The old financial records that I do keep

It’s now two months until tax day, which means that it’s time for some financial paperwork. By that I don’t mean starting my 2018 return–I haven’t even gotten all my 1099s yet–but discarding records from prior years that no longer retain any legal relevance.

This tidying up has sent a raft of old statements and forms into the recycling (with every instance of a Social Security Number torn out for subsequent shredding), and now the file cabinet is no longer packed so tight.

But there are some tax and financial records that I’m keeping even though I no longer have to: the 1040s, W-2s, and checkbooks of my college and post-college years.

Those documents tell a story of a simpler and more painful financial time–an annual income in the low twenties, paychecks with only three figures to the left of the decimal point, ATM withdrawals that rarely exceeded $30, and a checking-account balance that I struggled to keep above $2,000.

(Fortunately, rents around D.C. were a lot cheaper then.)

Being reminded of the cramped state of my finances back then helps me feel better about them today, even after all the lousy things that have happened to the journalism business lately.

But the more important part of this exercise is not cultivating nostalgia but renewing empathy–for anybody who’s living paycheck to paycheck, or who’s just a slow month or a government shutdown away from having their bank balance erode enough to show only three digits to the left of the decimal point.

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Weekly output: digital technology and personal relationships, vulnerability reporting

I got in a quick trip to New York this week, thanks to an invitation to speak at a conference at Columbia University that arrived after the event organizer read the Data Privacy Day piece I wrote for the Washington Post last month.

2/7/2019: Panel IV:​ Connection: Building or Destroying Personal Relationships?, Greater Good Gathering

I talked about the problems and possibilities of social media–more of the former than the latter–with Fred Davie of the  Union Theological Seminary, the University of Southern California’s Todd Richmond, the Women’s Media Center’s Soraya Chemaly, and Robin C. Stevens of the University of Pennsylvania’s nursing school. My contribution to the discussion was suggesting that these social apps might be less amenable to abuse if their development teams weren’t dominated by people whose race and gender render them immune to the usual racist, misogynistic word vomit online.

2/8/2019: How you can report security problems to tech companies like Apple, Yahoo Finance

This post unpacking Apple’s delayed response to a 14-year-old’s discovery of a serious vulnerability in Group FaceTime–which looks pretty good compared to how many companies handle “vuln” reports–went through a couple of post-publication revisions.

How I turn notes into quotes

Since the issue of how journalists take notes during interviews has come up this week–courtesy of former New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson’s cringe-inducing declaration that “I’ve never recorded“–here’s how I capture quotes from an interview, a speech or a panel.

The usual answer involves a keyboard. For everyday note-taking, I type the most interesting sentences I hear into an Evernote file. That demands a certain amount of parallel processing, as one part of my brain decides if a sentence-like string of words is worth memorializing and another sends my fingers skittering across the keys, but it generally works for stories that don’t center on one person’s quotes.

I know that real-time transcription involves a risk of transposing a word here or there–it’s amazing how many places an adverb can land in a sentence–so I quote conservatively when writing.

If, however, I’m writing a story around an interview or a speech, I’ll record the whole thing while also taking notes in real-time. That’s a two-device proposition: While I type on my laptop, my phone is on the table or otherwise far enough away not to pick up my keystrokes.

(The one time I tried recording in Evernote on my laptop as I typed was a disaster, with the soundtrack of my keystrokes sounding like a herd of small animals running back and forth over the keyboard.)

If I’m covering a public speech or panel, I usually get the additional backup of streaming video of the event that I can replay afterwards.

I’ll also record instead of trying to jot down notes if I’m having a conversation with somebody while we both walk, as if we were in an Aaron Sorkin drama. Trying to take notes on my phone in that scenario invites typo-ridden notes at best, bumping into somebody at worst.

But while recording an interview ensures that I won’t miss a turn of phrase, it also at least doubles my writing time, since I need to play back the entire thing, usually more than once, to ensure I got the quotes correct. Automated transcription services–my friend Ron Miller is a huge fan of Otter, so I’ve now signed up for that–can speed the process, but I doubt I’d copy and paste from a machine-learning model’s transcript without a reality-check replay of the recording.

In all of these scenarios, the speaker in question can make the job easier or harder. Practiced orators who elocute in precisely-formed sentences are a pleasure to transcribe, while fast talkers and people who interleave their dependent and independent clauses escalate the difficulty level.

Or I can just do the interview via e-mail and not have to worry about any of this stuff.

Weekly output: Data Privacy Day, PBS digital strategy, trust in traditional media, Huawei charges, Trump’s DoJ on Facebook, VPN reality check

This week featured a personal record of sorts: three stories published in a day, each at a different outlet and one at a first-time client.

1/28/2019: Big tech firms still don’t care about your privacy, The Washington Post

I wrote most of this essay about the fauxliday that is “Data Privacy Day” in an hour or two on Friday of the previous week.

1/28/2019: PBS’ most-of-the-above digital-video strategy, FierceVideo

This piece started with my researching streaming-TV options for a relative and discovering that none included the local PBS station. Fortunately, it ended with Boston’s WGBH telling me that it expects to be one or two “over the top” video services by this fall.

1/28/2019: New study finds trust in traditional media (mostly) transcends partisanship, Columbia Journalism Review

This is my first byline at CJR. This publication offering an exceptionally author-friendly contract encourages me to make sure that it’s not the last.

1/29/2019: Huawei allegations, Al Araby

i made a quick appearance on this Qatar-based news channel, overdubbed live into Arabic, to recap two new rounds of federal charges against the Chinese telecom-hardware giant.

