My Top 12 Posts in 2015 That Aren’t About Privacy or Surveillance or Anything

220px-The_sun1Writing about the eradication of our civil liberties is exhilarating, but also exhausting. I am so thankful that I can write about other random things as well. Here are my top twelve picks of posts I wrote in 2015 that are as off-topic as I could find.

Fitness Fix: Preventing Shin Splints

I loved writing this piece because I know how awful shin splints are, and how preventable. As a journalist, I find that it’s difficult to gauge the impact of my work, but this piece is a bit of an exception. If one person prevents shin splints…well, that just makes me insanely happy. Special thanks to my friend Melanie for the intro to Francesca Conte. Before her, many running coaches told me that preventative movements/stretches/exercises didn’t exist, so I was thrilled to learn otherwise (both for Experience Life readers’ benefit and for my own.)

This Wedding Photographer Also Shoots the Most Amazing Storm Pics You’ve Ever Seen

I saw Mike Olbinski speak at Creative Mornings in Phoenix, and saw some of his amazing photographs and timelapse videos of clouds and dust storms and lightning, and I knew that Made Man readers had to get a glimpse, too. Thus this OMG amazingly gorgeous slideshow was born.

Migrants Gone Missing: Healing and Closure, Thanks to Forensic Science

My friend Will Bradley, who taught me how to use PGP, tweeted something about a non-profit that helped people find loved ones who they believe had died at the border, and I knew I had to write about them. Luckily, TakePart World was also interested. I plan to research this issue a little more in-depth, so look for more on this in 2016.

Checking in With Gina McCarthy, Obama’s Environmental Watchdog

This Q+A for Men’s Journal stemmed from a meteorology conference I signed up to attend specifically because I knew Harris Corp. was tabling, and I wanted to pepper them with questions about cell site simulators (aka stingrays). Of course, none of them knew what I was talking about. Big company. Much technology. And the weather toys don’t have much to do with illegal surveillance. However, the EPA approached me about this interview…. and then a flak got extremely annoyed with the tone of my questions, which I thought were actually incredibly mild. This whole situation always  makes me scratch my head a bit.

Protecting Yourself From Workplace Bullies

In my past life as a teacher, I was once bullied by the union rep. (I know; wrap your head around that one.) I felt like a lot of the conventional wisdom for how to respond didn’t take into account a lot of workplace politics. Luckily, I got to speak with Michele Woodward and Elysia Lock about this issue for Dice.

Jessamyn Duke and Shayna Baszler’s Gnarly Street Fight

I don’t write about MMA a whole lot anymore, but when I started freelancing, it was a big chunk of what I did. In fact, I started covering fights so I could get free cageside seats back when I was still a teacher. In any case, I was thrilled to be the first to cover a months-old street fight. This wasn’t the first time I broke MMA news–I covered the Ultimate Women Challenge disaster, where the filming was plagued by a lack of foods, funds, and training, back in 2011 (about two and a half years before MMA Junkie picked it up). But I was pleased that Shayna and Jessamyn trusted me to tell their story for The Sports Post after someone alerted me about what had happened. Bleacher Report and many other sites linked to this piece.

This Startup Will Piss Off Publishers-And Make Freelancers Happy

When I heard that journalist Scott Carney was launching a Kickstarter campaign  that was like Yelp for editors, I knew I had to get the inside scoop on it, so I did a Q+A for the Freelancer (which was reprinted on the Content Strategist and Media Shift as well). I’ll admit that I’m still scratching my head about this story and why it did as well as it did. Perhaps it was buzz from the project, or maybe readers had the same questions I did.

Should Writers Respond to Comments on Their Articles?

This post for the Freelancer didn’t get a ton of shares, and I don’t have access to traffic numbers, but I’m putting it on here solely because Mathew Ingram tweeted out the link. As for me, I used to read comments religiously and even engaged in discussion with commenters, but have since decided the benefits may not outweigh the cost. I like looking at this post because the perspectives of the star writers I interviewed are so diverse.

Staring Down A Non-Compete Clause

Sometimes the contracts you sign for work, whether as an employer or as a contractor, will bite you in the ass. Consider this post for Dice fair warning.

Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50

Another Dice post. Possibly useful.

My Top 20 Posts In 2015

blue_star_backdrop-300x199Each year, I do a wrap-up of my favorite posts. In the past, I picked the ones that were most popular, based on whatever metrics were available to me.  But this year, I decided to ignore analytics, because my Ashley Madison posts and even ones about bad TV shows did better than some of the pieces I thought people should be reading.

