Converting a Coal Power Plant to a Data Center:
Political Ties and a Spotty Track Record
Investigative Post, October 2019
I investigated proposals to convert the last two coal power plants in New York State to data centers. This is the most comprehensive coverage of an ongoing story about what could happen to the last two operating coal-fired power plants in the state.
For a quick overview, listen to the piece I reported and produced for Buffalo’s NPR affiliate, WBFO.
These stories reported for Investigative Post illuminate noteworthy ties between the private equity giant that owns the plants, Blackstone Group, and the Cuomo administration, which is in talks to provide state subsidies to fund the project. The story uncovers the firm’s spotty track record on a similar project in Montana, where it still owes the city of Hardin $2.5 million in back taxes.
A companion piece explores the unlikely support of these data centers from environmental groups including Sierra Club, and explores whether the facilities really are clean energy projects at all.
These companies claim to provide “fair-trade” data work. Do they?
MIT Technology Review, August 2019
I wrote this enterprise/investigative piece about companies aiming to turn a profit while promising to provide fair trade data labor services to the cutthroat AI industry.
AI and Tech Ethics Stories
RedTail is my home base for the beat I’ve built illuminating the dynamics at play as corporations, governments, academia and activists influence the AI and tech ethics movement.
Government and City Tech Reporting
I cover Portland government-related tech stories as a freelancer for Geekwire. My investigative piece on Portland’s use of software from controversial Google-sibling Sidewalk Labs got lots of attention.
When the Trump White House unveiled a flimsy executive order on AI, followed by a Pentagon AI strategy which emphasized investment and competition over ethics, I wrote this opinion piece for GovTech about it.
Ethics, Data, Privacy Reporting
I covered AI, tech and data ethics issues for IAPP’s Privacy Tech.
The Credentialed: A Podcast Amplifying Diverse Voices in Tech
While working as content strategy partner at consultancy SalientMG, I developed and launched The Credentialed podcast, an interview series featuring women and underrepresented minorities in tech and innovation. I booked guests, scripted and hosted this show recorded and edited by Will Romey at XRAY.fm in Portland.
Highlights from Advertising Age Staff Reporting
I worked covering the data industry for Ad Age from 2012-2017
The $24 Billion Data Business that Telcos Don’t Want to Talk About
To this day, there has been very little investigation of the role telcos play in distributing mobile phone user data throughout the data ecosystem. This story exposed this opaque, emerging business telcos had been operating, and introduced several startups working between telcos and data purchasers.
A Data Lab Rat in the Big City: Why Trackers Couldn’t Trap This City Dweller
This was a story I still can’t believe I made happen. Years before the New York Times investigated how the mobile location data sector operates, I was writing regularly about it for Ad Age. To pull off this investigative project, I spent months attempting to collaborate with companies in the space. I wanted them to give me my data, to show me how they were tracking me, and how they were able to match an array of personally-identifiable information about me using “data keys,” pieces of data tied to an anonymized string of location data used to discover my home address, and more. Ad Age hired a wonderful artist for custom illustration for this story, too.
Location Tracking and the Trouble with Opting In
The uses of consumers’ movements have already gone beyond our expectations. But not even the practitioners of the craft always know exactly where their data originates, or how. Marketers, ad exchanges, data aggregators and ad service providers are generally aware that some location data comes directly or indirectly from mobile apps, but an attempt to trace the connections back to specific apps exposes an increasing lack of control coupled with willful ignorance.
Why Obama’s Data Could Be Too Much for Many Dem Candidates
I have spent years building relationships with political campaign sources on both sides of the aisle. This story delved into the reality of the prized “Obama data” that was all the rage after his final presidential campaign.
How the Trump Camp’s Data Inexperience Helped Propel His Win
This headline may be deceiving, but the point here was that because the Trump campaign had such a late start to the data game, the RNC and several data firms stepped in to pick up the slack. While much of the Trump campaign data focus, rightfully so, has been on Cambridge Analytica, several other data operations worked behind the scenes to support his campaign. This story involved difficult investigative reporting only possible through my years of building trust with political data sources and Republican operatives.
