Recent work, 2020 edition

It’s been a while — five years, to be exact — since I took time to reflect on some of my favorite recent stories. I don’t often get a chance to look back on past work. As a full-time writer at Brown University, I’m always juggling a few stories each week. Most often, I’m immersed in the story up until the moment it’s published, when I immediately release it from my thoughts and pivot to the next item on the agenda.

But there are a few stories that stick with me for a bit longer. Sometimes, the subject matter is so engrossing that I keep reading about it after the fact. Other times, I’ll hit it off with an interviewee and I’ll get inspired to dig into their past work. Still other times, I’m just plain proud of my writing, and I spend a day or two basking in the glow of a job well done.

Here are a few of the stories I’ve enjoyed sharing recently.

Creating a lifelong singer

Choral music is a longtime passion of mine — I’ve been singing in groups since I was 13 — so I was thrilled when Chorus America staff reached out two years ago and asked if I was interested in contributing to their quarterly magazine, The Voice.

I was especially thrilled to write this article on how youth chorus directors can turn their singers into lifelong choir enthusiasts. My parents practically dragged me to my first choir rehearsal kicking and screaming, but not long afterward, I became a true believer. Singing in groups has had such a positive impact on my life that these days, when I move to a new city, seeking out a choir to join is my first order of business.

This wasn’t the kind of writing I was used to. Over the years, I’ve turned out hundreds of 500- to 800-word stories that draw from a small handful of interviews and other sources. But six-page features involving a dozen interviews and hours of research? That was unfamiliar territory. I’ve learned some valuable lessons about scheduling, outlining and planning from this freelance experience — and I’ve carried those lessons with me to my new job, where I’m often engaged in big writing projects with multiple stakeholders.


RaMell Ross heads to the Oscars

In 2019, four of the 10 documentary films that were nominated for Academy Awards were created by people with ties to Brown University — proof positive that this school’s reputation for welcoming and nurturing outside-the-box creative minds is well earned. The documentary filmmaker RaMell Ross, who in 2019 was a professor of the practice at Brown, had a whirlwind year following the release of his “Hale County This Morning, This Evening.” I snuck in a half-hour phone call with him just as he touched down in Los Angeles for a week of talk show appearances, dinners, galas and meetings leading up to the Oscars. Given the weighty subject matter of his films, I didn’t expect to be laughing through the entire interview, but that’s exactly what happened.


Students find contemporary connections to ancient text in ‘Antigones’ course

It’s been 10 years since I graduated from college, and I still miss the undergraduate experience every day. I was one of those students who loved learning for the sake of it. Even though I majored in journalism, I ventured far outside my course requirements for my own pleasure, dabbling in German, paleobiology, Russian literature and music history. Today, as a staff writer at Brown, I’m lucky enough to get to relive that student experience on a regular basis.

The comparative literature course “Antigones” was one of those courses I would have been dying to take as an undergrad. It involved a close study of Sophocles’ 2,500-year-old play, along with several contemporary adaptations ranging from graphic novels to experimental theater scripts. It culminated in a short performance of students’ own adaptations. I loved how their performances shed new light on the play’s timeless commentary on gender, social class and protest.


Azulejos and calçadas: The story behind Portugal’s tile art

The tiles of Portugal have become Instagram darlings in the last few years. It’s easy to appreciate their beauty, but it’s surprisingly difficult to find out much about their history. I spent a few hours researching the Portuguese empire’s historical preference for tiles, which dates back to one leader’s love of Moorish design. Then, I went down a deep internet rabbit hole trying to find out more about the history behind the intricate tiled sidewalks all over Portugal and its former colonies around the world. Turns out they came into being as a result of a king’s weird obsession with white and a subsequent catastrophic earthquake. You know you want to click on that link to learn more.