And even though I find how-to posts personally informative, I didn’t include the servicey pieces about disabling Flash selectively and selecting stronger passwords and taking steps towards online security and privacy, about teaching your folks how to use 2FA and a Yubikey and getting them on Signal, being a good online citizen in the wake of a tragedy, and even what very bright people would recommend for bridging the gap between UX and security. This year I even wrote and a digital hygiene course for Trollbusters which included a list of people finder and data brokers linked to by Feminist Frequency, and I’ve been writing weekly security news roundup posts for WIRED, some of which have garnered quite a bit of traffic (thanks in part to Reddit). But for the list, I wanted to focus on posts of mine that were either somewhat adversarial or particularly research-intensive, that had some investigative element, or were just too cool not to share.

January

Wickr’s Time Feed (Not Quite Steganography)

For ReadWrite, I wrote about Wickr’s feature which lets people share photos on Facebook. I got to dig into the parts of the app’s marketing copy that I found misleading, and was interviewed briefly on This Week In Tech News  about the app.

February

Stopping a Smart TV From Eavesdropping On You Could Be a Felony

For Slate, I wrote about how disabling Samsung’s creepy smart TV could be a felony under these really awful DMCA laws you may have heard about when the two issues bubbled up in the media around the same time. I spoke with Software Freedom Conservancy president Bradley Kuhn and Electronic Frontier Foundation activist Parker Higgins for the piece, which was rehashed by Washington Times and multiple other websites.

March

Whisper Says It Doesn’t Track Your Exact Location—But It Still Could

As the Guardian was walking back accurate claims about Whisper–presumably for legal reasons–I spoke with Nate Cardozo, a staff attorney on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s digital civil liberties team, about how the app collects enough info to pinpoint user locations, though it says it doesn’t use it.

Meet Canary Watch, A Way To Disclose Gag Orders Without Disclosing Them

I wrote about this clever asymmetric warfare against the surveillance state. This post received some criticism for making it seem like I didn’t like the concept, which was unintentional—I just am a bit skeptical. Oh, and I got to interview the ACLU’s Christopher Soghoian and Calyx Institute founder Nick Merrill, who was one of the first Americans to legally resist a gag order related to a national security data request. (More on that later.)

May

Perkins Coie’s Web Copy Reveals Its Client, Box.com, Was Under FTC Investigation

I picked this post because it was based on documents I got from the FTC using a Freedom of Information Act request, following a lead from a tweet. It was also killed by two separate publications before Motherboard picked it up. Their legal team wrote the headline, which is “Online Marketing Leads to Inadvertent Revelations.” I’m not sure how well this piece did traffic-wise, but I think it effectively warns law firms against overzealous marketing copy. Sam Glover at the Lawyerist linked to it, too. It’s about ethics in law firms’ online marketing copy.

Ruling May Stop Willy-Nilly Gadget Searches at US Borders

I spoke with Nathan Freed Wessler, a staff attorney with ACLU’s Speech, Privacy, and Technology Project, about a new ruling which signaled a better direction for search guidelines at the border, at least as far as the 4th Amendment and laptops and mobile devices are concerned. The piece was reprinted in Slate, mentioned on Security Weekly, and Naked Security linked to it as well.

June

Report: Government Surveillance Planes Spotted Over Baltimore Protests

This piece was about the FBI surveillance planes flown over the city of Baltimore in late April and early May in the aftermath of the Baltimore protests in response to the death of Freddie Gray in police custody. A lot more has come to light since then, but I spoke with ACLU staff attorney Nathan Freed Wessler about the issue, as originally reported in the Washington Post.

Metadata Doesn’t Lie: Is That Why Governments Are Withholding It?

I wrote about web engineer, public records researcher and policy nerd Tony Webster’s lawsuit against the city of Bloomington after it refused to release a large amount of data–including metadata–in response to his public records request on information related to the Black Lives Matter protest in the Mall of America. This post was reprinted in TECHdotMN, quoted in the Democrat and Chronicle,  and linked to by the Bill of Rights Defense Committee and in CJ Ciaramella’s weekly FOIA Rundown newsletter.

Facebook Is Now Pushing For Stronger Encryption

I spoke with privacy and security researcher Runa Sandvik and security adviser Per Thorsheim about Facebook’s embracing of PGP.

Website Owners Deserve the Right to Stay Anonymous

I wrote about iCANN’s proposal to eliminate anonymity for commercial website owners. Thankfully, the idea of prohibiting businesses from shielding information such as addresses from public view was ultimately scrapped.

August

A Peek Inside Mr. Robot’s Toolbox

This piece for Wired, in which I looked at the tech tools used on the best hacking show on the planet, was probably my favorite of the year. Interviewing show creator Sam Esmail and technical adviser Michael Bazzell was a real treat. The post made TechMeme, and earned a backlink from a post on The Atlantic,  which was syndicated on Yahoo! Tech.