2/1/2019: Why Trump’s DOJ doesn’t want to break up Facebook, Yahoo Finance

I wrote up assistant attorney general Makan Delrahim’s talk at the State of the Net conference Tuesday, outlining why he seems uninterested in revisiting the Department of Justice’s approvals for Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and WhatsApp.

2/1/2019: Why VPNs won’t always keep you safe online, Yahoo Finance

The immediate motivation for writing this reality-check reassessment of virtual-private-network services came from a comment a reader left on Monday’s Washington Post story, but I’ve had the idea floating around my head for a while.

We finally got an Amazon Echo

More than four years after I first tried out an Amazon Echo, there’s now one in our house. Even by my late-adopter habits, that’s an exceptionally long time for us to pick up on a tech trend.

But waiting so many years did allow us to get an Echo at a good price: $0.00. Late last year, Verizon added a free Echo to its menu of promotions to new and renewing Fios subscribers, and the company (also the parent firm of my client Yahoo Finance) included us in this offer even though we only pay it for Internet access.

(Even weirder, this free Echo came on top of being offered a lower rate for a faster connection. I guess I should see that as belated compensation for us missing out on other new-customer incentives Verizon’s offered since our fiber-optic connection went live nine years ago today.)

We got the code to redeem for a free second-generation Echo a couple of weeks after our speed upgrade went through, I waited a week to cash it in, and our new voice-controlled gadget arrived Friday. I promptly found a spot for this cybernetic cylinder in our kitchen.

So far, I’ve set up our Echo with only a few skills: it can play Pandora Internet radio, read the news from WAMU and can control our Philips Hue lightbulbs. (The Echo’s role as a smart-home hub is the use case that I utterly ignored in the first-look post I wrote for Yahoo Tech.) I’ve already determined that the Alexa app does not make for a great grocery-list manager, so I’m now going to see if Todoist can better handle that role. And I’ve changed one setting from the default: Because we have an eight-year-old at home, purchasing by voice is off.

There’s a lot to learn, but at least I’m no longer quite so illiterate at such a major tech platform. I just hope I can keep up with our kid, who already talks to Alexa far more than my wife and I combined.

Weekly output: CES recap, cable’s 10G pitch, making Congress smarter about tech policy, whither “GIS”

We’re now more than halfway through this presidential term, which is crazy to think about considering that January 2017 sometimes feels like it happened five years ago.

1/22/2019: Techdirt Podcast Episode 196: The CES 2019 Post-Mortem, Techdirt

For the fourth year in a row, I joined Techdirt editor Mike Masnick on his podcast to compare notes about CES.

1/24/2019: How cable wants to speed up your internet access, Yahoo Finance

The cable industry chose CES week to announce its “10G” initiative for 10-Gbps broadband, which helped ensure that I couldn’t get around to unpacking how much of his plan isn’t new until a couple of weeks later.

1/24/2019: These people are trying to make Congress smarter about tech policy, Yahoo Finance

I’ve had this story on my to-do list for months, but the arrival of a new class of TechCongress fellows finally pushed me to research and write it.

1/25/2019: The Changing Nature of GIS, Trajectory Magazine

I returned to my occasional client to write this wonky article about how cloud services and mobile devices are democratizing geographic information systems in much the same way that they’ve opened up online publishing.

Another brutal week for journalism in America

It looks like I made it through this workweek without learning of any friends in journalism getting sacked. That would be the weakest of wins after three days of mass layoffs across old and new media.

It started Wednesday, when Gannett–publisher of my client USA Today–began firing a few hundred people in newsrooms across the country. Later that day, Verizon Media Group–the parent organization of my client Yahoo Finance–said it would lay off 7 percent of its workers. And then BuzzFeed upped the ante by telling staffers that it would sack a full 15% of them.

Thursday and Friday, I watched the occupational bonfire burn across Twitter. While it hasn’t involved friends, it has taken out bylines I know and trust–and some entire sections.

The Huffington Post dumped its opinion staff, a grim echo of last March’s closure of the U.S. News & World Report opinion department that cost my friend Robert Schlesinger his job. BuzzFeed deleted its national and national-security desks–I can only read that as a declaration of unseriousness at covering the news in 2019–and, in some sadistic mix of incompetence and heartlessness, is stringing the layoffs into next week.

I ache for everybody involved, because I’ve seen this movie before. I’ve read the weasel-worded memo from managers trying to paper over things, I’ve eaten the sheet cake at the newsroom goodbyes, and I’ve watched decades of experience walk out the door–knowing that the exercise will repeat. It certainly will if Digital First Media, a civic cancer of a newspaper chain owned by the Alden Global Capital hedge fund, succeeds in its unsolicited bid to buy Gannett.

I just hope things stop sucking at some point and that some of the following things happen: The online-ad industry stops racing to the bottom; subscription or other ad-independent revenue frees us from hoping adtech gives us a pony; newsroom executives stop wasting time and resources by chasing after every shiny object Facebook touts each quarter before sunsetting two quarters later; hedge-fund plutocrats find another industry to strip-mine of value; or the media at large switches to a non-profit footing and we all accept lives of shabby gentility.

Meanwhile, after this week, I have to count myself as lucky in this business. When I lost my newspaper job, that came with a soft landing and a long runway, and I’m still learning things and writing about them–the only work I want to do. I could be making more money in another career (and I was in this one three years ago), but things could be worse. To any journalists reading this who just had things go much worse: I see you, and if you want to vent, please get in touch.