A few days after the Atlanta Falcons’ already legendary meltdown in Super Bowl LI, I caught a morning flight from Oakland to Seattle for a packed day of interviews at the HQ of Grist, the scrappy non-profit environmental news publication that’s been going and going and going for nearly 20 years.
And starting last month, I became a senior editor there, leading Grist’s coverage of environmental justice — basically people’s rights to clean air, clean water, and clean land. It’s important, mission-driven work that combines my experience in science journalism with the accountability-type work I did at Al Jazeera America and via my Ida B. Wells fellowship. And with the Trump administration’s apparent eye toward rolling back environmental regulations, this feels like it could be my most impactful gig to date.
My first day wasn’t just packed with normal onboarding. Instead, I spent an hour or so talking to Mustafa Santiago Ali, the recently resigned head of the Environmental Protection Agency’s environmental justice program. Ali packed his bag after decades of service at the agency because he doesn’t see the EPA administrator Trump installed, Scott Pruitt, as a kindred soul. (Click here to read an edited transcript of my interview with Ali.)
For much of the last month, I’ve been trying to get my one-year-old son to say, “Rise Up,” the ubiquitous, and admittedly a little cloying, slogan of the Atlanta Falcons. He hasn’t really come close. And maybe that’s for the best.
When my father and I FaceTimed with my son roughly 24 hours after Sunday’s Super Bowl kickoff, I didn’t bother prompting him to say anything. I just wanted to see his smiling face. I knew it would cheer me up. My dad, on the other hand, couldn’t help himself. “Can you say, ‘Rise Up? Fall Down?’” he asked. (Before my kid’s face popped up on my phone screen, I wouldn’t have found that joke very funny at all. But I managed a chuckle.)
The game had left me catatonic for much of Monday, and I still can’t really talk about it. My dad said he woke up every 30 minutes Sunday night analyzing how a 25-point could slip away in less than a half. Messages of stunned sadness streamed to my iPhone from shell-shocked Falcons fans I’d grown up with, as did plenty of notes of sympathy from people who just wanted the preternaturally successful Patriots to go down in flames.
Monday night, as we went out to dinner, I asked my dad if I should try to pass on my unflinching love for Atlanta’s hapless sports franchises to my son. “God, no,” was his response. “Please don’t.” I’ve only been a father for barely a year, but if there’s one overwhelming objective to my new role, it’s to protect my son from anything that could hurt him. And being an Atlanta sports fan definitely hurts, more acutely this week than normal. Continue reading Should I share the heartbreak of being an Atlanta sports fan with my son?→
So that whole Al Jazeera experiment didn’t work out. I did some work I’m very proud of and got to work with some really talented journalists who I’m proud to call my friends. But launching a broadcast-focused media brand is just a heavy lift in today’s market.
While I was sad to see the channel go, I was totally distracted by Sid’s birth and the first few months of his life. But by March, I was trying to figure out what I was going to do with literally months of reporting on a controversial guest worker program.
Enter The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, which was looking for four people of color to help with their first long-term investigative project. I applied wondering if the legwork I’d done might give me a leg up on other candidates. And he we are a few weeks later, and I got the fellowship!
I’m excited and humbled by the opportunity. And I’m hoping to live up to the woman whom the fellowship is named after, a daring investigative reporter and newspaper publisher who exposed the use of lynching in the Deep South not as a tool to punish the crimes of black people but to intimidate them and keep the community as a whole down.
The middle week in January was a real roller coaster for me. On Wednesday, January 13, I found out the cable network where I’d been working for the past two years, Al Jazeera America, was shutting down in late-April.
That news was barely digested when, on Friday, my wife, Kiera, went into labor.
Siddhartha Reyes Swaminathan was born in the wee hours of Saturday, January 16, overshadowing any other event that took place early that week and more or less all of them before it (at least in my life).
His first few days have been intensely documented via several iPhone cameras and even a couple traditional ones. If you want to watch him as he grows, we took inspiration from friends and made him his own Instagram account, @sidsw4mi, you can follow him there.
Work stuff will sort its out, but I’m feeling totally consumed by this little guy right now—and have to imagine I will be for the foreseeable future.
A lot of people call into the Paul Finebaum Show daily to talk about SEC football, so it’s not necessarily that big a deal to be on it. But I was an invited guest this past Thursday.
Paul or one of his producers wanted me to discuss my Atlanta Magazine article on UGA Head Football Coach Mark Richt. It was pretty difficult trying to stay cogent and not ramble during the five to 10 minutes that I was on with Paul. But I was really excited to be featured, and I hope I one day get to do it (and other radio spots) again.
Over the past 15 years or so, I’ve spent an obscene amount of time thinking about Mark Richt. For the previous 14 seasons, he’s been the head coach of the University of Georgia football team, whose games I grew up watching with my parents.
Richt is a complex figure in an increasingly monied and cutthroat sport. He’s seen as a “molder of men,” who cares about the person under the helmet, as much as he cares about his team’s on-field results. It’s led many to question whether he’s too virtuous to win on the biggest stages college football has to offer—despite the fact that he’s paid $4 million per year to do just that. And that’s the premise of the feature I wrote for Atlanta Magazine about him.
This past week, the first TV show that I helped produce aired on Al Jazeera America and Al Jazeera English. It was an episode of “Fault Lines” titled “The Death of Aging.” and it explores technology billionaires’ funneling millions of dollars toward several efforts at reversing aging and increasing human longevity.
It was an amazingly fun project to work on, especially thanks to the production team of Sweta Vohra, Josh Rushing, and Joel Van Haren. I was lucky enough to get a co-production credit and was able to help on a number of fronts, from researching, reporting, setting up shoots, holding light reflectors, writing interview questions, scripting, and perhaps most importantly, hounding J. Craig Venter’s wife (who is also his publicist) until she agreed to let us go behind the scenes of his new venture Human Longevity, Inc.
In late-2010, I knew nothing about archaeology. After three-plus years as a senior editor at Archaeology, I consider myself knowledgeable on at least one arcane subject: the peopling of the Americas.
I just finished a large project that I spent a lot of the last year reporting for Archaeology. It included meeting a lot of great characters, as well as a trip to the Paleoamerican Odyssey conference in Santa Fe, NM, last October. It was an occasionally testy meeting with prominent archaeologists whose theories had been summarily dismissed for decades by their peers finally having their day in the sun.
I would have never guessed it, but I find this topic really exciting.
When my old friend Steve, who is now the editor in chief of Atlanta Magazine got in touch last summer with the idea of writing about sea turtles on the Georgia coast, I jumped at the chance to revisit some places that I haven’t been since I was a kid, like Jekyll and St. Simon’s Islands.
Probably the coolest part of reporting this story was getting to go on to a Georgia barrier island that very few people get to go to. Ossabaw Island is essentially a barely inhabited sanctuary maintained by the state. Mark Dodd of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources was nice enough to drive me around the island until we got to see one of the feral pigs that have overrun Ossabaw since the Spanish brought them in the 1500s.