When It Comes To Encryption, Our Policy Makers Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Thomas Jefferson

I like this piece because I had to go to the library and inspect microfiche for it, and because I got to interview network security researcher Ethan Heilman, but I got the idea from a software engineer I met at DEF CON.

September

Awkward! How One Woman’s Tinder Dates Popped Up As Professional Suggestions On LinkedIn

Could swiping left get you fired? I interviewed a woman who found all sorts of information about her Tinder contacts, who had used pseudonyms, when she received “People You May Know” suggestions from LinkedIn—you know, since LinkedIn solicits phone numbers from its users and pulls data from users’ phones. Although media pundits often go after Twitter and Facebook quite aggressively for privacy violations and poor UX, it seems that LinkedIn sometimes gets a pass for bad practices in the media, though it’s hard to tell whether that’s because it gives journalists (myself included) special perks for attending boring media trainings or because of the company’s hair-trigger PR team, but chinks in the armor are showing.

Donald Trump’s Deleted 9/11 Tweet Shows The Need For The Politwoops Service Twitter Killed

This Forbes post managed to draw attention both to Donald Trump’s deleted tweet and to a service that recorded tweets deleted by politicians en masse. I spoke with two policy analysts at Access Now. Slate and Silicon Beat both linked back to it. In late October, Twitter’s CEO mentioned Politwoops by name and promised to improve relationships with transparency organizations, but as far as I know, Politwoops still does not have access to Twitter’s API.

Anti-virus Software Could Make You Less Secure Because Vendors Are Ignoring Security Best Practices

Just a little bit of piggy-backing on Thomas Fox-Brewster’s reporting and research by security engineer Tavis Ormandy, a member of Google’s Project Zero vulnerability research team.

October

Mr. Robot uses ProtonMail–But It’s Got A Couple of Problems…

This piece is a deep dive on ProtonMail’s security and who should be using it. The best part of researching this piece was sending about 575 zillion emails to technologist and all-out rockstar Micah Lee about 575 zillion emails. I also spoke with technologist Joseph Bonneau, lawyers Victor Vital and Alex Abdo, and ProtonMail’s CEO, and did a bit of research on some email applications (namely, Lavabit and Hushmail) since people learned the hard way that they weren’t as pristine as previously believed.

Why You’re Rejected For Security Clearances

This post was based on a talk by security pro Kevin Tyers at the BSides Las Vegas conference. It discusses the many factors that go into a security clearance decision, based on 15 years worth of adjudication data. I like this piece because it gives a bit of a historical snapshot on industry decisions.

Filing Public Records Requests: A Quick and Dirty Guide

I’m pretty lucky in that I have a lot of people to turn to when I struggle with FOIA records requests. Jason Leopold, Michael Morisy, Dave Maass, and others have assisted me when I’ve had questions. But I tried to lay out all of the basics in one place in this post for the Freelancer, and I hope it’s useful to other reporters.

37 Whistleblowers You Can Follow on Twitter

Not including @Snowden—with him it’s 38.

December

Court Lifts NSL Gag Order on FBI Warrantless Surveillance 11 Years After It Was Issued

This is about a National Security Letter accompanied by a gag order served to then-ISP owner Nicholas Merrill, and what information the FBI was actually seeking.

If you just scrolled to the bottom because you aren’t at all interested in online privacy and security, you may want to check out my top 12 off-topic posts for the year.

Stuff I Wrote: August 2015

Writing Fountain penIt’s been a really busy month for posts, so here’s a round-up of all of ’em.

A Peek Inside Mr. Robot’s Toolbox (WIRED) Just in time for the season finale. I spoke with show creator and executive producer Sam Esmail and tech consultant Michael Bazzell and did a heck of a lot of research on ten tech tools used on the show. Faraday cage not included. (P.S. This post hit Techmeme.) (P.P.S. My husband came up with that excellent title.)

When It Comes To Encryption, Our Police Makers Could Learn A Thing Or Two From Thomas Jefferson (Forbes) I actually went to the library and broke out the microfiche while researching this puppy. I also got to quote Ethan Heilman, which was cool.

So You Found Your Name (Or Your Executive’s) In The Ashley Madison Data Dump. Now What Do You Do? (Forbes) I spoke with a crisis management consultant, a security adviser, and even a relationship coach for answers on this hairy topic.

That Fired Facebook Intern Explains The ‘Marauders Map’ Extension That Cost Him His Gig (Forbes) I got both sides of this debacle.

Tell Us Which Companies Crushed It In Response to Security or Privacy Issues This Year (Forbes)

Watch Out For Phishing Scams Like These (Forbes)

Security News

Security News This Week: Oh Good, The Weaponized Police Drones Are Here! (WIRED) I also wrote about GitHub getting DDoS’ed, Oakland cops’ new retention guidelines for license plate data, Baltimore cops tracking cellphones, AT&T injecting ads on HTTP traffic through airport Wi-Fi, and India shutting off mobile internet for 63 million people.

