In April of 2020, I set a goal for myself. I was going to published a photo a day to this site for a full year. The lockdown had been in affect for over a month, and I was looking for a project to consume the new time I had at home. I knew there were plenty of good photos in my library that I hadn't yet edited, so most evenings I scrolled through them and marked what was worth another look. It turned out that there was more than a year's worth of photos in the mix, and I was carrying my new camera around and making tons of new images. I'm now on day 570 of a photo posted every day.
I'd say about half of those photos were taken pre-pandemic. Maybe two-thirds. A big portion of the newer photos were taken while on my daily walks around the Brooklyn neighborhoods near my home. I've collected those into a project I called Brooklyn Covid Walks. We took a half-dozen trips out of the city to the areas around Woodstock, which gave me the opportunity to shoot more urban and rural subjects for a change. These 570+ photos are a good mix of old and new, favorites and not, formal or expressive. I've mostly tried to put Eggleston's democratic forrest ideas into practice. I've photographed just about everything that caught my eye for any reason.
My backlog of images is starting to run out. I'll continue to take photos most days, but not likely fast enough to keep up with the photo-a-day pace. Soon, I'll be posting only when I have something worth sharing, and I'm not sure what cadence that will take. In any case, I'm proud to have met my goal and then to have overshot it by a full 200+ images.
I turned 40 this year and bought myself a gift: a Fujifilm X100V. It took me about a month to come to this particular camera. I had a shortlist of about a half dozen different models, but the X100V has turned out to be practically perfect. I love it. I'm not much of a gearhead when it comes to equipment, but this camera is maybe changing my attitude on that. It's a fantastic camera.
I don't really intend to write a review of it, but I do have some praise to share. Carrying this camera is fun. It has a good weight. It has some heft, but not too much. Holding it is comfortable, even for an hour or more. There are more buttons, toggles, and dials on this thing than I can currently make good use of. The usefulness of this camera will grow with me. I'm still learning which settings are most helpful to have accessible at a click.
The images coming out of the X100V are exactly what I was hoping for from a camera at this price. Crisp when steady. Colors complete a very full range. The bokeh is as good as I need. The lag between trigger click and lens snap sometimes feels noticeably slower than I want; but measurable in milliseconds. I can't yet say if this is only user error, though. Definitely could be.
My previous camera, a Lumix GX1, was really nice, but the X100V is in another class altogether. I didn't realize how much I missed the manual controls I knew from my old film cameras. It's revelatory to get back on that bike, to engage with photography in the old-school way again. I still love taking photos with my iPhone because of how idiot-proof it is — point and shoot and never even think about it. But when I'm out walking and inside that photographer's headspace, it's so much better to have a camera like this. It's the right tool for the job in a way iPhone's will never fully be.
Lastly, the feature which really does it for me is the viewfinder. It was the only thing I considered a must have, somewhat arbitrarily. And I'm glad I prioritized it. It really makes taking photos feel like taking photos in a way I don't know how to verbalize. It de-digitizes the digital camera experience in a visceral way.
This camera has significantly lifted my photography hobby. After a full year of reviewing old photos and taking new ones of my neighborhood on daily walks, it's so fun to be reengaging with the fundamentals of the craft.
My colleague, Alka, has published an article on how we built the new live coverage pages for the Wall Street Journal. This was my favorite project to have worked on so far during my time working here, in part because it was something I pushed for for a long time. As someone who really loves a blog, the old presentation for our live coverage really bugged me. The layout of the page had struggled to properly convey the immediacy of the reporting, or to even feel live. The page heading itself was about 2/3rds of the page. The first post looked small and insignificant, sandwiched between a Top Posts widget and an ad. This particular product was begging for an update, and I brought up doing it every few months for at least a couple years. When quiet days came around, I did some extracurricular research and discovery. I looked at what everyone else was doing. I took notes on what our own section editors were hoping to accomplish with future reporting. I was getting the jump on what seemed like an inevitable redesign.
When in late 2019 the newsroom started looking ahead to the reporting they wanted to produce for the US midterm elections in 2020, Live Coverage finally landed on the product roadmap. I was ready. And the timing happened to be perfect for me, as well. I had just moved from working on the reader-facing WSJ products to the newsroom tools team. This meant that I wasn't just well positioned to design the new Live Coverage page, but to also design the new publishing tool for it, too.
It's rare for a custom CMS to be designed along with a new publishing product. It's usually either something like a Wordpress install to hack together what the front-end needs, or it's a front-end designed around the limitations of the CMS. This is especially true for products in legacy media as old as the WSJ. Roadmaps don't often come together like this with newsroom needs timed so perfectly with engineering availability. The Live Coverage product fell right into this sweet spot.
I made sure to take full advantage of it. Because we were prioritizing a mobile-first experience, the tool could present a new post beside a stream of what's already been posted. A reporter or editor can write inside a high fidelity WYSIWYG field while also having what's been published right in view.