Students, alumni celebrate accomplishments, anniversaries in procession

Working at the 250-year-old Brown University has introduced me to a fascinating world of quirky, venerable traditions that didn’t really exist at the University of Oregon, my alma mater. At Brown, there’s an annual holiday concert performed entirely in Latin; students and faculty alike embrace the legend of the fictional Josiah Carberry, professor of “psychoceramics”; and the logistics surrounding the century-old Commencement procession are so wonderfully complex that they need an explainer page.

The procession, in all its sceptered and top-hatted glory, is something you really have to witness to appreciate — which is why I felt daunted by the task of bringing this tradition to life in a story. I’m proud of the way I made it work by weaving together university history, inspiring student stories (including a father-daughter duo who graduated and walked in the procession together!) and fun bits of color.


Cyrano de Bergerac is the hero we need right now

I love interviewing professional actors. I find that they’re not only incredibly honest and passionate but also incredibly articulate — which makes sense, given it’s their job! For three seasons, I managed public relations for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and I had so many compelling conversations with its actors and directors. I was particularly taken aback by the honesty and candor of Scott Coopwood, who played lead roles in “The Taming of the Shrew” and “Cyrano de Bergerac.”


Notes from 1958

I was incredibly fortunate to be working for the Colorado Shakespeare Festival as it celebrated its 60th season and completed its second tour through Shakespeare’s complete canon of plays — benchmarks that few other American festivals have met. As we prepared to promote the season, I sifted through the festival history I could find — old programs, news clips and photos — and realized that many of the young actors featured in that first festival in 1958 were likely still alive today. I spent several hours tracking a handful of them down, and I’m so glad I did: They had some fascinating stories to share, and some had gone on to achieve monumental success. Over the course of the summer, I ran a short series of condensed interviews with the original cast and crew. I don’t know if they were my most widely read stories, but they sure were among the most fun to put together.

Boat Building GIF by Brown University - Find & Share on GIPHY

Boatbuilding course at Brown includes equal parts discussion and construction

Here’s another course I would have been eager to take as an undergraduate — although I’m not sure my construction skills would have been up to par! In “Boatbuilding: Design, Making and Culture,” students bonded as they read up on the history of boatbuilding and skilled labor and then made an actual wooden boat that floats. I loved that this course gave engineering students an opportunity to appreciate the role cultural context plays in the building process, while it gave students in the humanities a chance to work with their hands.

Mariners ArtsNight - by Jill Kimball for Classical KING FM

Recent work, 2015 edition

After a few years working in the arts, I’ve stopped thinking in terms of the calendar year. To me, the year begins in September and ends in May, rising and falling in tandem with the concert seasons I follow closely. The months in between are for projects, parties, and pontificating. Even though my life is about to change big time, I think September will always feel like a new beginning to me.

While the holidays (aka the summer months) are in full swing and we edge ever closer to New Year’s Eve (Labor Day weekend), I thought I’d do a year in review of sorts.

If there’s one word I can apply to the last year of my life, it’s “busy.” In the 2014-15 concert season, I juggled one and a half jobs, three ensembles within Seattle Pro Musica, service on a board, and lots of time with friends. I have a lot to show for my hard work, including a wide variety of writing, graphics, and fully realized ideas.



Morlot, Mix-A-Lot, and music’s future
I shared my thoughts on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s controversial joint concert with the Seattle Symphony.



Backstage at PNB’s last Stowell/Sendak ‘Nutcracker’
I took my phone and two cameras with me backstage during a matinee performance of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s Nutcracker. This was a special Christmas at PNB, as the company announced this would be its last year staging the ballet with the unique Kent Stowell choreography and Maurice Sendak sets.

At SIFF 2015, follow the music
Each spring, the Seattle International Film Festival sorts its films by genre. Quite a few delve into the topic of classical music. I did a roundup of movies about, or featuring, classical music for KING FM.



13 Seattle concerts you should attend at least once
For about a year now, I’ve been attending monthly NPR Analytics meetings. I’ve used these to check in on the digital state of NPR affiliate stations, but I also use them for creative inspiration. In a round-up of some of June’s most popular NPR stories, the meeting panelists mentioned the popularity of the classic “bucket list” article. I thought, hey, I can do that for KING FM! And so I did.