Security News This Week: Police Use Mobile Cell Phone Trackers to Avoid Court Orders (WIRED) I also wrote about mobile supercookies, a secret email Ed Snowden sent NSA, the IRS hack, and some Google news.

Security News This Week: US Admits It Uses Predictions, Not Data, to Blacklist Flyers (WIRED) I also wrote about an Android bug, a security flaw Volkswagen kept hidden for years, spies in China reading U.S. officials’ private emails, a software engineer harvesting Facebook user data using cell phone numbers, attackers hijacking Cisco networking gear, Lenovo injecting its software into clean installs, and government requests for Twitter user data skyrocketing.

Security News This Week: The Pentagon Got Hacked While You Were at Def Con (WIRED) I also wrote about a Firefox exploit found in the wild, a court ruling against warrantless release of cell phone location data, and about tearing down cyberwalls, whatever they are.

Work

We’ve got you covered if you’re looking for a job in tech: Finding Software Jobs When You’re Over 50 (Dice), Hacking Job Interviews (Dice), and 5 Big Interview Mistakes To Avoid (Dice) have some words of wisdom from people who are a lot smarter than me.

A Very Personal Ad For Project Co-Conspirators

two friends kittens dancing and speaking isolated on white background

After a five-and-a-half year hiatus, I wrote a Very Personal Ad last month, in which I was looking for a new desert home. It worked so well that I thought I’d try it again. Invented by Havi Brooks, Very Personal Ads are a way to practice getting better at asking for things and getting clarity about our desires by asking for what we want. Sometimes the things happen, and sometimes they don’t, but the point is to learn about our relationship with the thing we want.

Wish #1: A Podcast Collaborator

I’ve been running an intermittent podcast called The Elephant in the Room, in which I pick a theme and an amazing guest and pepper them with the questions everyone else has but is too afraid to ask. (Or sometimes I just ramble a lot and they say smart things.) I’d love to find someone to work with on this project. Ideally this person would be into the parts I’m not as focused on, like audio editing, but I’m open to a co-host as well. I only want to do one episode a month, or so.

I want it to be someone who would really benefit, personally or professionally, from helping me work on this project and who would be really excited about it. Part of me feels like I should be hiring somebody, but I want a collaborator, not an employee. I want it to be someone with strong opinions who’s not afraid to share them, but who I would work with well together.  We do need to have some shared interests, obvs.

Wish #2: A Top Secret Game Project Collaborator

I’m working on an educational game that people interested in privacy and security for activists, journalists, etc. would be really excited about, and I’d love to work on the gaming part with someone else who can help me hash out the nitty gritty details and is as excited about the project as I am. It would ideally be someone who’s really analytical but also grew up reading comics and playing AD+D. It’d be someone who would help me build on my ideas rather than tearing them down.

Ways This Could Work

I could meet someone who’s interested in one of these projects through an event or at a cafe or coworking space. I could meet them online. Maybe the right people are reading this. Maybe they’ll be introduced to me by someone reading this. Maybe it’s someone I know already.

My Commitment

I commit to being really open to potential people to work with, and to sharing credit, and to putting a lot of love into the project. To drop my own ego and be open to critical feedback. These really are labors of love and not for profit, so my commitment is to their overall excellence, despite the amount of time they take.

Progress Report

We have signed a lease for a new place to live in a safe area with a good vibe. It’s got a washer/dryer (so we’re giving away ours!), is pet friendly, has parking and central air, is in our price range, has a patio, and recycling, and a pool, and is near a cafe I like, and they’re letting us move in a day early–so it’s got pretty much all we wanted. It’s a relief to get to stop looking.

Feminism has a racism problem (and so do I)

800px-Ostrich,_mouth_openDisclaimer: This post addresses privilege, racism, gender politics, and other issues. It’s based primarily on my own experience, and I didn’t attempt to cover all potential scenarios and angles. I’m sure I left a lot of valid points out, and am hoping people who see my own blind spots will contribute to the conversation with their own writing if they feel moved to.

There’s this sentiment in many feminist circles that if someone feels uncomfortable, it’s likely due to some type of gender discrimination. And often, that’s true. Women for so long have had to deal not only with harassment and sexism, but with other people telling them it’s in their own head.

This is why feminist women’s groups can be so gratifying. Finally you can have the “am I crazy, or is this person being creepy?” discussion with people who support you. We’ve passed around copies of Amanda Hess’ post on “grey rape” and had nuanced, thoughtful discussions, sharing our own experiences without feeling the need to dredge up old memories or justify our clothing, our body language, or our existence. In a world where many of us find ourselves constantly put on the defensive, it’s refreshing.

