my neighborhood polling station on voting day:


I wrote mostly for the Boston Globe, filing stories about candidate draft movements, political artifacts and campaign technology in 2008 versus 2016. I also met some wonderful new Americans preparing to vote in their very first primary and delved into the mysterious origins of the GOP. I also had bylines in Women’s e-News and the Concord Monitor. And, on primary day, I talked about the state of the political news media on New Hampshire Public Radio.

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:


What I did on my summer vacation

Bought a house. Danced with my brother at his wedding. Unplugged just a bit. Packed, unpacked and repacked boxes. Pulled weeds and planted perennials. Seared things on the grill. Swam across Goose Pond. Found new places to run in the woods. Remembered how late summer in New Hampshire smells like over-sweet fruit and sounds like crickets. Wrote stories for the Boston Globe about political memorabilia and the end of Jefferson-Jackson dinners. Also: A little feature for the Concord Monitor about the rise of #wedding hashtags.


Another week, another essay

Here’s the ninth of the 50 essays I’ve resolved to write this year:

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The first time it happened I was in high school, digging drainage ditches at a state park on Earth Day. Al Gore, the sitting vice president, rolled through. I didn’t see him. Only camera flashes and the tidy, dark suits of the Secret Service. It was the beginning of a long and growing list of chance encounters with people who want to be president. A few years later, Gore was the Democratic nominee and his running mate, Joe Lieberman, came to my college campus. I was working for the student paper, thrilled and terrified to tell a big story on a tight deadline. Pretty soon, we had two stories: one about Lieberman’s speech and the other about an unexpected – and unsanctioned – visit by Ralph Nader. He arrived unannounced and rallied supporters who had commandeered a room in the student union. Dennis Kucinich and I once reached for the same carton of rice milk at a health food store in downtown Concord. I was shopping after a long week of following other, better-financed candidates. He looked exhausted. I stepped back and let him have the milk. Then there are the ones with names I don’t remember, average looking guys running for president simply because they can. They often visited the newspaper where I worked, leaving press releases and head shots at the front desk. Once, I collided with one of them near the vending machines. He stopped to grab a snack. Last week, it happened again. I was at my favorite café for a little tea and networking. The first hint was the knot of reporters I recognized from TV. Then a few local politicians arrived. Outside, two men squinted into the late afternoon sun and waved some kind of banner. The bookstore adjacent to the café was hosting Martin O’Malley, the former governor of Maryland who, like all the others, came to New Hampshire to flirt with the presidency. #instaessay #fitn #nhpoli — Meg Heckman @meg_heckman

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What I’ve been reading lately

I’ve embraced the intellectual chaos of the web these last few weeks, and it’s led me to some interesting pieces. Here are a few highlights:

The Harvard Business Review explored the art of follow-up questions, something I’m still trying to refine after more than a decade of conducting interviews. Here are some highlights:

The key to understanding people lies in the follow-up question…To ask a good follow-up, you need to pay very close attention to how the interviewee responds to your initial question, and then build on his or her answer. (Full story here.)

American University’s Jan Schaffer has a manifesto for modern journalism schools, writing that “we make the media we need for the world we want.” She also has a lot to say about the professional value of a journalism degree:

Sure, you might land at your local news outlet. But, armed with a journalism degree, infused with liberal arts courses and overlaid with digital media skills, you are also attractive to information startups, non-profits, the diplomatic corps, commercial enterprises, the political arena and tech giants seeking to build out journalism portfolios, among others. (Full story here.)

Speaking of journalism education, I picked up a new monograph about the history of j schools and spent some time skimming it during the Thanksgiving power outage. Not my usual kind of reading material, but still interesting — and a good reminder that there’s always been robust debate around  how journalism is taught.


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This arrived in today’s mail. I can’t help but notice that an organization lauded for providing “invaluable inspiration to journalists and students reporters everywhere” couldn’t find a single woman to picture on the cover of its marketing brochure.