5 Facts about Jean Sibelius
The Seattle Symphony celebrated Sibelius’ 150th anniversary with a month of his music, then we did a marathon broadcast of all those concerts. I thought I’d get to know the composer a little better.

31 Facts about Mozart
Every January, KING FM creates a 31 Days of Mozart Channel, where we play nonstop Mozart for an entire month. I wrote this listicle to promote the channel.



Nordic Affect: Clockworking
Last week, I listened to some blissful Icelandic music that lands somewhere between Sigur Rós and avant garde.

Gabriel Kahane: The Ambassador
While I interned at Palo Alto Weekly in 2008, I was lucky enough to chat with pianist Jeffrey Kahane while he was in town for the Music@Menlo Festival. Seven years later, I reviewed this album by his genre-defying singer-songwriter son, and along the way I got a fascinating glimpse into the history of Los Angeles.

Maya Beiser: Uncovered
An edgy cellist with East-meets-West roots deconstructed her favorite classic rock songs on this album. In researching and reading the liner notes, I think I learned more about classic rock than I did about the cello.

Julia Wolfe: Steel Hammer
One of New York City’s top composers generated a lot of buzz with a modern requiem for John Henry, the fictional steel driver who became an American folk hero. I loved the beautiful vocals by Trio Mediæval.

A Far Cry: Dreams & Prayers
This was a small, young orchestra’s feverish attempt at conveying the spiritual meaning of performing together.

The Knights: the ground beneath our feet
This Brooklyn-based chamber ensemble’s lighter-than-air exploration of the concerto grosso form spanned centuries of music, from Bach to the present day.

Missy Mazzoli: Vespers for a New Dark Age
My favorite feminist composer turned a religious rite, the vesper service, into a secular art form more fitting for the 21st century.



A Talk with Anonymous 4
My 13-year-old self, newly obsessed with choral music, squealed the whole time.

Eight questions for the King’s Singers

Derek Bermel’s Death with Interruptions
I previewed a world premiere set to kick off the Seattle Chamber Music Festival.



Confession: I Document Everything

An intellectual (or not) debate at Max's.

An intellectual (or not) debate at Max’s.

Six months into my college career, I came home for spring break and announced to a few of my friends that I was switching my major from music to journalism. I expected reactions of mild surprise, at the very least. Instead, I was met with impatient “duh”s and amused “I always knew it”s.

“That’s not a surprising revelation, is it?” They asked. “You always carry a notebook in your purse. You’re always writing down everything we say. You document everything. It’s actually pretty creepy.”

It was true. I could certainly save a lot of closet space by purging from my belongings a stack of 20 or so notebooks, some completely full, others empty, still others only partially used. I buy them habitually, whenever I head back to my old stomping grounds for a nostalgia tour, whenever I’m away from home and need to chronicle my frustrations somewhere, and of course whenever a notebook is too pretty not to buy.

I’ve never met anyone else who is quite so intent on recording anything and everything, but thanks to the power of the internet, I now know there’s at least one other freak like me: Alice Bolin. I’ve never met her, but her post on makes me believe we are kindred spirits and were probably separated at birth. From the post:

I have in my pocket at this moment a note I don’t remember writing to myself that I found recently on my floor. It reads, “Landscape quote: O pardon me thou bleeding piece of Earth.” (Googling reveals this is from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.) Also in my pocket is a note card where it says in my graduate thesis advisor’s handwriting, “Question / Is there a historical reason for the great number of rear/alley entrances/exits in Missoula bars?” Also: a stranger’s to-do list I found tucked in a book I ordered online; its only noteworthy item is “Return Cal’s pants!”