We also introduced a couple brand new concepts to our Live Coverage reporting: a Featured Post position for presenting highly valuable context for the content stream below, and a Primary Media position for sharing a map, chart, or image that is integral to the event. Here is the page in the tool for posting to these locations, with little illustrations for reminding editors where that content will appear.
And here is a design for a Live Coverage event, with everything in place. You can see that the content hierarchy establishes priority in the order we wanted to stress. The most recent post is top left, and about 2/3rds of the page width, large and prominent. A Featured Post takes that place if there is important context editors want to stress. The page-level meta info is packed into a small box on the right, with Primary Media content just below.
Another brand new feature we built into the tool was the ability to have Pre- and Post-Coverage views of the page. For SEO and link-sharing purposes it helps to have a live URL ready to go well before the event begins, and the page itself makes clear when the event coverage is going to start. When the event is over, the page displays that explicitly, as well.
The tool works really well. We've had a great response from our editors. What's even better than praise, though, is seeing our Live Coverage reporting increase in amount of coverage posted, and a much greater frequency of Live Coverage events being created. The icing on the cake is hearing that for the period between the 2020 election and Biden's inauguration, the Live Coverage pages were getting page views rivaling those of the WSJ.com homepage. Not only that, but the live coverage page views for the first three weeks of 2021 have already beat the entire amount of page views for live coverage in all of 2019. It's absolutely time to call this project a huge success. I couldn't be prouder to have worked on it, nor to have been a part of the great team who brought it to life.
Yesterday was my fortieth birthday. It's strange to write, and even stranger to contemplate. Do I feel 40? Nope. Do I look 40? People are surprised to hear my age, so I suppose not. Age is a strange thing. At this moment, I'm not sure I fully grasp what it means to me. It's trivial. It's a bit like a fact with no practical consequence.
Last year, someone I know made a playlist that included a track for every year they were alive. Seemed like as good a way to mark time as anything, so I've done it, too. I wouldn't say the songs on here are my absolute favorite from each year, nor "the best." I guess I picked what felt right for this kind of thing, and tried not to duplicate too many artist.
This is what transparency should look like. I'm excited to follow what will get done these next four years. During the Obama era, I was young and didn't pay attention. With Trump, the horrors were inescapable. Let's hope good things will now be accomplished day to day, week to week.
I'm overwhelmed with relief. In under two hours, Joe Biden will be our President and Kamala Harris will be our VP. I'm elated for both and at the prospect of four years of progress and better lives for Americans.
So 2020 was a fucked up year, wasn't it? Music felt different. When life is so fully off its axis, a perspective on art is equally as skewed. Though I knew better, I was looking for something more in the music than it could provide, as if anyone recording in 2019 could predict what life would be like in the year those songs would be released. That's unfair expectations.
Despite all that, I was surprised to look back and find so many great records given to us. My list is 29 strong, and 9 of those are what I would say are exceptionally great. Taylor Swift also managed to put out a record in that top tier list. What a weird year. Folklore was the most exciting surprise. I'm as big a fan of Swift as a 40 year old man can be; she just doesn't generally write songs for my demo, I think we can agree. But privately and intimately writing a record with Aaron Dressner was an inspired idea and it really produced. Was Folklore my favorite album of the year? Maybe!
The Gorillaz record this year was more like a collection of singles. Albarn started the year by releasing about a song a month, recorded at odd intervals with a usual eclectic mix of artists. They ended up putting out a collected record of these earlier than I think was the plan, but it all comes together so well. I'm gonna love almost anything Albarn releases, and many of his tracks this year were incredible. In the end, my love of his music really keeps this at the top for me.
It was a very uninspired year for hip hop. Run the Jewels put out another great record, on tier with their best. The intentionally private band Sault put out two solid R&B/Soul records after two even better records in 2019. I liked, but wasn't very impressed with the Childish Gambino record. Burna Boy put out a good album, but not one I'd push on to others. I guess Open Mike Eagle's Anime, Trauma, and Divorce was the second best. I highly recommend it. It's honest and direct.
I've been listening to a lot of world music in the last few years, largely African. But this year didn't seem to produce much that I'd elevate. Les Amazones d'Africa put out a record I highly recommend. And the Songhoy Blues record is wonderful. I'm hoping there were another few great ones I've missed.
And here's my playlist for the best tracks of the year: 2020 Favorite Tracks. As always, it's ordered by the date I first heard each track, to give it a bit of an autobiographical flavor, instead of just ordering by release date. And the other rule is that it includes no more than one track per artist, unless there's some rare partnership release or something.
The Gorillaz tracks "Désolé" and "Momentary Bliss" were probably my favorite tracks of the year. They each got the most listens, by far. Perfect pop tunes that few people in the world are able to produce. "Désolé" has a heartache I really vibed on. "Momentary Bliss" captures the anger we have at today's historical moment, but with a headstrong optimism I want to believe I have. But the one song which really gives me those synaptic chills almost every time I listen to it is the Hinds and CHAI combo track "United Girls Rock'n'Roll Club." It's a track by women and for women and which this guy want's to push further out into the world. More people should know this track. It's for everyone and it's amazing.