I rounded out the year with the final Mr. Robot episode discussions and one piece for Slate.
- Episode 9: Conflict
- Episode 10: Gone
- Episode 11: eXit
- Series Finale
- Arizona Now Has a Task Force Focused on Countering Disinformation (Slate/Future Tense)
I rounded out the year with the final Mr. Robot episode discussions and one piece for Slate.
Tiny Little Pieces of Plastic are Getting into Everything (Thrive) Beth Polidoro and her ASU SWAT lab set out to make the oceans and the seafood we eat safe from microplastics and other pollutants
How to Fact-Check Your Business Story (Reynolds Center) Verifying information in your stories is more important than ever
What Does a VPN Security Audit Really Prove? (PC Mag) Knowing which VPNs you can trust is hard for experts, let alone consumers. Can security audits help the situation? Maybe, but only if you understand how to interpret them.
Hackers Dissect ‘Mr. Robot’ Season 4: Episode 1: Unauthorized, 2: Payment Required, 3: Forbidden, 4: File Not Found, 5: Method Not Allowed, 6: Not Acceptable, 7: Proxy Authentication Required, 8: Request Timed Out
I spoke about my ALPR articles on The Show: https://theshow.kjzz.org/content/1157091/how-some-traffic-cameras-are-tracking-your-license-plate
August was the month that I finished coursework for my Masters degree in Mass Communication, the month I spent a week at DEF CON playing Open CTF and connecting with friends, new and old, and the month my husband and I escaped to Minnesota to see family and go on a bit of a vacation. August also saw the culmination of two projects I’d put a considerable amount of time into, as well as a very important post I put together quite quickly. It’s also the month I’ve been building up business again after a year of working overtime—so if you are in need of an investigative tech reporter, please get in touch.
The Best VPN Service (Wirecutter)
I spent months researching and testing VPNs, and these are the results. I was hesitant to take on this project after penning a post on how you couldn’t meaningfully rank VPNs back in 2016, but couldn’t pass the opportunity to write for one of my favorite sites. Luckily, I had a handful of technical experts who answered countless questions as I worked through what data I could find in an incredibly opaque industry. In particular, Dan Guido, cofounder and CEO of Trail of Bits, spent two hours talking me through the ins and outs of security audits and their limitations, security challenges I was unaware of, and other considerations that hadn’t crossed my mind. And, of course, my editors and the entire team at Wirecutter were also amazing. Sarah Jeong linked to this piece in The New York Times’ Privacy Project newsletter, which was pretty cool.
This piece, written in collaboration with Harrison Mantas and Kailey Broussard, is the culmination of 10 weeks of reporting on how FEMA still struggles with coordination and communication during disasters, even after years of reforms and reorganizations. It was done for News21, as part of a larger project on disaster recovery called State of Emergency. This piece was picked up by NonDoc in Oklahoma, which was neat since my fellowship (and Harrison’s!) was funded by the Oklahoma-based Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.
The company is fighting back against rumors that it would scan messages on users’ phones prior to encryption… and I delved into some of the ways we could tell if this wasn’t the case. For this piece, I interviewed a WhatsApp spokesperson and Steve Weis, a fellow at the Aspen Tech Policy Hub and former software engineer at Facebook.
It’s been a weird month since I was on vacation for half of it and business is just revving up again now that I’m done with school, and I’m still working on some long-term projects that may or may not be up in September. At the very least, you can look forward to a profile of a marine toxicologist this month. And in October, Mr. Robot is returning…
When I first started reading and writing zines in the 90s, there was a running joke that every issue would start with an apology for it taking so long to get the next issue out. Though I’ve diligently posted my published work each month for years, freelancing while finishing my Masters degree left me with little time to do much else. My output was also much lower than usual–I mean to combine months, and just never got around to it. The good news is that these posts haven’t gone anywhere, and I’ve conveniently organized them by theme and you can skim 16 posts all at once.
One of these posts is from August (sorry!) but I’ll definitely have another post in September, which will include two pieces I’ve been working on for months.
What Really Happened With West Virginia’s Voting Experiment? (Slate/Future Tense) We don’t really know—and that’s worrisome.
How Do Automated License Plate Readers Work? (AZ Mirror), and Arizona Police Agencies Gather & Share License Plate Data, But Few Ensure Rules Are Being Followed (AZ Mirror) Two parts of a multi-month assessment based on public records.