Similarly, I hoard written and verbal content constantly. I tore a page from one of my college legal pads that reads, in a list, “bastard food; misplaced football jerseys; acid dropping.” The Notebook feature on my phone offers this quote, squeezed between a flight confirmation code and a grocery list, with no context: “As soon as you’re sitting on a pokey thing, you’re like, damn, I’m sitting on a pokey thing.” And don’t even get me started on those little notebooks I used to carry everywhere from age 15, packed with funny-but-oft-nonsensical quotes from my closest friends, tales of strange adventures with acquaintances I no longer remember, and letters to ex-boyfriends. I once listed nearly 20 quotes from my college choir conductor in a LiveJournal post: “You need to get the L out.” “Make this violent word sound as sexy as possible.” “Sorry, taken over by an alien momentarily.”

The urge to document also manifests in photos.

The urge to document also manifests in photos.

The height of my recording craze was my senior year of college, when my amazing group of friends would essentially recreate a Cheers scene at our favorite local hangout three or more nights a week. We’d while away the hours commiserating about our jobs and classes, watching football games, playing cards and winning prizes in pub trivia. I must have filled four notebooks with inside jokes and stories borne from our nights there.

“I misread your mustache, sir.” (Courtesy of someone who judged my friend’s political views by his facial hair.)
“It crashed and burned, and then a dinosaur stepped on it. And then it killed a puppy.” (A friend describes her day.)
“They’re like the tacos of the feet.” (Your guess is as good as mine.)

Why the constant urge to chronicle every last funny, interesting and semi-brilliant thing? I guess I’m just a nostalgic person. In certain life situations for which a comprehensive record exists–like the trip to Eastern Europe in high school, or the night the power went out during my winter break reunion with youth choir friends–it’s likely I wrote everything down for nostalgia’s sake. Back then, I believed my future self would kick my present self for forgetting the Best Inside Jokes Ever.

I think the particular affinity for quoting my friends in our last days of college may have been a self-preservational instinct, a desperate attempt to log the here and now in some form or other–because I knew that less than a year later, I’d be in a strange new city trying to find a job and a new set of bar buddies.

When I ran out of notebooks...

When I ran out of notebooks…

Why do I still do it? Because my post-college years thus far have been predictably tumultuous and subject to change. My entire world has changed almost annually as I’ve moved to new apartments, started new relationships, said goodbye to old friends and awkwardly courted new ones. As much as I try to live in the moment the way older adults advise, I can’t help but look toward the future to an older me, contentedly flipping through five thousand notebooks of strange memories.

Writer’s Block

I’ve always been quite an enthusiastic writer. From a very young age, I kept journals that I sometimes updated multiple times in a day. I wrote about everything: things I learned in school, classmates I liked and disliked, life in after-school daycare, friends’ deep dark secrets I promised never to reveal, and of course my own deep dark secrets–usually involving a crush on a boy.

My motivation to write back then was a desire to resolve issues in my mind. Once things had been written down in a semi-coherent manner, I felt I knew where I stood and could move past whatever lingering anger, sadness or confusion I felt. There were times when I felt extraordinary euphoria and found immense satisfaction in successfully translating the feeling into words.

Beyond childhood, there were ever more motivations to keep writing well–to get good grades, to get admitted into high-quality colleges, to win debates, to stand out in the job applicant pool. Even though I still found emotional clarity after writing down my personal thoughts, I wrote increasingly less for purposes of personal growth as I wrote increasingly more in the name of professional growth.

As a result, I started experiencing something I once thought I was immune to: writer’s block. In college, I spent hours staring at a blank Word document struggling to find the words to start my term papers, even after I’d done extensive research and found a good thesis. Writing each sentence was as difficult as pulling frozen taffy.

It didn’t help that Gmail, Facebook and myriad news sites were just a click away, and so I assumed the presence of campus-wide Wi-fi was to blame for the writer’s block. I found I was slightly more productive when I moved from the library to a cafe, where I found a pleasant buzzing of white noise rather than crushing silence; when I took short breaks about once an hour for coffee or a New York Times article; or when I was running on an extra-tight deadline and had no choice but to work without stopping.

