#143 – Comics create immersive experience

Dan Archer is a graphics journalist, using comics and immersive technology to tell stories of depth and tragedy.

Comics journalist Dan Archer uses his artwork to tell immersive stories. (Photo by Michael O'Connell)

Comics journalist Dan Archer uses his artwork to tell immersive stories. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

The story Archer has been working on since last summer that’s garnered the greatest degree of attention for comics journalism and graphic storytelling in general is his coverage of the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.

“Ferguson Firsthand” sprang out of Archer’s fellowship at the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri.

“Obviously, it’s a completely, horrendously tragic incident and one that is by no means alone in the context of police shootings of African American men,” he said. “It happened 10 days after I arrived in Missouri. So, as any journalist, being two hours away, I had to go down and I went down and did some sketches. Medium was immediately interested in picking them up.”

Archer had already been using a virtual reality program on a project he was doing on human trafficking. So when he arrived in Ferguson, he began shooting 360-degree video. Combining that with 3-D imaging, he later adapted the story into an immersive narrative using Oculus Rift technology. This allowed readers to walk around inside the story and experience it as if they were on the ground in Ferguson.

“The best ‘truth’ or ‘path to truth’ isn’t through the perfectly cropped camera zoom,” Archer said. “It’s through people who were recording something else in the background or someone else that saw something that was out of the ordinary and it’s a composite that helps to either make or unsettle the idea of just one single truth.”

Human beings are wired to have subjective perspectives of something they observe. Archer tries to bridge those varying points of view by combining them into a single, immersive narrative.

“I find that by putting everything in one, single container, it sort of facilitates and understanding of that and forces the reader to make their own mind up,” he said. “And that’s what’s important.”

Michael O’Connell

Dan Archer spoke Saturday, April 11, at the 2015 Society for News Design conference in Washington, D.C. In this podcast, Archer discusses his philosophy about comics and journalism. He talks about the pursuit of truth and how important it is for journalists to remember that everyone who views an event is seeing it through their own perspective, prejudices and all.

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#142 – Richard Wurman plays it dumb

Richard Saul Wurman is no dummy. But, that doesn’t mean he can’t see the value of being dumb sometimes.

Richard Saul Wurman and Kris Viesselman present at keynote conversation during the 2015 Society for News Design's annual workshop in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael O'Connell)

Richard Saul Wurman and Kris Viesselman present at keynote conversation during the 2015 Society for News Design’s annual workshop in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)

Richard Saul Wurman and Kris Viesselman present at keynote conversation during the 2015 Society for News Design’s annual workshop in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Michael O’Connell)[/caption]

“What I embrace, basically, or what I’ve tried to have as a path in my life is to be the dumbest person in the room,” Wurman told an audience on Friday, April 10, during a keynote address at the Society of News Design’s annual workshop in Washington, D.C.

“I really like to suck out information from everybody else, and I listen to every word everybody says,” he said. “And it’s unsettling, because sometimes the words are really stupid and they’re inaccurate and some speakers are stupid and inaccurate. Just because you’re on the stage doesn’t mean you have any way to the truth. And I’m really obsessed with how stupid I am.”

At 80, Wurman, who Fortune magazine called an “intellectual hedonist” with a “hummingbird mind”, has spent a lifetime surrounding himself with smart people. An information architect, he’s also the author of 83 books, including “Information Anxiety” and the ACCESS city guides.

What Wurman is known primarily for these days is being the co-founder of the TED conferences, which routinely bring together experts in Technology, Entertainment and Design to share their ideas — in other words, the culmination of Wurman’s goal to surround himself and others with smart people.

This is a special podcast is part of It’s All Journalism’s coverage of the 2015 Society for News Design’s workshop in Washington, D.C. It’s a recording of a conversation between TED conference founder Richard Saul Wurman and Kris Viesselman, a designer and founder of Electric Ivy. The conversation was presented as a keynote address on Friday, April 10.

