#135 – Olga Khazan — Persistence pays off

Olga Khazan doesn’t necessarily advocate stalking as a formula for getting a job, but it worked for her.

Olga Khazan covers the health and gender beat at The Atlantic;

Olga Khazan covers the health and gender beat at The Atlantic. (Photo courtesy of Olga Khazan)

In 2011, she was a freelancer fresh out of graduate school at USC, when she went to the Online News Association’s annual conference in Boston.

“I was writing for the L.A. Times and I had little blog on Forbes,” she said. “I was looking for something full-time.”

At the conference, she met Sandy Sugawara of The Washington Post.

“I think we only talked for like five minutes, but I kind of spent the whole conference just stalking The Washington Post people and kind of hanging out with them by force, and not because they wanted to hang out with me,” she joked. “So, I guess it worked cause after I got back to L.A., Sandy sent me a job listing to be a blogger about startups on this new blog they were starting called On Small Business.”

Packing up her Nissan, she drove cross country to Washington, D.C., and started her first job as a full-time journalist.

“I spoke on a panel at ONA this year,” Khazan said. “It was supposed to be advice for younger journalists and I told the story about stalking the Post people. And then later, someone came up and stalked me kind of, and I was like, ‘Oh, this is what that feels like.”

At the Post, Khazan covered small businesses beat and wrote about startups in D.C. and around the world. She eventually moved into a multimedia and blogging role in the World section, which she acknowledged was something of an odd transition.

“A lot of times, it was just explainers of world events that would happen,” she said. “If there was a protest or something, a lot of times people just wanted, ‘What are they protesting about?’ Other times, it was cool, interesting multimedia videos, charts and things that we would find. A lot of it, because it was online, was just finding overlooked world news from elsewhere and regional publications. So, we looked at a lot of regional stories and trying to contextualize them and give them sort of a broader frame.”

Khazan continued to that type of coverage when she started working at The Atlantic. The story behind getting that job was more mundane and a lot less “stalkery” than snaring her first job at The Post.

“I honestly uploaded my resume to a nameless, faceless, resume box on the Atlantic Media website,” she said. “I did not shake hands with anyone at The Atlantic. I didn’t even know anyone at The Atlantic.”

Khazan insists that this anonymous process not only worked for her but other people at The Atlantic as well.

“No one believes me,” she said “Everyone wants the inside thing. They’ll email me and they’re like, ‘Forward on my resume because I know no one checks the resume box.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh, but they do.'”

In this week’s podcast, Olga Khazan talks about her journey from freelancer to full-time journalist at The Washington Post and The Atlantic. She touches on the challenges of covering the world health beat and writing about gender issues.

Michael O’Connell

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#134 – Barack Obama talks to Vox.com

President Barack Obama is a pretty big “get” in the world of journalism. Any sitting President would be, of course.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox.com.

Matthew Yglesias, executive editor of Vox.com, talks about interviewing President Barack Obama. (Photo courtesy of Vox.com)

But Obama, in most cases, has proved to be a master of tapping the power of digital technology to get his message to the people he wants to, whether its through the We the People online petition site or the social media component of his two presidential campaigns.

“The reality is now, it doesn’t matter what institution you’re talking about,” said Matthew Yglesias, executive editor at Vox.com. “It could be a newspaper or a magazine. If someone gets a big story these days, that story usually goes up on the Web first, right? I mean, that’s just common sense. News sort of lives in that digital space regardless of what the sort of bigger picture of how that website came to be.”

So, Obama granting interviews to Vox.com, BuzzFeed and YouTube shouldn’t have surprised anyone.

“If you’re digital native, if you’re not, everyone sees, ‘Do you have an audience that we want to communicate with?’ And I think our site does,” Yglesias said. “And I think that’s how the White House sees it.”

Still, some people grumbled about these digital startups getting the same access granted traditional media outlets.

“I remember various waves of this,” Yglesias said. “I remember the first time there was a digital native publication that was in the White House press room the first time. Someone from a digital native place was called on to ask a question at a press conference. I remember years ago difficulties getting just like the basic congressional press credentials. So, I think that it’s not a change that’s happened all at once and I don’t think it really shocked people exactly that the President was doing an interview with us or that the President was doing BuzzFeed. I still think it’s noteworthy because it’s a first, but it’s part of the sort of long trend of digital native publications being taken more seriously in Washington as more and more of the audience is on our kind of platforms.”

