Monthly Archives: September 2017

Opt Out So White: The Self-Reflection Edition

In Which A Couple of Teachers Argue That Parents Shouldn’t Question Whether Their Children’s Needs Are Being Met

Once upon a time, meaning back when I went to journalism school, reporters were told not to think about what readers wanted. We were the vaunted “gatekeepers” who decided what was important and therefore merited space in the newspaper.

If readers couldn’t muddle their way through our expert, if hideously turgid, explanation of what happened last night at the public works subcommittee meeting? Why, they were dullards! Secretly, we hoped they never got called for jury duty.

This assholish contempt for readers persisted well into the age of the internet, when it became possible to measure traffic. Not only could we see what people clicked on, we could discern how long they spent on a webpage, which told us whether they actually read the story.

Ah, when that worm turned? You shoulda heard the howling. Suddenly no one wanted to write about regulatory reform on Wall Street, just Britney and Paris. And for a moment—with Craigslist decimating the classifieds and digital advertising slashing display ad revenue–newspaper editors lost their collective minds and assigned rivers of clickbait.

At first we were all freaked out about all of this data being used to inform news judgment and personnel decisions. I mean, is it fair to use the same traffic expectations to evaluate the reporter who covers Michele Bachmann, the subject of Google searches in Khazakstan, and the Labor Department reporter?

In some corners of the news industry, a few of the lemmings took detours, and discovered some interesting things. Turns out people are hungry for news. And contrary to popular journalistic wisdom, they want voice and context and analysis. They just want public affairs journalism to be more like “The Big Short” and less like a turgid regurgitation of, well, anything.

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A Child’s-Eye View of the American Dream

I drew the train because I have seen that many times people suffer because of migration: People jump on trains and they take their small children and because of that many times they die. Sometimes the train can crash. When I grow older I do not want to be a migrant anymore.  

–Cecilia, 9, Mexico


I don’t know about you, but sometimes reality smacks into my blind spots so hard it robs me of my breath. I’m running between my often intertwined personal and professional lives keeping the domestic funny carts on the track and amassing the statistics and the policy analyses to show how promising or how horrific something in the public sphere is.

And then people—the fragile, splendid, surprising people this was all supposedly about—interpose themselves. I realize over and over that I may have described the contours of their struggles, but I haven’t given them voice or their stories texture.

Sunday afternoon I was in New York getting ready for a retreat with colleagues. There’s a Latinx art museum on the very northeastern corner of Central Park I’ve always wanted to go to, Museo del Barrio, and I actually had the time.

I thought I had exhausted the serious art when I came around a corner and there, in the nearly immeasurable instant it takes for a heart to contract, was a small hallway exhibit on U.S. immigration and deportation as seen from the eyes of children. Photos and drawings and quotes, arranged thematically. Continue reading

Remembering Edith Windsor, 1929-2017

Look at this photo of Edie Windsor. When was she ever photographed looking anything other than confident and jubilant, arms extended and something bright, some swath of super-saturated color breaking up her otherwise conservative attire?

To me, photos of her are invariably mesmerizing. What does it feel like to be so free? So utterly at home in your skin and alive in your world?

For a moment when I saw a photo of her standing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court flash by this afternoon I was elated and then confused. And then of course it was clear, without so much as a headline, why: Windsor died today at 88.

I have of course read tens of thousands of words about Windsor, whose effort to recover the estate taxes she was forced to pay following the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, turned into United States v. Windsor, the 2013 case in which the high court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act.

But tonight reading the New York Times obituary made me sad on a new level. Windsor’s life story is so remarkable, her willingness in an era when it was very unsafe to be true to who she knew she was, to be out—truly dramatically out—and to occupy roles women did not play. Continue reading