Michael O’Connell

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#141- KPCC makes one voter care

If every vote matters, every voter matters, too.

Kristen Muller, managing editor for newsgathering at Southern California Public Radio, station KPCC in Los Angeles, knew not to expect record high turnout during a recent municipal election. But when she realized some reporters in her own newsroom weren’t aware an election was on the horizon, it provided a little clarity on the average 9 percent voter turnout.

KPCC reporter Meghan McCarty canvasses the streets of Los Angeles with a sandwich board and a microphone. (KPCC photo)

KPCC reporter Meghan McCarty canvasses the streets of Los Angeles with a sandwich board and a microphone. (KPCC photo)

If a reporter wasn’t aware of the election, “surely many, many, many people don’t know,” she said. How could reporters inform their listeners of candidates’ positions on various hot-button local issues if reporters couldn’t discuss those issues with informed listeners?

Some brainstorming ensued and resulted in a simple goal: Find one person unsure of whether he or she was going to vote and make that person care about the election.

“We looked over census and voting data and looked at the people that were really unrepresented at the polls,” Muller said of how the station’s potential voter was selected.

“We imagined this non-voter would have to be someone who was under the age of 44, someone who’s a non-white voter, someone who has real interests that are affected by city decisions,” she said. They settled on Al, a chef and restaurateur, because he best represented someone “who had some real stakes in this election.”

And thus, #MakeAlCare was born. The station wanted its efforts to have a wide reach, so coming up with a hashtag for social media was a must. There was a methodical approach to researching and producing the series but it was not advocacy.

The subject of KPCC's Make Al Care campaign, Chef Al Gordon, is the founder of Community in Los Feliz. Like the majority of voters in Los Angeles, he doesn't come out for local elections. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

The subject of KPCC’s Make Al Care campaign, Chef Al Gordon, is the founder of Community in Los Feliz. Like the majority of voters in Los Angeles, he doesn’t come out for local elections. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

“We’re not advocating that you go out and vote one way or another,” Muller said. “We’re advocating that you get engaged. These are really big issues facing our city. … Increasingly, fewer and fewer people are making decisions for all of us.”

If anything, a series like #MakeAlCare was just another way in which KPCC carried out its mission.

“We’re public radio,” Muller said. “We’re here to serve the community. To serve the community, the community needs to know what’s happening.”

The power of the project was felt almost immediately: The day after the first story aired, Al was met at work by a few candidates running for local office. By the eve of the election, Al had opened his restaurant for a pre-election party.

“The victory is small,” Muller said, as Al did in fact vote in the March contests. “We didn’t turn around an election, we didn’t boost turnout in a significant way. But we got at least one more voter out to the polls.”

Amber Healy

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#140 – Restorative narrative: Tales of resiliency and recovery

You might have another excuse not to listen to your editor.

At a time where the “If it bleeds, it leads” mentality is especially pervasive in today’s major newsrooms, where the media preys on the shocking, traumatic and negative, there is a light in the darkness.

Images and Voices of Hope is a non-profit organization that believes the media can create a force for positive change. It’s a place where journalists can talk about the impact their stories have on a particular community, especially during the aftermath of a tragedy.

“Positive news or the ‘positive stories’ phrase really makes journalists cringe, and I can totally understand that,” said Mallary Tenore, managing director of Images and Voices of Hope.

Restorative narrative is not just ‘happy news’

“But I think people’s appetite for news is changing,” she said. “With that change, come the opportunities to tell the full story — not just telling the stories of what happened, but really looking at what’s possible.”

Mallary Tenore, managing director of Images and Voices of Hope, spreads the message of restorative narrative.

Mallary Tenore, managing director of Images and Voices of Hope, spreads the message of restorative narrative.

IVOH fosters a community where thoughtful, empathetic journalism is the name of the game. The organization has built most of its mission behind the idea of “restorative narrative.”

Tenore said a growing body of research has shown repeated exposure to negative emotions often expressed in traumatic news stories, people become more stressed, withdrawn and less social. It creates a culture of fear rather than resilience and community.

