Year Two at Sacramento State: It’s On

I'm the tall guy in the back.

I’m excited to get back to Sacramento State, where my second year as the faculty adviser for The State Hornet student news publication commences in less than a week. Technically, my job title is "Professional Journalist in Residence"—a pretty good title, as far as titles go. (Journalist rule of thumb: Job titles besides "owner" or "editor" mean nothing to anybody but those distributing the business cards.) I’m excited to get going with this and everything else the next five months promises, which is… a lot.
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I Profiled Lester Holt


For Sactown, I wrote the first–and as far as I know, the only–full-access profile of Lester Holt since his permanent installation as the anchor of NBC Nightly News. From Sacramento to Rockefeller Center, this one’s got the goods–NBC News boss Deborah Turness, media insider Brian Stelter, a whole lotta Holts, new details on the handoff to Holt from Brian Williams, and, in one of my favorite exchanges, some real talk from Andrea Mitchell:
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The Inside Story of Colin Hanks’ Tower Records Doc ‘All Things Must Pass’


Russ Solomon, the founder of Tower Records and the most influential Sacramentan of the 20th century, turned 90 this year. He’d probably be the most influential Sacramentan ever were it not for Hardin Bigelow, the first elected mayor, whose levees saved the fledgling city from flooding in March 1850 and who, a month later, rebuilt the riverfront after a devastating fire. In October of the same year, Bigelow was rewarded for his efforts with a cholera epidemic that eventually killed him.

Anyway! Solomon’s life and work is chronicled in the documentary All Things Must Pass, actor (and fellow Sacramento native) Colin Hanks’ feature directing debut that opened theatrically this fall.

It’s a breezy, affecting film, about which I spoke with Solomon, Hanks and other Tower aficionados for a deep-dive feature at Sactown:
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I Profiled the First Lady


Is Anne Gust Brown the most powerful woman in California? Probably! Here’s my deep dive at Sactown, starring Anne and the governor himself:

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Koons! Kings! Critics! The Inside Story of Sacramento’s $8.5 Million Public Art Gamble


The Golden 1 Center (aka THE ARENA) is going to radically change the look, feel, substance and future of downtown Sacramento, and likely the region as a whole. For starters, the city’s purchase of a Jeff Koons sculpture as the centerpiece of the arena plaza has raised eyebrows across the art world, while raising both hackles and acclaim around Sacramento. What’s behind the controversy? What’s at stake? What’s next? Join me at Sactown to go behind the scenes of an unprecedented pubic-art renaissance.

Last Call: Goodbye to a NYC Drinking Institution (and to Drinking)


I’m back at Medium with a story about Fetch, the venerable Upper East Side bar that closed permanently this week. For years, Fetch was practically a second home for me and many regulars, and the thought that it’s not there anymore is just… weird. Anyway, the piece, "Last Call," is mostly about what it means—and what it costs—to be a bar regular. RIP, Fetch!

‘Pigeons’: A Love Story at Medium


I’ve been fiddling with the new blogging/"storytelling" platform over at, which is really terrific. I published my first piece over there last week: "Pigeons: A Love Story," a memoir-y kinda thing marriage, divorce, and the stubborn pigeon family I got to know as neighbors in New York City. I hope you’ll check it out when you have a few minutes; I’m really proud of it.

Hopefully it’s the first of several there as I pull some more ideas together–stay tuned!

Trigger Effect: On America’s First Mass School Killing, 25 Years Later


This Friday, Jan. 17, is the 25th anniversary of the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton, Calif.–the first mass shooting and killing of schoolkids in American history. The massacre’s legacy can be seen not only in countless other incidents of gun violence in schools since 1989, but also in the national laws and debates that ensued from the event. And while the tragedy is largely forgotten today, its impact and influence cannot be understated: From the rise of Wayne LaPierre to the echoes of Newtown, modern American gun culture began on the schoolyard in Stockton. I investigated the shooting and its aftermath for Sactown Magazine’s Dec./Jan. issue. It’s a looonnng read, but I’m really proud of this work and deeply grateful to everyone who took the time to speak with me about their experiences 25 years ago. I hope you’ll check it out.
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Greetings From Sactown

Richard Rodriguez Sactown Magazine

So it happened: After a year of back-and-forth between the East and West Coasts, I returned permanently to Sacramento at the end of summer. On Sept. 3, I began a new job as Senior Editor at Sactown Magazine, a great regional bimonthly to which I first contributed earlier this year. The timing couldn’t be better for all involved, and I’m stoked to be back home working with my new colleagues.

My first feature story for the magazine arrived on newsstands this weekend: a profile of the essayist and author (and Sacramento native) Richard Rodriguez. I really like this story (see above) and think you will, too; Richard is a fascinating guy, and Sactown is doing great work from cover-to-cover. I’ll get the link here as soon as the story is available online. If you’re in or around Northern California, shoot me a line and I’ll let you know where you might find the new issue near you.

The Most Reasonable Man in Media

I am terribly late posting this, but hey: It was a total thrill contributing to the Slate Book Review this summer, when I had the opportunity to write about consumer-finance guru Clark Howard’s new book, Living For the Long Haul. Hint: It’s really good!