Several more of my Ad Age articles can be found here.
Cambridge Analytica? Yep
I covered Cambridge Analytica’s role in the U.S. 2016 presidential race throughout the election cycle, long before the Facebook scandal broke. All of those stories can be found in this compendium.
Campaign ’08: A Turning Point for Digital Media
Coupling my extensive research with information gleaned from campaign insiders, this 2009 book told the story of the most advanced political digital marketing campaigns in history. Copies still sell and are available for purchase on Amazon.
The Political Ad Practice Insiders Want to Keep Secret
I was among the first reporters to cover the use of data and digital media by political campaigns since as far back as 2002. In 2009, I exposed how voter information was collected by the Republican and Democratic Parties and merged with databases run by AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft to create targeted digital advertising campaigns.
Exclusive NY Event Helped Digital Advertisers Meet Mitch McConnell
This is another example of my data-reporter approach to enterprise stories. Publicly-available information is a treasure trove.
Original Audio Programs
I reported and produced a radio piece about a proposal to convert the last two operating coal power plants in New York for Buffalo’s NPR affiliate, WBFO.
I covered Portland city government use of emerging tech and related issues for XRAY.fm. I’ve also done a couple longer-form audio pieces:
Does Tech Care about Portland Culture?
When I moved to Portland in 2014, I soon realized that the musicians, artists and other culture creators who had helped establish Portland as the unique destination it is today were being priced out of living here. And, speaking to friends in that community, it became clear that some believed tech industry employees earning much higher wages than others here were seen as culprits, driving up the cost of rentals, homes, and other expenses. What did tech think about it? This was my attempt to find out. I reported, scripted, narrated, produced and edited this piece – the first time I tried my hand at audio editing software.
I wrote and narrated this oral history of Dead Moon, with interviews of friends, family and fans, for XRAY.fm. Will Romey at XRAY did the editing. This was produced right after Fred Cole, a world-renowned cult legend, passed away in November 2017. You’ll find the transcript for this radio program in story form here.
I also wrote the zine-inspired program for Portland City Hall’s Dead Moon Night event in 2017 and co-wrote the official proclamation commemorating each October 17 as Dead Moon Night in Portland. You’ll find those here also.
Commentary and Analysis
Degrassi, Fake News and Why We Need Media Literacy More than Ever
Yep, just like the kids of Degrassi, what we need are tools for engaging intelligently with media, deciphering its origins and processing it.
John McCain’s digital transparency bill probably would’ve gotten his 2008 campaign in trouble
McCain’s 2008 campaign went out of its way to disclose as little as possible about its web ads.
Portland’s Tony Robbins Event Uncovered an Infinity Loop of Self-Help Shlock
“In today’s world nobody pays attention to you unless you make a big promise.”
On Oregon Public Radio’s Think Out Loud, 2019:
I discussed Portland’s use of mobile location software from controversial Google-sibling Sidewalk Labs on OPB.
On Weekend Edition with Scott Simon, 2014:
Despite all the in-depth reporting I’m truly proud of, the time I got to go on Weekend Edition to talk to Scott Simon about Buzzfeed quizzes was a true pinnacle of my career.
On WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, 2014
I appeared on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer show to discuss why I let data firms track me for my Data Lab Rat investigation, a true honor as a longtime WNYC listener.
On On the Media, 2013
I spoke with Bob Garfield about a Senate attempt to uncover what data brokers know.
A Cookbook (Sort of)
The Punk Rock Kitchen Presents Cookie Chaos!
In 2004, I published a true labor of love (and kookiness). The Punk Rock Kitchen Presents Cookie Chaos! was my punk rock-themed cookie cook-booklet written under pseudonym Connie Sewer. This mini cookbook featured six original cookie recipes, each with a punk rock theme and suggested listening tune. It came with a copper electric guitar cookie cutter. Amazingly, people liked this ridiculous idea and over 800 were sold across the globe (with much thanks to Bitch Magazine).