“But when people experience positive emotions, like those that are often in restorative narratives, they feel more mobilized to be engaged with their communities,” Tenore said. “Positive psychology research shows that resilience is an acquired skill. Our hypothesis is if the media were to tell more stories of resilience and recovery, then maybe they could teach communities what it means to be resilient.”

Tenore said the idea of restorative journalism stemmed from Curtiss Clark, the editor of the Newtown Bee, and his experience covering the Sandy Hook shootings. Clark wanted to find out how his paper could not only report what happened but also how he could help his community find the road toward recovery.

I think people’s appetite for news is changing. With that change, come the opportunities to tell the full story — not just telling the stories of what happened, but really looking at what’s possible.

“Some people might look at that think well, would that mean that the paper would be biased or that they would branch off into advocacy?,” Tenore said. “But he really believed that they could tell true stories that would help the community and the paper could do something constructive for them.”

IVOH creates tools that help journalists use the concept of restorative narrative in their own coverage. IVOH is developing a list of questions journalists can use to help them tell these kinds of stories, and it plans to publish and release a restorative narrative workbook to newsrooms across the country.

With limited resources and time, Tenore said she understands why it’s easy to cover crime or tragedy and quickly move on to the next story. But IVOH suggests journalists create a log of the traumatic stories they’ve covered, and revisit the story months or even years later.

Positive change through stories of resilience

“In many ways, it could help them to take a more balanced and more holistic approach to their coverage,” Tenore said. “It could potentially enhance the work that they do and maybe make them feel more fulfilled in terms of what they’re doing as storytellers.”

In December, IVOH launched the Restorative Narrative Fellowship program. Five journalists from across the country get six months, and a stipend, to find and tell stories of restorative narrative in their communities. IVOH works with each of the fellows to craft their stories — and discusses the benefits and potential pitfalls of the genre with each fellow.

In June, journalists, fellows and media professionals will gather in Haines Falls, New York, for the organization’s annual Restorative Narrative Summit.

IVOH hopes it can expand its community to include all kinds of digital storytellers, Tenore said, which will only bring a more diverse collection of voices to join in on the narrative.

“The more that we can explain the impact that these stories have,” she said, “the more likely that people are going to want to tell these narratives.”

Nicole Ogrysko

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#139 – SPLC fights censorship on campus

At a time when Americans are relying more heavily and more frequently on student journalists for their local news, those same reporters have fewer protections and legal securities than their “professional” counterparts.

Frank LoMonte is the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which helps student journalists obtain legal help to fight censorship.

Frank LoMonte is the executive director of the Student Press Law Center, which helps student journalists obtain legal help to fight censorship.

Frank LoMonte, executive director for the Student Press Law Center, explains that while younger journalists, in high school and college, predominantly, are being tasked with reporting on real-world events, they’re doing so without a safety net.

The Student Press Law Center receives an average of 2,500 calls and emails annually with questions and concerns about access to meetings, public officials, public records and what can be considered protected information.

“When somebody calls us from a K-12 school, it’s normally a question about their First Amendment rights,” LoMonte said. “Unfortunately, some of the censorship is really, really heavy handed to the point where teachers’ jobs are threatened or journalism programs are actually threatened with closures. Those are the cases that hit you right in the gut, the ones that threaten the existence and future of journalism.”

In colleges, the stakes are different but, in some cases, even more substantial. The calls the Center receives from students are increasingly about “campus crimes, campus discipline, campus sexual assault, and especially the interaction with athletic departments,” he said. Colleges and universities can be “intensely interested in keeping secret” anything that might jeopardize a positive image or reputation, while at the same time student journalists are just as intensely interested in finding out the truth.

Unfortunately, some of the censorship is really, really heavy handed to the point where teachers’ jobs are threatened or journalism programs are actually threatened with closures.

College students also are called upon to serve as community reporters, attending high school events and school district meetings, and without their attendance, the information might not reach concerned citizens, LoMonte said.