Still, I’ve wondered for years why I, the person to whom others turn for help with writing and editing, experience these extensive mental blackouts when in childhood I could write unceasingly for hours.

Today, I realized the answer could be as simple as this: In childhood I wrote on paper; now, I write on a keyboard.

It sounds like an oversimplification, I know…but something crazy happened to me today at lunch. Before I left, I opened up a document full of scripts I’ve been writing for KING FM’s next on-air fund drive. I got out my yellow legal pad to consult the informal list of script ideas I’d made for myself, found where I’d left off, and started typing. No more than two sentences came out…in a half hour.

So I tried something else: when I left to grab a quick lunch, I took the legal pad and a pen with me, thinking a little lunchtime brainstorming couldn’t hurt. I ended up scribbling furiously with my pen as I scarfed a sandwich. Thoughts came to me two at a time and my hand nearly cramped up as it tried to get everything down. In about 20 minutes, I had written three full pages of scripts.


For no good reason, I find it less inhibiting to write on paper than to write on a computer screen. It makes no sense, because when I write something down in pen, it’s there forever, and editing is messy. On a keyboard, the backspace bar is a no-fuss editor. So it must have something to do with the fact that I associate personal writing, which no one but me can judge, with paper and pen, while I associate professional writing, which many highly influential people have judged over the years, with computers and typing. The content is irrelevant; the medium is what alters my productivity. For all I know, I could have started my first-grade diary in Word and never gotten past Page One; similarly, I could have started writing my thesis in a spiral notebook and finished within a week.

This revelation has motivated me to try using good old pen and paper whenever I get into a staring contest with my computer monitor at work. It has also illustrated the importance personal writing once had on my personal well-being, and has offered a completely free and relatively easy stress-relieving method I’ve dismissed for years. I know I always say I want to write more, but this time I really mean write–not type.


Someone once challenged Ernest Hemingway to write a story in six words. Here’s what he wrote:

For sale: baby shoes, never used.

On Valentine’s Day, The New York Times posed a similar challenge to its readers: tell your own love story in six words. (I’m not clear on whether the challenge was Hemingway-inspired.) Not all were as tragic, but some were just as evocative:

Love hurts. Choose vodka or valium.

But our domestic partnership was notarized….

Note to self: avoid head cases.

It’s clear that few words are needed to tell a memorable story. In fact, some–maybe even most–stories are best told with clarity and brevity in mind.

This isn’t news to my fellow journalism school graduates, I know. But sometimes it seems like corporate America skipped that ever-important introductory college writing course.

William Zinsser, in his book “On Writing Well,” says it best: “Clutter is the disease of American writing. We are a society strangling in unneccessary words, circular constructions, pompous frills and meaningless jargon…But the secret of good writing is to strip every sentence to its cleanest components.”

It’s weird for me, a noted Hemingway hater and a notorious lover of flowery prose, to sit here preaching clarity in writing. Let it be known, though, that I practice what I preach, even if my reading tastes don’t reflect it. I’m the biggest Charles Dickens fan the world has ever seen, but that doesn’t mean I want all the profiles I write to sound like Dickens’ study of the fictional Tommy Traddles.

Practicing clarity is important in journalism for a number of reasons. For one, it ensures that a wide variety of readers, viewers and listeners can understand what’s going on. For another, it minimizes confusion in a story–the kind of confusion that can lead to lawsuits against reporters or angry backlash from readers, viewers and listeners. But most importantly, clarity leaves no room for passive statements, reiteration of the same phrase using different wording or “beating around the bush”–the kinds of devices politicians use in writing and speeches to drive weak arguments.

“In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible,” George Orwell wrote in his essay “Politics and the English Language.” The “our time” to which he refers is 1946, but today, his statement rings just as true. He continues:

“Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification. Millions of peasants are robbed of their farms and sent trudging along the roads with no more than they can carry: this is called transfer of population or rectification of frontiers. People are imprisoned for years without trial, or shot in the back of the neck or sent to die of scurvy in Arctic lumber camps: this is called elimination of unreliable elements.”