In this week’s podcast, I talk to Yglesias about what went into Vox.com’s interview with President Barack Obama. Yglesias covered politics and economics for Slate before joining Ezra Klein and Melissa Bell in April 2014 to start Vox. He talks about the preparations before the interview and decisions that went into how the interview was presented online and then how it was promoted through social media.

Michael O’Connell

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#133 – Texas storms spark love of weather

The little active weather Ian Livingston saw as a kid growing up in Southern California was interesting enough, but it wasn’t until he moved to Texas that he sat up and took notice.

“The first time I saw a thunderstorm there I was actually legitimately scared by it,” said Livingston, a senior research associate with the Brookings Institute and a member of the Capital Weather Gang at The Washington Post. “It came at midnight and blew my door open and I freaked out. … It was fascinating at the same time.”

Ian Livingston of the Capital Weather Gang

Ian Livingston is a member of The Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

The weather’s usually a little calmer in Washington, D.C., but it’s not without some surprises. Take, for example, winter storms that are anticipated to bring up to a foot of snow that result, instead, in rain, or forecasts that call for some drizzle but end up snarling traffic and paralyzing transportation systems with an unexpected layer of ice and snow.

Thanks to social media, forecasters are getting more feedback in real time on their predictions, especially when things don’t go as expected.

“In weather, uncertainty is pretty much everything,” Livingston said. “Predicting the future is hard. I don’t think anybody does it right. If someone did it right consistently, a lot of us would probably be a little tweaked out, wondering how they’re doing that.”

As part of the Capital Weather Gang, Livingston is one of a team of meteorologists and forecasters who pore over maps, computer models and satellite data to create weather predictions on a daily basis. It’s a committee approach to forecasting but one that seems to work.

“I go home on Friday nights and spend a few hours looking at the weather models and satellite images and local observations to figure out what’s going to happen,” he said. “For a normal forecast, it’s an hour, hour-and-a-half process.”

Chasing storms by Ian Livingston

Supercell roaming the Colorado plains east of Denver during the 2014 storm chasing season. (Copyright Ian Livingston). Find more examples of his storm photography on his Flickr page.

The real fun comes on his vacations each summer, when he ventures out to the Plains states to go storm chasing.

It’s not all glamorous, he admitted. One trip included seven hours sitting in a parking lot in New Mexico, just waiting for something to happen.

But turbulent storms are what drew him to weather in the first place.

Those Texas thunderstorms kicked off his lifelong love of the interplay of high and low pressure systems, upper level disturbances and storm cells.

“That was it,” he said. “Once I saw those thunderstorms, I was definitely hooked.”

Amber Healy

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#132 – Vox.com adds context to the news

Melissa Bell is a former Washington Post reporter and one of the founders of Vox.com.

At Vox, Bell is trying to reinvent how news is delivered. The site tries to experiment with the ways it presents content. For example, the site often uses lists like “What we know” and “What we don’t know” in its breaking news stories, instead of using a traditional format.

Melissa Bell of Vox

Melissa Bell is one of the founders of Vox.com.

“I think The Guardian is really one of the best role models of great live blog technology,” said Bell, listing an example of innovative journalism.

Vox has also created a storytelling form called cardstacks. Cardstacks are groups of slides — made to look a little like index cards — that focus on a particular topic. They are meant to be educational and endure the test of time, providing a deep-dive into a particular topic. Examples of recent cardstacks include “The Charlie Hebdo attack, explained” and “Everything you need to know about the war on drugs.”

Vox doesn’t have a traditional newsroom structure. The approach is more collaborative. Several Vox employees don’t even have defined titles, Bell said.

On the business side of Vox, the staff is looking to Vogue magazine as a model. In Vogue, the advertisements don’t “impede” the reading experience. Vox’s goal is to have a website that a similar, “total” package — where the advertising is well incorporated into the site.

“You have ads on the site, but they are a good interaction. They look beautiful. They don’t interfere with the reading of the journalism,” Bell said.