“Colleges around the country are being called upon by people like the Knight Foundation to reconceive their journalism program like a teaching hospital, to think of themselves as the front-line provider of that critical information that the community needs,” he said. “We’re leaning on students, all of us are, to be our information providers, and at the same time, we don’t provide them with anything near the same level of legal protection that professionals have.”

He adds that private colleges or universities, including such big-name schools as Georgetown and George Washington University, are not required to operate under a constitutional approach to free speech, whereas public schools, like the University of Maryland, must adhere to first amendment standards.

“But even there, the courts have not recognized nearly the same level of protection for students as for professionals and the school or maybe even the college could step in and censor them based on some kind of a showing that their coverage is going to in some way be disruptive to operations of the institution, however that’s defined,” LoMonte said.

Any student that tries to challenge any kind of suppression of information in court is likely to run out of time and could graduate before the legal process is completed, he noted, to say nothing of the high cost of legal bills that come when squaring off against “with a government agency that has free lawyers.”

Amber Healy

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#138 – Ouroboros: Podcast eats its tail

Our podcast is based on conversations we have with journalists about how they do their jobs. Occasionally, someone asks us about how we do our podcast and we have a conversation about that.

Shannon McHale is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism - University of Maryland. She writes for the American Journalism Review.

Shannon McHale is a student at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism – University of Maryland. She writes for the American Journalism Review.

That was the case when Shannon McHale, a graduating senior at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland, contacted us about an article she was writing for the American Journalism Review about podcasts that journalists should be listening to.

Hey, we’re journalists. We do a podcast.

We were flattered and agreed to talk to Shannon, but with one catch — we’d record the interview and post it as a podcast.

We’re podcasters. We talk to journalists. That’s what we do.

Shannon was game.

She asked her questions. We asked ours. She learned a little bit about us. We learned a little bit about her. That’s a podcast.

Once Shannon posts her story, we’ll add the link.

Michael O’Connell

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#137- Chris Faraone treks the Oregon Tale

Chris Faraone sees the forest for the trees when it comes to Oregon.

Boston-based Faraone is in the midst of what could be a career-making, or at least reputation-making, project, examining the intersection of corruption, economic hardship, questionable law enforcement practices, shady mortgage dealings and the demise of the timber and logging industry in a corner of southwest Oregon.

Chris Farone is the writer/publisher of Oregon Tale. (Photo by Maurice Morales)

Chris Farone is the writer/publisher of Oregon Tale. (Photo by Maurice Morales)

Faraone, a news and features editor with DigBoston, previously wrote a book detailing his time with the Occupy Wall Street movement not just in New York City but across the country. For his next big adventure, however, he’s trying to get to the bottom of what’s going on in Josephine County, Oregon.

“A friend called me and told me that his parents were evicted from their home of 25 years by a full SWAT team,” Faraone said. Josephine County is what’s called a “zombie county,” where sheriff patrols on nights and weekends have been curtailed in the most rural parts of the county. Two-thirds of the department’s funding evaporated when logging on federal lands ceased and, despite the efforts of community activists, homeowners have refused to pick up the difference.

“It’s a hurting economy, but there’s a lot more going on,” Faraone said. Without the logging industry to turn to for financial stability, and no other industry on the horizon to play savior, “the place is in a real bind.”

Josephine County relies on the neighboring Jackson County for assistance, which is where the SWAT team originated from a year ago, evicting Faraone’s friend’s parents from their home.
“The evictions lured me there,” he said of the saga he’s uncovered. “What kept me is why.”

No editors were interested in me digging back 200 years. The truth is that, this is the history of this region: Theft. Stealing of land. Killing Indians and keeping their children as pets. That’s not an exaggeration.

So far, Faraone’s learned that the person who sold his friend’s parents their house “did a little jail time and paid $750,000 in restitution eight years ago, after he sold them that property, for racketeering.” But the county never went after the broker; instead, the state pursued charge after “some of the property owners, some of the wealthier ones, formed a corporation to sue him.”