People can use passive voice and vague phrases to defend all manner of cruel acts. Switching to active voice eliminates someone’s ability to beat around the bush. In active voice, the population isn’t just “transferred”; a person or entity has to be named in connection with the transfer. And in journalism, the vague word “transfer” doesn’t fly.

Why must we live in a world where tax forms, employment documents and healthcare pamphlets require multiple read-throughs and double-takes to understand? Journalists, especially those covering the business beat, regularly act as translators for the general public. But why should we need translators?

I ask you–or rather, Orwell asks you–do you understand this sentence?

Objective considerations of contemporary phenomena compel the conclusion that success or failure in competitive activities exhibits no tendency to be commensurate with innate capacity, but that a considerable element of the unpredictable must invariably be taken into account.

That’s Orwell’s slightly exaggerated modern-day translation of this verse from Ecclesiastes:

I returned and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favour to men of skill; but time and chance happeneth to them all.

Here’s my own translation, as clear and concise as I could muster. “Life is all about luck and timing. Even the strongest, smartest and fastest aren’t immune.”

What’s a goat-choker? Weird news terms 101


GRIP-AND-GRIN (n.) A photograph of no inherent interest in which a notable and an obscure person shake hands at an occasion of supposed significance.

Today I was CQing (fact-checking) a story I wrote…and I suddenly wondered what the heck CQ stood for.

It took some pretty ruthless Googling to find the history of this term, universally known in newsrooms as the short way to say “I’ve confirmed this name/date/fact is correct.” Turns out it’s the acronym for the Latin term “cadit quaestio,” literally translated “the question falls.”

But according to a commenter on an online journalists’ forum, “cq” is also an abbreviation for “correct” that Associated Press telegraph operator Walter P. Phillips created before the turn of the 20th century. It isn’t clear whether he created it out of thin air or knew about the Latin term.

Other forum commenters thought the acronym might stand for “correct as quoted,” “can’t question” or, my personal favorite, “correct but queer.”

In other words, everyone’s got a theory, but no one’s got a real, honest, CQed answer. You’d think in a profession such as journalism, where everyone feels compelled to look things up and actually enjoys doing in-depth research, we would know more about this ubiquitous acronym’s origins.

Funny thing is, the newspaper world is full of such terms. A suffocatingly long article whose purpose is to satisfy a reporter’s vanity and win the newspaper prestigious awards rather than to gratify readers is called a “goat-choker.” Why? Nobody knows. A “slug” is a short, one- or two-word temporary title we have for story files as they go through the editing process. While there are lots of theories on the origin of this word–some say it comes from the Middle English “slugge,” which turned into the word “sluggard,” describing a lazy person–none of the theories explain why we use the term in journalism.

It took the reporter four paragraphs to get to the point: “Titanic sank at 2:20 a.m. Monday.” This newspaper is still famous for its buried leads.

Granted, most journalism terms are easily explained. Copy editors, for example, were once called “rim editors” because they sat at a horseshoe-shaped table, at the head of which was the copy chief or “slot editor.” The slot sat in such a position that he could easily hand out to-be-edited stories to everyone at the table. A “budget” meeting, though it has nothing to do with money, is aptly named because it’s a meeting in which editors decide how and with which stories they’ll fill the space in tomorrow’s paper. And editors accuse reporters of “burying a lead” when their introductory paragraphs take too long to reach the story’s thesis.

Still more terms need no explanation at all: “lead” (intro to a story), “flag” (the paper’s logo at the top of page A1) and “jump” (an instruction to follow a front-page story to an inside page) are a few of these.