Julia O’Donoghue

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#131 – Ben Wikler is looking for a good fight

Ben Wikler is always looking to do some good, whether it’s as the Washington director of MoveOn.org, the political advocacy group, or as the host of The Good Fight, a podcast that loves telling David vs. Goliath tales.

Ben Wikler

Ben Wikler is the Washington director of MoveOn.org and the host of The Good Fight podcast.

We talked to Ben back in 2013, when he told us about his journey toward advocacy, his time at The Onion and his experiences working with Al Franken on Air America and on Franken’s book, “Lies: And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right.”

Ben also told us about his friendship with Aaron Swartz and the experience launching their first podcast, The Flaming Sword of Justice — a name that we at It’s All Journalism love and, when Ben’s back is turned, we plan on stealing.

As The Good Fight enters its second year, Ben is turning to his listeners to help him with his own David vs. Goliath tale. He’s started a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to help fund the podcast.

While we can’t tell you how to spend you money, we do think The Good Fight is a good thing to fight for. While the rest of us schlubs are podcasting about feel-good things like movies, video games, football and other nonsense — saving journalism, indeed! — Ben is actually doing some good. That should be worth something.

Michael O’Connell

Find out more about The Good Fight with Ben Wikler’s Kickstarter Campaign.

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#130 – Conflict through Ben Lowy’s eyes

Ben Lowy didn’t set out to be a conflict photojournalist or even a photographer, for that matter. He went to school to become an illustrator and used photography as a tool to help him draw the human form.

But, in a New York bookstore, he came across a copy of Inferno, James Nachtwey’s collection of war-crime photos from the 1990s, and the direction of his life changed.

Ferguson, Missouri Protest by Ben Lowy

Ferguson, MO | Nov. 25, 2014: A protester points out the origin of a smoke bomb thrown at a police and national guard formation outside the Ferguson police department, the night after riots rocked this St. Louis Suburb.
(Photo by Ben Lowy)

“That idea of witnessing something so powerful that the rest of us, most of the time, choose not to see, choose not to care, to me, that was incredibly powerful and a righteous thing to do,” he said. “That’s very specifically why I went really into conflict photojournalism as the first thing that I did in photography. It wasn’t trying to do fashion or trying to do sports. It was very specifically trying to do conflict photojournalism.”

Lowy developed an interest in world events by watching the news with his father while he was growing up. This helped him develop an appreciation for things that were going on around him.

“Seeing what was happening in the world, between the fall of the Soviet Union and 9-11, which was my adolescence in the ’90s, that’s where my eyes really opened and I started paying attention to the world around me and seeing that there were so many things that were happening, whether it was in the Balkans or in the Caucuses, that the world would say, ‘Oh that’s horrible,’ and then go about our day,” he said. “To me, that wasn’t good. That wasn’t right. That wasn’t what I was personally about.”

It’s difficult for Lowy to translate what he was thinking as a 23-year-old, going to Israel and the Middle East, setting out to teach himself how to be a conflict photojournalist.

Photo courtesy of Ben Lowy

Photo courtesy of Ben Lowy

“I wasn’t really thinking about changing the world as much as being an idealist and wanting to help in some way, and this was my way of doing it,” he said.

Lowy sees two aspects to his role as a conflict photojournalist. One is capturing the humanity of those involved in the conflict.

“There are very intrinsic similarities between people the world over and that idea gets lost in the fray of demagogues and policy hacks and think tanks and everyone has their opinion,” he said. “That intrinsic humanity of how we’re all the same gets lost. And I think it’s a very big thing to try to photograph humanity within the horrible environment so somehow it can relate to someone back home.”

The other aspect is the traditional photojournalist’s job of simply documenting events.

“I’m not naive enough to think that I’m going to change the world and stop war from happening,” Lowy said. “But I think that it is worth remembering what has been done and what will be done to create an archive of our history on this planet for good or for bad.”

In this week’s podcast, Ben Lowy talks to It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell about his experiences of covering war and conflict around the world, from Iraq and Afghanistan to the Sudan, Libya and Ferguson, Missouri. He also discusses how covering these events have impacted his life and the challenges photojournalists face when they choose to go into dangerous places. You can view Lowy’s work by following him on Instagram or find out more about him at his website.

Michael O’Connell

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#129 – Cartoonists react to Paris attack

“It is every cartoonist’s worse nightmare and it’s absolutely chilling. Sadness, shock and horror.”