After an initial round of digging, Faraone began writing up what he’d found, posting, as of now, eight segments on Medium.com of what he’s calling Oregon Tale.

“It’s been a totally off-the-wall mission across the country, like nothing I’ve ever done,” he says. Thanks to donations and support from friends, family, PayPal and Contributoria accounts, he’s made at least two trips out to Oregon for onsite interviews and investigative work.

In Oregon Tale, Chris Faraone, news and features editor at DigBoston, is documenting the economic hardships faced by residents of Josephine County, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Chris Faraone)

In Oregon Tale, Chris Faraone, news and features editor at DigBoston, is documenting the economic hardships faced by residents of Josephine County, Oregon. (Photo courtesy of Chris Faraone)

The first few segments are background and introductory work, but “The third one had a bunch of bombshells,” he said. “I discovered that the search warrant used to evict my friend’s parents is actually a forgery.”

The fourth segment, he laughed, “was the reason I had to do this independently. No editors were interested in me digging back 200 years. The truth is that, this is the history of this region: Theft. Stealing of land. Killing Indians and keeping their children as pets. That’s not an exaggeration.”

In addition to the mind-boggling story, he’s found himself surrounded by people with affiliations he’d never imagined, including “marijuana farmers who pack guns, who are taking about banning GMOs. Then you have timber farmers who you wouldn’t exactly affiliate with the Black Power movement but who are very much in support of Michael Brown and the Black Lives Matter movement.”

Where this project will end, Faraone isn’t sure, but he’s happy the work is gaining traction.

“It’s been almost two months and now the Oregon media is writing to me,” he said. “Now they believe me.”

Amber Healy

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#136 – Religion and empathetic journalism

Maybe Otis Redding had it right after all.

Perhaps the best approach to reporting isn’t to start researching a story without emotion, guard up and skepticism out front, but with a little tenderness and compassion.

Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey through NYC Religions, explained that his team embraces a different method of reporting for their street-by-street, alley-by-alley exploration of religious sites and culture in America’s biggest city.

Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey through NYC Religions, stands with the New York City Central Park skyline behind him. (Courtesy photo)

Tony Carnes, editor and publisher of A Journey through NYC Religions, stands with the New York City Central Park skyline behind him. (Courtesy photo)

“We want to immerse people in and [let them] feel for themselves what people are going through, and see, then make their judgments about what’s going on,” he said.

The best way to do that, he believes, is to use what he calls sympathetic objectivity, a practice that, in some ways, turns the investigative journalism approach on its head.

The journalist’s “trinity” of skepticism followed by objectivity and maybe ending with empathy or sympathy sets each reporter off on the wrong foot with his or her interview subject, especially when the person being interviewed is a member of a religious community, Carnes explained.

“We think that you should start with sympathy or empathy with religious folks,” he said. “They have a great story to tell, you just have to find it.”

There’s room for asking tough questions. If someone from a church or religious organization is touting the outstanding success of their youth program, ask how many participants they have. If it’s a small number, the reporter is responsible to provide that information and let the reader make up her own conclusion, Carnes said.

“If you try to fool us or try to push something, [try to] pull the wool over our eyes,” his team will go forward with a more investigative approach, he said.

Carnes’ website launched in July 2010, just a month before the country was embroiled in a short-lived debate about the propriety of establishing a mosque near Ground Zero in Manhattan. While most of the national media were reporting the existence of 99 mosques in the city, Carnes and his team knew there were more than 179, because they had already started their work on cataloging all religious sites in New York City. They’d done some of the ground work establishing relationships with clergy and lay people, earning trust and building credibility along the way.

“Much of journalism is based on the paradigm of investigative journalism as the queen of journalism, that it’s the highest journalism,” Carnes said.. “We say ‘No. It’s one form of journalism. It’s a good form, we do favor it. But we believe community journalism, with sympathetic objectivity, is the main paradigm for journalism.'”

Amber Healy

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#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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