But this isn’t just about validation. Plenty of women’s circles and groups I’ve been in have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to convince women that yes, the specific manifestation of non-consensual sex they’d described is rape, and no, it wasn’t their fault. That yes, their employer was harassing them and no, smiling didn’t make it okay or magically shift responsibility from the perpetrator to the target. That they’re not terrible people for reporting it or for not reporting it. That they can get help and things can get better.

I’ve wiped the tears of a woman who was drugged and raped but thought it was her own fault because she’d smoked pot earlier in the day. I’ve  made tea for a teenager who thought she led her stalker on and felt bad getting a restraining order because she thought it’d be too mean; this was someone she cared about.

Those justifications seem ridiculous to us but didn’t to those people at the time until they got a reality check from supportive friends. The combination of societal victim-blaming and high degrees of shame and guilt associated with sexual violence create a potent cocktail of self-blame, and as I’ve hopefully demonstrated, meeting with a group of like-minded women can be helpful for recalibrating one’s perception of reality. It can also be incredibly gratifying to be surrounded by people who aren’t trying to discredit your emotions and in fact view your experience through the lens of systemic inequality. Part of yelling and screaming that something wasn’t our fault is because a tiny part of us might believe that maybe it was. Fragmentary recall and difficultly making sense of what happened, among other things, can do that to a person.

But there’s a dark side to this, too, and it has to do with privilege. Almost every feminist group or women’s group I’ve been in has skewed predominantly white and predominantly financially privileged, and I think this really colors the dialogue and what we get from the groups in a way that may not be immediately obvious.

There’s this pervasive feeling in feminist circles that anytime someone feels uncomfortable, she’s being harassed. And there’s a tendency to erase white-on-white harassment from history. But feeling uncomfortable, no how you slice it, doesn’t necessarily mean you’re being harassed. A very lonely male friend of mine once sent me an email that initially, instinctively made me feel uncomfortable. After giving it some thought I realized that not only were they not, in my estimation, doing anything creepy, that if anyone was contributing to an unfair power dynamic, it was me.

At some point embracing feminist rhetoric can extend beyond finding a group of supportive people who trust your stories as you tell them instead of invalidating them, which is problematic in and of itself. It can lean women towards a warped view of the world in which one views anything that makes her feel uncomfortable as harassment, and even fixates solely on gender issues while ignoring all other forms of systemic inequality.

What does this look like? It looks like Abby Dawson, a white Kennesaw State University academic advisor, telling black student Kevin Bruce that waiting quietly until an adviser was available was harassment. I, of course, don’t have a mirror into Dawson’s soul…but if someone equates feeling uncomfortable with being harassed, this is what it looks like. And I think it’s worth acknowledging the possibility of white feminist women thinking that they are being “harassed” because they are uncomfortable… and that they’re uncomfortable because they are racist.

But enough about Dawson. Let’s talk about me.

I was walking to a restaurant for an evening of bachelorette party festivities when some rando started yelling something or other at me. This is always an uncomfortable situation, but his funny and charming friend told him to stop, which made it all better. Right?

I mean, who the hell is anyone to yell things at me on the street? Getting all dressed up for a night on the town with my girls–an incredibly rare occurrence, I might add–isn’t an invitation to street harassment. The guy’s friend stepping in fit seamlessly into the “best party ever OMG!” narrative I was trying to create, and I could tell you all about why my very classy non-trashy bachelorette party was better than everyone else’s. I shared the video widely, and then forgot about it.

Until #BlackLivesMatter entered public consciousness, drawing attention to the death of unarmed black men by police officers…something that has been happening for decades but has suddenly gotten a lot more media play because there was video so it was harder to sweep under the rug or accuse people of lying.

The man in my video told his friend that harassing people was never worth it because the consequence could be a violent reaction by the state. I suppose one could argue that institutionalized violence in response to street harassment is unlikely since catcalling is pervasive and it’s not like we’re all calling the cops or waiting around for them to show up, anyway.

But it’s pretty damn hypocritical of me to say that rape jokes aren’t funny but police beating the shit out of black men? Oh, that’s hysterical.

I would like to stop street harassment in part because of the implicit threat of violence. But I don’t think that a heightened threat of violence towards harassers would stop this cycle.

In addition to a long history of police brutality that disproportionately affects people of color, there’s a long history of black men dealing with organized racism and excessive violence for committing the crime of flirting with white women. Perhaps you’ve heard of Emmett Louis Till, a 14-year old black teenager who was murdered in Mississippi after allegedly flirting with a white grocery store clerk. The woman’s husband and his half-brother beat Till, gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head and threw his body in a river. A grand jury declined to indict the men who did this. Justice was not served. Till was a human being and his life mattered.