Facebook Insists No Security ‘Backdoor’ Is Planned for WhatsApp. (Medium/OneZero) The company is fighting back against rumors that it would scan messages on users’ phones prior to encryption
Electronic Monitoring (EFF’s Street-Level Surveillance project)
The Freelancer’s Guide to Financial Planning and Tax Strategy (Contently) A 20-page e-book that was posted just before taxes were due.
The Business of Freelancing (Reynold’s Center) To be successful in freelancing, it’s important to treat it like a business.
A Freelancer’s Guide to Collecting Payments (Reynold’s Center) Collecting payment as a freelancer sometimes requires going to small claims court and even using a collections agency
The IRS, Crypto and You: Cryptocurrency is often seen as a straightforward way to keep lucre to yourself without ceding a huge cut to the government. But in reality, it’s not so simple. An interview with Mario Costanz, CEO of CryptoTaxPrep.com.
Nonprofits Make Big Claims For Themselves. IXO Can Tell You If They Deliver. When people give money to nonprofit groups, the impact of their donations isn’t easy to track. This is a problem that the blockchain-based platform Ixo is working to solve.
Reporter’s Brief: Covering Medical Residencies. There is limited transparency and accountability in medical residency programs. Local reporting can shine a light on it.
Covering Government Shutdowns These temporary funding gaps can have a major impact on the economy. Here are some areas to research.
I also wrote reports on news stories to localize every other week, which can be found on the website, titled “Reynolds Weekly.”
Arizona charges less than almost anyone else to graze cattle. Public schools miss out on the money. (Arizona Republic) Cowritten with Mackenzie Shuman, Harrison Mantas, Molly Duerig and Grayson Schmidt as part of an investigative reporting class at ASU.
Why Aren’t More Journalism Schools Teaching Digital Security? I was quoted in this great piece by Martin Shelton
WV Voting Experiment Criticized I was quoted here in the aftermath of my Slate piece.
*placeholder for an interview I did locally about automated license plate readers, which should be up sometime soon-ish
Each December, I pause to take a look back at the past year: my accomplishments, my setbacks, and my goals moving forward. Inspired by Chris Guillebeau, I’ve posted annual reviews in 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017.
This year my husband and brother and I went to Israel to visit my parents and to celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday. We visited my grandmother, hung out at the Dead Sea and Masada, visited at Yad Vashem, spent time in Tel Aviv/Yafo, and I even got to ride a camel. I went to Minnesota with my husband for our annual summer trip, where we also went to Lake Itasca, rode bikes in the forest, got our fill of hiking, and stayed in a romantic cabin. I went to HOPE in New York and DEF CON in Vegas to get my hacking conference fix, and after DEF CON I got to hang out with MMA fighter Sarah Moras, tour the UFC Performance Institute, and tag along during all of Sarah’s workouts where I got my ass kicked doing way less weight than she was. She even gave me a pair of shoes (!!) which was great because I was boycotting New Balance though I don’t remember why. I got to visit D.C. to speak about how freelancers can collect past due unpaid invoices at the Science Writers conference, which was a fun but far-too-quick trip which included trips to the Newseum, the Spy Museum, and noodles and cocktails with friends. And the year is going to end with a hiking trip in Zion National Park (barring government shutdowns or other unforeseen circumstances.) Travel is important to me and I’ve really enjoyed being able to squeeze in so many trips, both short and long.
I went back to grad school for journalism this year, and trying to figure out how to use a broadcast camera and a DSLR camera and Premiere and a million other programs was definitely a steep learning curve. That said, I learned a lot, made some great friends, and am SO excited about delving into data journalism and investigative reporting skills next semester. But my learning hasn’t stopped at school. After the Capital Gazette newsroom shooting, I attended a bleeding control training class to learn about packing wounds and using tourniquets. I also got to attend a few days of the ScienceWriters conference, a Strictly Financials workshop, the Health Journalism conference, and CyberMed, which is a two day conference focusing on medical device hacking and ways to prevent it. I took a Psychological First Aid course online because people keep coming to me with their problems and thinking I’m equipped to help them, so I wanted to flail a little less. I’ve been a MOOC queen this year, too. 2018 has been great for my Ravenclaw brain.
In addition to speaking on a panel at the NASW conference, I also gave a lightning talk at Queercon about how hackers can work with journalists while lowering the risk of losing their job or getting arrested. I also got to discuss several of my articles on podcasts and even on TV. And I continue to help develop digital security resources for journalists.