My favorite phrases are the old-fashioned terms we’ve adapted for use in the 21st century. Only editors in budget meetings use the term “above the fold” to describe the stories, headlines and photos readers will see the moment they pick up a print newspaper. But nearly everyone here at The Times tosses around that phrase to describe the headlines online and mobile readers can see without using the scroll-down function on their browsers. Copy editors also use the phrase “off the floor” to describe a page or section that is officially ready for print, even though pages are never “on the floor” to begin with these days. And some of the small papers where I’ve interned use the word “pasteup” to describe the process of designing the news pages before they’re printed, even though the process no longer involves actual paste.

The question is, is all this strange lingo creating a wall between newspapers and their readers? I can hardly talk about my day at work around non-journalists without getting some head scratches, but I don’t think that’s unique to journalism. My roommate’s employer, the U.S. Coast Guard, might be the worst offender when it comes to confusing workplace terms; while the newspaper language is made up of real words or at least abbreviations of words, the military’s is nothing more than a series of acronyms, something we journalists disdainfully call “alphabet soup.” My dad speaks programming language at work, using terms such as “Delphi” and “JBuilder” offhandedly as if they’re common. My uncle, a retired ER doctor, had to memorize definitions of phrases such as “pulmonary thromboembolism” in medical school.

And most of the country speaks in corporate-ese at work, spending their days discussing “synergy,” looking for “accelerated emergence of high maturity behaviors” and “utilizing” just about everything.

So even though my line of work comes with a huge handful of obscure phrases with unknown origins, I’d say we’ve done comparatively well in simplifying things. But I can’t CQ that.

Birthday headlines

Today, the day I turn 23, is the ultimate in in-betweens: it will be exactly two years before I’m legally able to rent a car, and it’s exactly two years after the day I had my first legal drink (in the U.S., at least).

I have no wild plans for this particular birthday, since work consumes my life and last year’s “Where’s Waldo?”-themed blowout at my house in Eugene, Ore. was memorable enough to carry me through to Feb. 10, 2012. I’ll mark this as the year in which I discovered the small pleasures of birthdays: opening cards over coffee and smiling at the messages, going to work to find a platter of brownies, and hearing from friends I haven’t seen in years. I don’t need to celebrate my existence with bar-hopping or expensive dinners.

Today, I celebrated as only I would do: by looking up Seattle Times headlines from Feb. 10, 1988, the day I was born. Startlingly, some of the headlines I found could be in a newspaper today. I leave you with them here.

  • Americans Should Open Minds To Non-Western Cultures
  • Military Can’t Bar Gays, Court Rules
  • U.S. Offers Plan For Mideast Peace
  • Middle Class Seems Stuck In Middle — Economists Worry Over Increasing Gap Between Rich, Poor

Election night

Yesterday, The Seattle Times was humming with even more purpose and productivity than usual. Reporters argued over fractions of percentages. Editors posted dozens of news updates every hour until midnight. Fifteen boxes of pizza vanished in an hour.

That’s right, it was election day–only the most simultaneously stressful and exciting day of the year for the news media.

In the summer, I was around for the primaries and was thrilled to see the entire staff working well into the night to gather statistics, opinions, feedback and fallout from all around the state. I stayed five hours past my regular shift and dreamed of being on the team that helped produce the content on the real election day in November.

Amazingly, that dream came true. After two months away, I returned to The Times Monday to temporarily cover the nighttime police beat.

As I predicted, the “welcome back”s and “we missed you”s lasted mere minutes before I was whisked away and enlisted to help cover breaking news. Since Monday, my waking hours haven’t been boring for even a minute. The entirety of Tuesday was defined by pure euphoria and sleep deprivation.

Being part of election night at a newspaper–the hustle, the bustle, the political jokes running rampant–reminds me why I want so badly to land a career in print journalism. The things that happen here don’t happen in any other workplace, no matter how much more sophisticated or technologically advanced those workplaces may be. There’s a kind of casual give-and-take here, a special brand of slightly rude banter that actually strengthens the quality of the work, that doesn’t seem to exist anywhere else. Though I still believe there are multiple possible career paths out there for me, this particular path–insanely demanding and underpaid though it may be–is still my number one choice.