Rewriting this narrative so that the female grocery store clerk is a victim of sexual harassment and Till is not a victim would be sickening. Rewriting a narrative so that I’m a victim of catcalling while ignoring police harassment of people of color is kind of missing the point.

Some guy pointing out that his friend could get tear gassed and arrested for harassing a white woman isn’t really funny in that historical context, is it?
I could come up with a convincing excuses for my own self-absorption: feeling a wee bit narcissistic on the day of one’s bachelorette party is hardly inexcusable, right? In reality, I am constantly coming face to face with ways that I manifest my own privilege without even being aware of it—often fighting tooth and nail to defend what I think is mine when it slowly dawns on me that I was once again stuck in my head and ignoring the systemic inequality around me. I like to think I want to confront the ways I contribute to systemic inequality, but I’d be lying if I pretended this is a smooth and seamless transition. In reality, time and again I’ll find myself fighting it kicking and screaming.

So what’s my point? My point is that we need to unpack and deconstruct our own narratives of harassment, or at least acknowledge the possibility in our own minds that we’re not always victims.

I felt so powerless as a kid that it was hugely surprising to me to realize that actions I took had an effect on others–and not always a positive one. Reflection is crucial.

At some point we have to stop blaming our own self-absorption—I have to stop blaming MY own self-absorption, that is—on gaslighting and fear culture and a history of abuse, on patriarchy or rape culture or societal norms that oppress women. We as white women should acknowledge that we have an enormous amount of privilege and take special care to not create narratives that discount intersectionalism and the experience of others.

And we need to find the strength and reflection to analyze our own victim narratives with the same level of fervor and commitment that we use to unpack violence towards women and the many ways it manifests.

Because it really isn’t just about us.

 

My Blogathon Analytics

1554349_675284659272230_4493339880744803822_nI don’t typically pay much attention to Google Analytics, since this blog is mostly for fun and not at all for profit…though I do sell the occasional ebook or video course and use it as a repository for my work. However, since the 30-day Freelance Success/Word Count blogathon is coming to a close, I thought I’d take a look at the analytics and share the results. Here’s what happens when you go from blogging once or twice a month to every day.

Subscribers

I’ve never had enough subscribers for anything happening with my email list to be statistically significant, since the vast majority of page views I get come from social media, but every time I do the blog challenge, I always lose subscribers. This year I lost eight, going down from 170 to 162. (Yes, total, not 162o or 16,200. I have a feeling a lot of people have as few subscribers as I do but are ashamed to admit it. Honestly I’m thrilled that 162 people subscribe to updates, especially since I don’t market to you guys and my blog is inconsistently updated and doesn’t even have a specific focus.)

Sessions and page views

Sessions increased by around 35 percent, which 23.86 percent more users. Page views shot up 42.27 percent (from 3617 to 5146), and unique page views went from 1690 to 2446. The average session went from 38 seconds to 1:03, and my page views went up from 2.34 pages per visit to 2.46. The average time per page rose from 28 seconds to 43 seconds. My bounce rate increased by 1/4.

Specific posts

My most read post this past month was a poem reprint, which got 727 page views. My home page got 628. Of the posts I wrote in June, the winner post on how to make more money writing got 466 page views. Other popular posts were my very personal apartment hunting post, the one listing all the creepy things I do, and one on how not to make a public records request. I also wrote about comments, anonymity protections for bloggers, a terrible restaurant not worth mentioning… I listed stuff I wrote in May, had a couple of food slideshows, wrote about small claims court and asking smart questions, about the Supreme Court decision, and about processed food. Those got the highest views, though a couple of filler posts (two weekly wraps, a scrapbook image piece, and music suggestion) got hits as well.

Some of my best posts are old ones that have gotten people’s attention, somehow–an outdated post on Pandora alternatives, some BJJ and Paleo and fitness posts and reviews of gyms, books, and DVDs… old posts on tree sitting and travel hacking and press releases and emoji and the Tarahumara, and even some on physical therapy and root canals (fun!) and things I learned the hard way.

As usual, the posts I didn’t promote on social media did incredibly poorly. This has always been the case–because I haven’t committed to blogging about one specific topic, my traffic is heavily reliant on social media. Some posts I didn’t share anywhere got less than ten page views!

Takeaways

I’ve always had a pretty ambivalent relationship with blogging, and trying to do so every day meant that the past month had a lot of meaningless filler interspersed with posts I enjoyed writing and got interesting feedback from. I think I’d like to update more (and am actually working on a minor redesign) but nothing crazy like this past month… though I do hope you enjoyed the posts!

 

Yael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

10329203_484081391725892_2009436025575136953_nYael Writes’ Weekly Wrap

Blogathon Posts From This Past Week

Around the Web

I also wrote the “Fitness Fix” and “Expert Answers” section of the July/August issue of Experience Life. Link forthcoming!