Cartoonists react to Paris attack

Artwork by political cartoonist Jen Sorensen and used with her permission. View the the full cartoon on Fusion.

That’s how political cartoonist Jen Sorensen described her reaction on hearing of the Jan. 7, 2015, attack on the Paris headquarters of the Charlie Hebdo magazine by two Islamist gunman.

The shootings killed 12, including cartoonists Stéphane Charbonnier, Jean Cabut, Philippe Honoré Tignous and Georges Wolinski.

“It definitely, I would say, is an attack on cartooning,” Sorensen said. “I certainly feel terrible for the victims, as we’re all kind of members of the tribe, the cartooning tribe.”

Sorensen draws a weekly cartoon of political and social satire that appears online at Fusion.net and in more than 20 alternative newspapers.

After the initial shock, Sorensen’s next impulse was to leap into action. She began reaching out to cartoonists from around the world. The end result was “12 great cartoon responses to the Charlie Hebdo killings,” a feature she put together with Andy Dubbin.

As events unfolded, other cartoonists began posting their art and news outlets began reprinting the works on their websites and in social media.

Erin Polgreen, editor of the online comics journalism magazine Symbolia, was concerned that many media outlets appeared to be reprinting the artwork without the artist’s permission or even offering to pay for the work. She wrote about her concerns in TPM: “Hey, Media: Instead of Lionizing Charlie Hebdo, Support The Artists You’re Exploiting.”

Cartoons, comics and cartoonists are Michael Cavna’s beat, as the editor of the Comic Riffs column in The Washington Post. In the aftermath of the Paris shootings, he aggregated the reactions of cartoonists on social media and reported the American cartooning community’s response to the attack.

In this week’s podcast, It’s All Journalism producer Michael O’Connell interviews Jen Sorensen, Erin Polgreen and Michael Cavna on their reactions to the Charlie Hebdo attack and how the media — and the cartooning community in particular — responded. For those wishing to show their support for cartoonists around the world, Sorensen recommends donating to Cartoonists Rights Network International.

Michael O’Connell

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#128 – Mobile journalism gets its MoJo

Glen Mulcahy‘s first foray into mobile journalism took place in 2010, when he was training video journalists at an event in Budapest

“I took my iPhone 4 and some of the accessories that I had slowly accrued over a few months and I decided to shoot a news package just to see more than anything else,” he said.

Glen Mulcahy teaches mobile journalism.

Glen Mulcahy is the innovation lead for technology with RTÉ-Irelands National Public Service Broadcaster and the organizer of the first international mobile journalism conference, MoJoCon.

Back then, Mulcahy was a video journalist working for RTE, Ireland’s public broadcaster.

In Budapest, he used the FiLMiC Pro app to shoot the video and edited it on his iPad using iMovie. He then FTPed the finished video back to Dublin.

“I didn’t tell our guys in the quality control room that it was shot on an iPhone,” he said. “I just asked them to give me the thumbs up or the thumbs down on the quality and they passed it. And for me it was a bit of a revelation, I kind of thought, ‘I wonder if I had told them it was shot on an iPhone would it be more scrutinized more acutely?'”

Returning to Ireland, he replicated his mobile journalism experiment with one of the video journalists at RTE using the same equipment.

“He shot a full story for broadcast,” Mulcahy said. “It passed the quality control checks after being FTPed and it was broadcast. It was then after it went to air that I then revealed the big show of ‘This is all just done on the iPhone.’ And it created quite a bit of reaction, some of our union people had something to say. Even the director general weighed in and asked how it happened and what was the theory behind it.”

This led to a presentation to management and an investment of money in the RTE Mobile Journalism Project, which is now in its third year.

Neal Augenstein, the technology editor at WTOP in Washington, D.C., has blazed his own trails with mobile journalism, using the iPhone to report the news on a daily basis. He’s profuse in his praise of the work Mulcahy is producing at RTE.

“Glen, with his training and his background, really approaches it the way a professional photo journalist would, and he’s able to teach people how to use this consumer tool to make some incredible art and news,” Augenstein said.

Spreading the mobile journalism MoJo

As a way to spread the message of mobile journalism, Mulcahy has organized the first international mobile journalism conference, MojoCon 2015.