The “dream job” revisited

I wasn’t one of those kids who from an absurdly early age knew exactly what I wanted to do. I was convinced at 10 that I wanted to be a veterinarian because I loved my cat Marmalade. Then, after performing in a dozen or so plays in middle school, I changed my mind: I wanted to be a Broadway actress. After choir took over my life in high school, I decided I’d probably become a professional choral singer.

Then, finally, college started, and after two terms I arrived at what I thought was my final career destination: newspaper journalism.

It’s a commonly held belief that college is the place where people discover their true selves and find the things they’re passionate about. I believed that to be true, and so I believed my discovery of journalism was the be-all end-all: that was it. I’d found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

Now, after a month of Seattle-area job searching in the midst of an economy that’s forced millions of laid-off workers to reinvent themselves, I see clearly that my “dream job” could appear in a myriad of different forms.

There are very few reporter vacancies at Puget Sound newspapers, and among the hundreds of applications for each and every vacancy are likely a few former Post-Intelligencer reporters. That fact forced me to expand my job-searching horizons beyond, and I’m glad it did. I found an open position for a study abroad advisor at the University of Washington, a call for marketing workers at the Seattle Art Museum and a vacant spot for a government grant writer at the Seattle Symphony. All these jobs eased the frustration I’d felt applying for job after job in the reporting field and renewed my excitement for the unknown future. They may not have been journalism jobs, but they all involved writing and incorporated other passions I have–passions for travel, art, academia and music.

The fact that there are so many potential “dream jobs” out there makes me feel better about my uncertain future in this unforgiving economy. It expands the possibilities, increasing my chances of finding a job I actually enjoy. I’ve realized that in the end, it’s not about finding a journalism job–it’s about finding a job that makes me feel inspired, content and valuable to society.


Our last brown bag session of the summer was a full two weeks ago, but some of us are still talking about it.

It was all about “networking,” a word I confess I detest. Even in high school, the idea that I could get a job over someone equally qualified by simply knowing the right people horrified me. Unlike everyone else I knew, I didn’t get my first job through someone who knew someone else. I literally flipped through the white pages and dialed local restaurants, shops and cafes until I found one that was hiring.

But since the economy has worsened, browsing companies and cold-calling, especially when you have a specific career in mind, won’t get you anywhere nowadays. Newspapers that publicly announce job openings on are so flooded with applicants that we recent grads hardly stand a chance. It seems increasingly apparent that the way to get a job isn’t just through hard work–it’s so much about being in the right place at the right time.

Since almost all of us interns are recent grads struggling to find post-internship work, we were on the edge of our seats to hear what the three reporters leading the brown bag had to say about how we could get gigs. They had us sell ourselves effectively in quick introductory speeches where they encouraged us to use enthusiasm and the word “I” often. They put us in a faux-mixer situation and had us interrupting each other to get a word in edgewise when standing in groups with a prominent person. They stressed that if we wanted something from someone, we had to ask them for it sooner rather than later–usually with some form of the words, “Do you know anyone who is looking for a reporter?”

I’m sure that works for lots of people. People in public relations or advertising, people in modeling auditions. Lobbyists. And maybe even some journalists. I know a lot of publishers or editors who might appreciate such a blunt and forward approach, who might reward an aggressive attitude.

However, I don’t naturally have a personality that hits you in the face the minute I walk in the door, nor do I really want one. I’m going to put my best foot forward and be assertive, sure, but I’m not going to stray too far from my personality. If I do, I’ll mislead a future employer.

Though all of us felt we wouldn’t follow the brown bag leaders’ advice to a tee, we learned valuable lessons on how to pitch ourselves to important people and how to  make sure to ask for help rather than assume someone knows you want their help. But we also learned that one approach doesn’t work for everyone. We vowed to tailor the advice to our specific personalities and tone down the aggressive maneuvers.