Music To Write By

41JQJXQWF2LThis week’s selection of music to write by is actually a 2002 album by Swedish duo Club 8 called Spring Came, Rain Fell. Perhaps I appreciate the sentiment since it’s the middle of summer in the desert, with our ten-day highs ranging from 106 to 111. Think dreamy/floaty, laid-back, melancholy and melodic…with sweetly wispy vocals. The perfect background music for writing up a storm.

 

We Won!

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Today, Supreme Court delivered an historic victory for advocates of gay (er, human) rights when it ruled 5 to 4 that the Constitution requires that same-sex couples be allowed to marry, no matter which backwards state they happen to live in.

Remember when Obama invited known homophobe Rick Warren to deliver an invocation at his historic inauguration after rallying LGBT supporters for the vote? Things have really changed.

The Obama administration certainly is imperfect, with its war on whistleblowers, an unprecedented lack of transparency, and a near-obsession with drones.  And the queer community faces inequality in a myriad of ways, ranging from transphobic violence to housing discrimination. In many states, you can still get fired from your job for being gay.

But sometimes it’s nice to take a moment to celebrate just how far we’ve come, so here’s to incremental progress and savoring the victories!

Lead photo by Guillaume Paumier

How I Work

PreviewSometimes when I contact someone to get background information on something I’m researching, they’ll say something like, “Please tell me this isn’t for an article about me.” I can’t tell if they’re joking or not, but it’s happened often enough that I wanted to clear up a few things about how I work. I’ve tacked on some answers to a lot of questions I get asked on as well.

Researching Stories

I’m always poking around and asking questions. This doesn’t necessarily mean I’m researching a story or want to write about the thing I’m inquiring about. My questions could be contextual, or just filling my knowledge bank.

If I am trying to investigate something, I will always contact someone accused of wrongdoing to ask them to respond to allegations. I will not do this in a sneaky or surreptitious way–I’m not going to ask friends questions during personal discussions and then sneakily write things up–but rather in an official email with a subject line that says something like “media inquiry: response to allegations,” and/or a phone call.

Allowing people to respond to allegations cuts both ways: it also means that if you make an accusation of someone, I will always need to reach out to that person or company for comment if I write about them. There are a lot of situations in which this might be unacceptable to a source, in which case I may not be the best reporter for the job, because this isn’t something I’ll budge on.

In general, if I want to quote someone on a topic, I’ll make it very clear that this is what I’m doing (and there’s a chance to say no or refer me to someone else). I may decide someone is a good potential source on a subject based on casual conversations, but that’s about it.

Quoting From Listservs or Emails

I do not quote from personal emails without people’s consent. It’s extremely unlikely that I’d quote directly from a public listserv or discussion without reaching out to the author of the comments for clarification and permission, unless it is a public statement. I have sometimes linked to Github bug report responses, though.

Public Figures vs. Everyone Else

I believe that public figures have less of a right to control information about themselves than private people do, and make reporting decisions based on this belief.

Off the Record vs. On Background

Many times when people say they’d like to discuss a topic off the record, they really mean on background, but balk when I make that suggestion. To clear things up, let’s go over some definitions.

On the record information means it can be used in a story which quotes the source by name.

Off the record means the discussion didn’t happen; the information can’t be used for publication. If it’s off the record, I can’t even discuss it with an editor who asks me if I reached out to someone to say “yes, they said X is happening but didn’t want to be quoted.”

On background typically means information can be published, but without the name of the source; for example, “a company spokesperson said XXX.” It can also be used to share, uh, background information without any type of quote.

There are, of course, a myriad of ways one can be attributed/identified or not, which are typically reserved for victims of crimes or other sensitive situations.  It is, in my opinion, unethical to ask a source to go on the record when there are reasons doing so would put them at risk. I will, however, sometimes ask someone who asks for off the record if they actually mean on background, if it seems that way to me.

Interview Recordings and Logistics

I typically conduct interviews in person or by phone. If it is a phone interview, I will ask permission to record the call. I record it using Voice Memos if in person or on a web app like Skype. I will use an app called TapeACall to record phone interviews.TapeACall says that it stores recordings on its server for one year. Depending on the length of the call, my budget, and the deadline, I will sometimes send calls to third parties for transcription. Recording and possibly transcribing an interview, of course, means that a third party or perhaps more than one third party has access to the call.

Sometimes sources will decide that specific information on a call is off the record after they’ve said it. This has happened to me on Skype and Google Hangouts and other mediums, in which information is already accessible by third parties. I will transcribe entire calls that have even one off the record sentence in them to minimize exposure, but in general I’d recommend not discussing off the record information on a phone call that’s being recorded by a third party app. This is particularly true if you are, for example, a human rights worker living in a country in which Skype is monitored.