“Part of the logic behind MoJoCon is to try and unite a global network of storytellers who have embraced mobile and to put them on the stage together, so they can share their stories and tell people about what they achieved,” Mulcahy said.

The conference, which takes place March 27 and 28, in Dublin, brings together mobile storytellers from around the world and offers training opportunities in the technology and storytelling techniques they use as mobile journalists.

“It is the core conference where you get to hear a fairly unique panel of speakers talk about their experiences,” he said. “Running in parallel, there’s an exhibition space where you can literally do hands-on time with some of the most visible hardware solutions and app solutions that are on the market.”

On the second day of the conference, attendees will have the opportunity to train with some of the panelists, including Augenstein.

“They’re going to share their knowledge and do three-hour workshops on what they do best,” Mulcahy said. “So, if I was a journalism student or if even I was a print journalist with no exposure to telling stories with video, for me, this would be quite a holistic way for me to get full open sight of all the different, amazing initiatives around the world, look at some of the gadgets and gear without spending money online and then learn from some of the best people in the business.”

Michael O’Connell

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#127 – Mike Causey walks the federal beat

Mike Causey covers the federal workforce for — wait for it — Federal News Radio. He formerly worked for The Washington Post, where he also wrote a column about the federal government.

Mike Causey covers the federal workforce.

Mike Causey has been covering the federal workforce for more than 30 years, first at the Washington Post and now for Federal News Radio. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Causey started out as a “messenger” — which ranked lower than a copy boy — at The Post, while attending college at night. Among his early assignments was being the “bodyguard” for The Post reporter covering the first Beatles concert in Washington, D.C.

“They did not who — what — The Beatles were except it was a big deal,” Causey said. “The fear was there would some kind of riot or some kind of problem.”

During the Civil Rights movement and riots of the 1960s, D.C. was under a curfew. Reporters were one of the few groups of people that were legally allowed out after a certain time of night. As a result, their press credentials glowed so they could be seen in the dark.

Causey eventually took over “Federal Diary” at The Post, which is a column for government workers. Now, he writes a similar column for Federal News Radio and hosts the Your Turn radio show.

“I don’t think the average person has a clue as to what government workers do,” Causey said.

Causey has a good relationship with his readers, who are incredibly loyal. Sometimes, his followers give him tips, such as recent information about the IRS. The agency has cut about 13,000 people from its ranks, which is complicating tax collections, Causey learned from a reader.

Some of the federal workforce jobs can sound kind of crazy. For example, Causey has talked to high-paying government scientists who spent most of their time trying to take the temperature of bears through their — well, listen to the podcast and find out. Strange federal projects are sometimes backed up with logical reasoning. Other times, they are the result of the whim of a congressman.

“Government workers — by and large — don’t sit around and dream up these projects,” Causey said.

Julia O’Donoghue

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#126 – Digital security protects free speech

Shauna Dillavou is quite comfortable with paranoia, especially when it comes to journalists and their digital security.

Shauna Dillavou talks digital security

Shauna Dillavou, left, co-founder and executive director of Community Red, talks to It’s All Journalism Producer Megan Cloherty. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

“Digital security, we tend to focus on what it’s going to take to make free speech as free as possible,” said Shauna Dillavou, cofounder and executive director of Community Red. “That’s going to depend on who’s reporting it and where and what they’re saying.”

Community Red helps journalists around the world assess heir threat model and come up with strategies to protect their information and themselves from “bad actors,” whether they be dictatorial regimes or drug lords seeking to eliminate reporters covering wrongdoing.

“The idea is we want people to think about who they are in the space and time that they’re operating, their geography, the politics around them, what that means to them, and then what they want to say,” Dillavou said. “And so, if you can look at that and the aggressors, the people who may not like to hear what you’re saying, and their potential to do you harm, like what ways they could potentially be getting to you, and the information that you have and what could happen to you as a result.”

In this week’s podcast, Producers Megan Cloherty and Michael O’Connell talk to Shauna Dillavou of Community Red about what her organization is doing to help citizen journalists worldwide. They also discuss what steps journalists can take to protect their information from prying eyes and the impact threats like GamerGate and the Sony hack have on free speech.

Michael O’Connell

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