2018 was a busy year for me. I published more than 80 stories, across 19 different outlets. I took up a lot more investigative reporting (and discovered I quite like it). I also created this newsletter! I’m grateful for your readership, which has truly helped me make this challenging line of work possible.
In keeping with roundups I did in 2017, 2016, and 2015, I’m going to once again take the end of December to reflect on some of the work I’m most proud of from the year.
1. The Intercept: “Minnesota Attorney General — Now Democratic Frontrunner for Governor — Relied On Government Employees For Campaign Work, They Say” and “It Was All True”: Minnesota Attorney General’s Former Deputy Speaks Out About Participation In Political Work
I spent the summer in Minneapolis, and while I was there published a story about Minnesota’s longtime attorney general, Lori Swanson, who former and current employees told me routinely promoted employees who worked on her political campaigns. The first piece came out on a Monday, and because it partly relied on anonymous sources, the local press and political establishment tried to sweep it under the rug. Swanson’s office also tried to spin it as an attempt by the owners of the Intercept to settle some old feud on behalf of a company Swanson sued years six years ago. But three days later I published a follow-up, one that forced the state and local media to finally take it seriously. I firmly believe that the second story, which featured Swanson’s top deputy of eight years recounting his experiences on the record, would never have been possible without the first.
2. Washingtonian: “Has The New America Foundation Lost Its Way?”
I published an investigative feature into a DC think tank grappling with a high-profile scandal that raised questions about the role of corporate funding in research and policymaking. I looked at how the organization responded to this scandal, as well as how it handled other, more thorny problems that emerged as it grew in size and scale.
3. Democracy Journal: “Is School A Waste of Time?”
I reviewed a trollish book published by a libertarian economist who tried to argue that education is a waste of time and money. I do not recommend the book, but I did use the opportunity to write down some of my broader thoughts on education, its value, and its relationship to the labor market.
4. Washington City Paper: “Turnaround Runaround”
I was very proud of this cover story investigation I did on the wholly unscrutinized world of charter school consulting. This particular company—TenSquare—raked in millions of dollars in DC taxpayer funds since 2012 for “school improvement” services. I looked at TenSquare’s limited level of oversight and transparency, and talked to charter school leaders about how they felt pressured to hire the company, lest they’d face consequences.
5. Washington Post: “Public school buildings are falling apart, and students are suffering for it”
It was an honor to write an op-ed for the Washington Post, especially on the importance of investing in quality school infrastructure.
6. City Lab: “How Should HUD Count Family Homelessness?”
This story looks closely at a debate among homelessness advocates regarding who should be considered homeless. HUD uses a much more narrow definition of homelessness than other federal agencies, and this has major implications not only for who gets aid and support, but also how to understand the statistics HUD publishes about their progress reducing homelessness.
7. The Intercept: “How Labor Is Thinking Ahead to a Post-Trump World”
This piece sought to answer the question of what labor leaders might push for if Democrats reclaim power in 2021, and why organized labor’s past efforts failed when Democrats had unified control in 1978 and 2009.
8. Washington Monthly: “The Libertarian Who Accidentally Helped Make The Case for Regulation”
This was a magazine story about what happened when a prominent libertarian economist set out to prove that federal regulations are strangling the economy. But no matter how he sliced and diced the data, he could find no evidence that federal regulation was bad for business.
9. The Atlantic: “The Teachers’ Movement Goes Virtual”
There was a ton of great coverage this year of the teacher protests that swept the nation. This story was about one teacher organizing effort that went under the radar: virtual charter school teachers in California, who organized a union and voted to go on strike.
10. The Nation: “Letting Non-Citizens Vote in the Trump Era”
On Election Day, for the first time, undocumented immigrants and permanent legal residents in San Francisco were able to vote for their local school board. I wrote about America’s surprisingly long history of non-citizen voting, and the cities now working to bring it back.
11. Talking Points Memo: “Democrats Need Voters’ Help To Fix Gerrymandering. Will They Get it?”
I reported a feature looking at the constellation of different advocacy groups—both nonpartisan and partisan—trying to making voting rights a more salient political issue. For a long time, things like voter suppression and gerrymandering have been wonky issues mostly left to lawyers and the courts. But in 2018 there was far greater recognition that defending democracy requires a more all-hands-on-deck strategy.
12. City Lab: “A Five-Decade Fight to Improve Housing Choices for the Poor”
This year was the 50th anniversary of the Fair Housing Act, and I wrote a few stories to commemorate the civil rights milestone. I especially loved doing this Q&A with Alex Polikoff, a lawyer in his 90s who is considered the grandfather of housing mobility.
13. The American Prospect “Can a Blue Wave in a Blue State Make Ben Jealous Maryland’s First African American Governor?”
Unfortunately the answer to this headline’s question was no, but I was proud of the magazine story I reported during Jealous’s campaign. (I also wrote “Why Ben Jealous Lost” for The Intercept the day after the election.)
14. Washington City Paper: “D.C.’s Master Facilities Plan Will Shape the City’s Balance Between Neighborhood Schools and Charters”
This cover story sought to illuminate an obscure planning process in D.C. that has big implications for the future of public education in the city.
15. The Intercept: “Nearly Every Member of the Progressive Caucus Still Takes Corporate PAC Money”
As a host of progressives running for office in 2018 swore off corporate PAC money on the campaign trail, I co-wrote a piece looking at the fast-changing movement to get money out of politics, and the mounting pressure on sitting incumbents to change how they raise money.
Thanks for reading! I’ll see you in 2019.