When Will The Post Be Up?!?!

The short answer is, “I don’t know.” Also, not everybody I interview gets quoted in a draft, and not everyone’s quotes in a draft make it to the final piece. And sadly, not all of my finished pieces go live. Sometimes they get stuck in purgatory.

Reviewing Material

Depending on policies of the publication I write for and on how tight my deadline is, I can sometimes allow sources to review their own quotes. I do not show sources the entire article in advance, but can sometimes discuss specifics for clarification. For a thorough explanation on why journalists don’t share entire posts or articles in advance, and to understand some other options, see Steve Buttry’s post on this very topic.

Inaccuracies

Sometimes I get angry emails ringing the alarm bells because a reader feels the post was inaccurate. If there are legitimate factual errors, I do my best to correct them, though it is of course at my editors’ discretion. I will typically discuss any issues that arise with my editor, with a few exceptions. Some purported inaccuracies are simply a difference of opinion. Sometimes I summarize reports and the readers disagree with the actual research cited or source I quoted, which isn’t always a factual error. And sometimes information is omitted for deliberate reasons, such as reader interest or the target audience. There are also times in which information I receive in an email or a comment (yes, I do typically read them) gives me a broader view of an issue and may guide future work, but I don’t feel that the original post needs a correction.

Correction vs updates

If I reach out to a source for comment and they do not do so, but then contact me after the post goes live, I will add the comments into the piece, but this is typically an update, and not a correction. Corrections are reserved for factually inaccurate information, not for sources responding to request for comment after a piece has already been published.

Conflicts of Interest

I always disclose conflicts of interest, but sometimes they are ridiculous, like when I had a cup of coffee with someone three years ago and can’t remember whether or not they paid.

Branded Content

These days, there’s been a bit of blurring between journalistic endeavors and PR, with brands often owning websites and publications. (For example, I edit a fitness journal owned by a gym and have written for a website owned by an accelerator.) I have edited for a pet brand and edit for a lifestyle brand, and done a bit of content marketing (read: blogging) for brands covering content marketing (so meta). Where I draw the line is in writing sponsored content on technology and other topics I cover editorially. If I were to reach out to interview someone for sponsored content (which typically does not happen since the interviewees are pre-selected and before a writer comes on the scene), I would always disclose this upfront.

Stuff I have very little control over

Headlines. Stripped links. And some edits, though I do my very best to only write for publications that will allow me to see edits before they go live so we can have a discussion, if needed, about changes made.

Deleting Comments

I like to think I’m open to constructive feedback, but I am sometimes mercurial about blocking people on Twitter and do delete racist or even just annoying comments on Facebook. Now you know up front. I also moderate comments on this blog, which I have to approve before they are posted. I did this in response to abusive comments and because I don’t want to keep blocking Tor users. Oh, and speaking of Tor, as of right now, IP addresses are tracked for comments.

Contacting Me

There are a lot of different ways to contact me, listed below.

Email: [email protected]
Phone Number: +1-715-456-4273
Documents: OnionShare
PGP Fingerprint: 6E72 C713 979F 9EEA EFB8 A40B 5E34 C751 4A11 536A
Jabber/XMPP:[email protected]
OTR Fingerprint: 7D8A1972 94324731 C22D50EA 71AC732F 88BAD4DD
Jitsi: Upon request
PondContact me to set up a secret to exchange.
Signal/TextSecure fingerprint:  05 6d 1b 54 20 6f bd c9 75 27 a9 68 89 bb 2c 1f 60 3a b9 9c 9b 99 fe ce f9 2c f1 93 9a 91 8a 04 30.
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/yaelwriteshttps://www.facebook.com/yaelgrauerwrites
Twitter: @yaelwrites

If you are planning on disclosing tips or leads for investigative reporting projects I’m working on and believe that you may be at risk if the information is somehow traced back to you, I encourage you to consider the implications before doing so.

I will challenge any subpoenas or attempts by either government agencies or private sector organizations to gain access to any information I obtain, and will attempt to provide notice (unless legally prohibited from doing so) if legally required to disclose information, in order to give you an opportunity to object to the disclosure.

However, please be aware that there are numerous ways to trace individuals to social media and email accounts (even pseudonymous ones), that secure messaging tools typically allow any user to see who else in their phone’s contact list has downloaded the tool, and that even encrypted communications typically leak metadata (e.g. who you emailed, when, and with what subject line…or who you called, when, and how long you spoke).

For more information on secure, private communications, and on threat modeling, please seeAccess Tech and Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Surveillance Self-Defense Project. I have listed ways to contact me with a variety of tools (OnionShare, Signal/RedPhone/TextSecure, Jitsi, PGP, Pond, etc.) depending on what makes sense for your situation).

I hope to add more tutorials about these tools in the future.

Questions?