Howard, the syndicated radio and TV host, has spent the last 25 years dispensing money advice and consumer counsel to his growing legion of followers. His is a one-stop shop of investment tips, bargain deals, rip-off alerts, and seemingly endless hacks for maximizing every dollar you make. I’ve listened to his radio show off and on for a few years now, and from the start, I admired his emphases on accountability and frugality. I liked to think of him as a demigod sent to save the middle class from its buy-now-pay-later self, just as long as they could A) get used to the nasal lilt of his voice and B) suck it up enough to put his insights to work for them. He was Moses parting the Red-Ink Sea. […] If you didn’t already know Howard’s brand or his previous best-seller, Living Large in Lean Times, you’d be forgiven for thinking this was some kind of Leskoesque late-night-infomercial foolishness, not the work of the most reasonable man in media.

I had a lot of fun with this, and Nate Powell’s illustration is awesome, too. Check out the rest here…

‘Extermination Alone’: On Aurora, 1 Year Later

A year ago tomorrow, 12 people were killed and dozens more wounded when a man opened fire on a theater full of late-night moviegoers in Aurora, Colorado. A month after the massacre, I traveled to Aurora to report on the aftermath. The primary focus of the trip was to better understand how and why Americans live with the omnipresence of violence in our daily lives. Today, I wrote for The Awl about what I found. The answer in Aurora, if there is one, might be embedded in 150 years of history, crystallized by Harper’s Weekly contributor Theodore R. Davis’s 1867 observation about the frontier Indian tribes: "It is, to be sure, a hard thing to say, but there is safety in extermination alone."

Two words signified the promise of cataclysmic violence that reinforced Davis’s perception—his very consciousness—of America as an idea. "Extermination alone," the resolution necessary to uphold the idea. "Extermination alone," such a "hard thing to say" that nevertheless will be said as some rational outgrowth of experience. The irony is even more inseparable: "Extermination alone," so as to peaceably subdue the Great Plains. "Extermination alone," so as to hurry the territories into the more respectable, civilized, white-man’s dystopia plaguing the postwar East.

Read the rest at The Awl.

Sacramento Film: Scenes From a Scene

I highly, highly recommend this weekend’s extraordinary Sacramento Bee expose about Carissa Carpenter, a would-be studio mogul who has spent the better part of two decades persuading people to believe she had the juice to build a multibillion-dollar entertainment resort and production facility in the region. She didn’t, she doesn’t and she never will.

Filmmakers and officials in Sacramento have known about Carpenter for a while. She’s distinctly symbolic of the phenomenon I often picture vis a vis the Kings: A city that has struggled desperately to reconcile its imagined self with its real identity. That struggle is reflected in the saga of someone like Carpenter, who has managed to charm some of the region’s most impressionable leaders and unscrupulous developers alike, and who claims to be on a first-name basis with George Lucas. It’s a story of a reeling psyche in a small, choppy pool better known as the Sacramento film community.

The Bee’s story took me back to 2003, when I first learned of Carpenter as an undergraduate studying journalism at Sacramento State University. My final piece for my advanced reporting class covered the film scene — or the fragments of a film scene — growing up, like me in Sacramento. It was never published. I revisited that piece today and present it as-is (or as-was) below.

I’m sure that despite Carpenter’s unrelenting delusions, plenty else has changed in 10 years. But plenty else has not. I enjoyed looking back on the other side of the story of filmmaking in my hometown, which is like any place else: Some people talk, some people do.

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The Jason Molina Alarm

Jason Molina

Jason Molina, the leader and architect of the bands Songs: Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co., has been on my mind a lot since news of his death emerged on March 18. He died a few days before that during a protracted hiatus from recording and touring. In 2011, fans, friends and peers helped raise money to support Molina’s long and ultimately unsuccessful recovery from alcoholism. I wish I had known then, and I wish I had contributed. I also wish I’d known how much his songs would possess me over the last month and a half, because I might have held off revisiting them for a while. As it stands, 45 days after Molina’s death, I cannot silence them.
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The Veronica Mars Kickstarter Problem, and Ours

Oh, to be Rob Thomas this morning.

Six years after the writer/producer’s cult-darling TV series Veronica Mars was canceled by network executives at the CW, Thomas’ attempt to reboot the series as a feature film has become a historic success at the crowdsourcing website Kickstarter. In just 11 hours on Wednesday, the movie project reached its $2 million funding goal, prompting Thomas and the show’s star Kristen Bell to issue their gratitude on Twitter and Kickstarter. As of 9 a.m. PDT, the Veronica Mars film had pulled in $2,672,000 from just more than 44,000 backers, with 29 days still remaining before the campaign ends.

Now comes the real work. And not the pre-production, either, nor the filmmaking, nor the imminent power struggles at a Warner Bros. front office that has given Thomas its blessing to pass the hat to fans while showing a steadfast aversion to spend any more of its own money on the Veronica Mars property.

Now come the rewards.
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The Fresh Wars

Taca-taca-tacooo Bell!!!

At last, The Fresh Wars is finally up and at ’em at Slate:

"I think it’s meaningless, almost, now," says Mark Crumpacker, the chief marketing officer with Chipotle. "You could claim that something very heavily processed was fresh, I guess. I don’t think there are any rules around ‘fresh.’ You can just say it with impunity. And I think lots of people do."

So maybe "Is it fresh?" isn’t the question we should be asking ourselves as we lose the tortilla, slice up freshness, and muddle through the trenches of fast-food trends. Instead, amid the varying strategies, we have a much more basic and far more crucial determination to make: What does fresh even mean?

And the rest. This is a wild one! I hope you’ll check it out.
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