My husband is a rock star who literally made me lunches every day so I could work the crazy grad school hours and still eat. This is the first year I’ve spent significant time with my parents since my wedding in 2014, so that was really cool. And, of course, I spent time with my brother (a permanent Thanksgiving guest) and my in-laws. I’ve also somehow managed to make a few friends in school even though I’m older than almost everybody. And I really cherish even those hour-long coffee or happy hour meetings with friends throughout the year.
My online content marketing textbook came out this year. I posted my top 12 articles for the year already, and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to work with so many great sources and editors to do work that I feel makes a real impact. And somehow I managed to keep my income the same as 2017, in spite of 4 months of grad school (though this may be a testament to how slow some people pay me).
As always, there are things that are just pooptastic, and I think it’s been a difficult year for a lot of us.
I got through my first semester of grad school, but not without it taking a toll on my physical and mental health. I can see why people do this in their 20s!
The majority of my clients this year were amazing this year (94 percent, to be precise), but of course, there is that six percent. Every freelancer worth their salt has stories about toxic clients that put sources at risk, edit errors into copy, or rewrite pieces so drastically that it is only appropriate to request to remove a byline.
I had plans for getting a car that’s not 20 years old, moving out of the apartment, etc. but school put that on the backburner. It also put both my podcasts on hold, one of which has sort of fizzled and died after losing a great cohost to other products (one failed Patreon fundraising attempt later). Meanwhile, the garden my husband and I planted literally fizzled and died. Additionally, without getting into details, I filed a complaint about a Bad Thing that went nowhere, which was discouraging. I tried to get a group of people together for birthday drinks and way more people RSVPed than showed up, so I totally should’ve kept it at the cute but tiny cocktail bar instead of the other place that was giving us dirty looks because most of the people I reserved space for didn’t come. Those bitters I tried to make failed, I didn’t get picked for jury duty (and yes, I really wanted to!), and I never did make those honey lilac possets. School wise, all of my b-roll is shaky (no matter which camera or which tripod) and I never really did learn how to use those broadcast cameras. None of these failures are catastrophic and some are downright silly, but it’s worth remembering that not everything is sunshine and roses… or it will be in a year when I review this.
I do an annual review with Pamela Slim every year, looking at the year that happened and making plans for the year to come. This year, since I’ll be slammed with school, we focused less on making a huge list of goals and more on goals and values. The following notes stemmed from our two-hour session, which I’d really recommend to freelancers and business owners of all stripes.
In 2019 (and beyond), I want to use my maverick provocateur spirit (and resourcefulness) to continue doing work in line with my values—fairness, being ethical, supporting underdogs, and doing impact journalism that does have a side rather than the “view from nowhere.” I want to do work that leads to change, which I playfully refer to as being a sprite in the machine or pulling the bad linchpin. My work has focused on privacy, security, and digital freedom for years, peppered with enjoyable work (like my Munchies article!) and a few public health type things… It makes sense to mostly continue in that direction.
Knowing that most of my editors are lovely, I want to make it a point to cut the ones that aren’t sooner. It is never worth clinging to bad situations with toxic editors who lack integrity, are unprofessional, or are just bad at their jobs. I also want to only do work with clients who give me credit (yes, I want my name on things, yes, I want to be tagged when my work is shared).
After I graduate, I am open to a full-time position rather than freelancing, so long as it’s for a site that’s aligned with my values and ethics (and ideally, is either local or allows remote workers). I’m just planning on keeping my eyes open.
I also want to work on a series of materials that’ll let me express my voice for the emerging role of journalism, whether that’s continuing my work on source protection to explaining best practices for sharing and attribution, or something else entirely.
I want to work on my sleep, because that helps everything else fall in place when that’s taken care of. For example, I don’t crave sugary soft drinks or junk food when I’m well-rested.
I’ve been spending the past year or so working on moving towards participating in conscious disagreement (rather than just conflict), in finding a steadiness and balance. This year, even as I live what I consider an investigative style, I also want to make sure I hold space for people to do their own thing.
Last but not least, I’m working on incorporating self-gratitude practices to celebrate my accomplishments and recharge a bit, even as I continue to push myself hard and juggle a million activities.
That’s about it for me (and honestly, feels like quite a lot). Please share your thoughts or links to your own annual reviews in the comments; would love to hear what you’re working on!