An Update

An update on where I am:

In August, I started a 10-month fellowship at Columbia University’s business and journalism schools, where I’ll be studying business, economics and leadership. It’s called the Knight-Bagehot fellowship, and I’m joined by nine other amazing fellows who are doing the same thing.

In June, I won a $9,500 grant from the International Women in Media Foundation’s Howard G. Buffett fund. We were chosen out of more than 600 applicants to build LedBetter, an online database and web app that will showcase the gender breakdown of men to women in the top ranks of major brands and companies. Check out ThinkProgress’s article about LedBetter, which says we are “using transparency in the hope of improving gender equality.” We also got a mention in Fortune and from the Maynard Institute. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved at LedBetter and can’t wait to share our results with you come our 2016 launch.


More good reads

Here’s a look at the backlash when Wimbledon champ Andy Murray hired a young, top-ranked (and lesbian) female tennis player to be his coach.

I link this not as a blanket criticism on sexism in sports or even sports journalism, but because I’ve been thinking deeply about how and why we perceive men and women differently for doing the same things. “Pushy” versus assertive. This Pantene commercial touches on it, but there’s so much more to it, because as an outspoken woman, I still find myself sometimes rolling my eyes at other women for being too outspoken – then find myself confused about whether I’m taking issue with the content of their words, or their tone, or the merely the gendered way we’ve been socialized to look at outspoken or assertiveness in women.

 I also enjoyed this  Ann Friedman piece on Sally Ride and the burden of being the first female astronaut in space. My favorite bit was the way male engineers approached tampons in space! It prompted some confusion amongst me and my female friends – how does the astrophysics of zero gravity tampons work, exactly? But the anecdote is hilarious, and seems endemic of what happens in any organization learning to promote and accommodate women.

Tampons were packed with their strings connecting them, like a strip of sausages, so they wouldn’t float away. Engineers asked Ride, “Is 100 the right number?” She would be in space for a week. “That would not be the right number,” she told them.


Tremendous reads and listens

Summer Reading

In honor of summer, here’s a mashup of all the great things I’ve been reading and contemplating:

This vintage piece by Gloria Steinem “If Men Could Menstruate” is a tremendous read that had me thinking for days. Even if women’s issues aren’t really your thing, it’s in part about how unseen assumptions and questionable justifications can shape and influence our perspective.

Great reads via Longform.org worth finishing: Sports Illustrated’s 1996 complex and thought-provoking recap of the people scarred by rising teen basketball star Richie Parker’s sex abuse conviction. Hat tip to Longform.org, Outside’s investigation “Did North Korea Kidnap an American Hiker?”, a first-person review by famed financial and sports journalist Michael Lewis of his failed affair with a New Orleans mansion, a Texas bank-robbing family and Mallory Ortberg’s The One Time I Went to Connecticut, which is seemingly as much about an encounter with well-intentioned but sexist headhunter as it is about the strange, difficult and complicated journey of figuring out a place in the world for one’s self when you’re in in your early 20s.

Media mahem: Jill Abramson’s dismissal as the first ever female executive editor of The New York Times has spawned more write-ups than I can read, but I think this Politico piece on Editing While Female, written by a former Washington Post editor Susan Glasser is a worthwhile reflection on the gender dust storm, made all the  more insightful by Glasser’s own experiences leading newsrooms. New NYT executive editor Dean Baquee’s interview with NPR’s David Folkenflik’s is guarded but worth checking out.

Duo: Pair reading The Atlantic Monthly’s mui popular read on The Confidence Gap with Hillary Clinton’s experiences with women staffers who tend to overly question themselves.

 “Too many young women are harder on themselves than circumstances warrant. They are too often selling themselves short. They too often take criticism personally instead of seriously.”

Possible antidotes: Tara Sophia Mohr’s 10 Rules for Brilliant Women. She suggests removing “does that make sense?” and “just” from your vocabulary. Try also saying “Thank you” when complimented and “You’re welcome” when thanked instead of “Oh, it wasn’t that great/Oh, I thought it was a dumb color on me but I wore it anyway.”


Photo credit: Julie Falk





abc has picked up the first sitcom featuring an asian american family for the first time in 20 years

and it’s HILARIOUS

Okay, I laughed more than once, so I’ll check out!

Accurate: the white kids totally said, “Stephanie’s eating worms!!” when I opened my delicious noodle tupperware. I asked for Lunchables after that. I liked the build-your-own-pizza kind. I am now full of shame.

Inaccurate: Lady are you Chinese or Vietnamese? Decide on one for your terrible fake accent. You sound too damn American. Which I guess could be an inside joke. That no white people will ever get.

The best line in this is “I. Need. White People Lunch.” Totally had this experience.

I’m looking forward to this sitcom. I’ve been following Randall Park’s acting for a little while now – his turn as Asian Jim in The Office was hilarious. 


Best new podcast: Put “Strangers” and Lea Thau on

Have you ever listened to “Strangers” by Lea Thau? Glynn Washington on Snap Judgment played one of her pieces once, and I’ve been a fan of her podcasts ever since. The most recent episode, “Matjames and Tyler,” is really worth checking out.

One of the things that helped me get into the habit of working out – and actually looking forward to exercise – were storytelling podcasts. I could never make time to listen to This American Life or The Moth, but it works great to play them on the Stitcher app while running or cycling or whatever. I have an entire list of favorite podcasts cued up in the app that I’ll power through at the gym.

Then I hit a day where I just didn’t want to listen to any of my go-to favorites. Nothing looked good. I realized some of my favorite podcasts (and top storytelling shows, like Radiolab and Snap Judgement) are all hosted by men. They’re all great shows that I adore, but some days I open my playlist and feel like something’s missing. And I think it’s the female perspective.

Lea Thau

There’s something I get out of listening to Terry Gross or Lea Thau that’s just kind of special. I relate more to their personal stories and often – not always – find their interviewing style to be more personal. It’s also true that there just aren’t as many high-profile women authors, writers, storytellers and, perhaps, radio hosts. I actually didn’t realize this til somewhat recently. It’s highlighted by sites like @ladyjournos (link), The Op-Ed project and this interesting breakdown of the byline gender gap (2012 count here.)

Not to bash on my old standbys shows completely. I still enjoy them. I do think you get more male-centric storytelling from shows hosted by dudes. That said, Snap Judgment’s stories – and some of their best ones! – seem to all mostly be reported by women, like @stephaniefoo and Anna Sussman. I also love the diversity of their storytelling. Even that they’re willing to put a lot of people on the radio who have thick foreign accents seems kind of…unusual. And cool.

Also, to get really self-help-realm nerdy, I think Successful Women Talk has great interviewees and advice – recently listened to the Kadena Tate and Done is Better than Perfect episodes and thought they were terrific. I stumbled across is shortly after my “where are the lady podcast hosts?” moment and did a search for “women” in the app.


Where sugar meets oil

You may not know this, but the little town of St. James, Louisiana (population 2,000) is an important hub for crude oil, particularly on the Gulf Coast. It’s home to millions of barrels of storage and a small spaghetti bowl of pipelines that move around oil from offshore, imports and the Midwest.

It’s also the hub for a skyrocketing number of railcars bringing oil from the shale boom in North Dakota.


In the midst of a November reporting visit, I came across rows upon rows of sugar cane, which grew in thick, manicured swaths between all of the oil infrastructure. I’d apparently stumbled into the height of harvest season. Plumes of smoke hung in the sky as farmers burned the parts of cane they couldn’t use. “Don’t worry, that’s not coming from us,” joked one oil company employee.


One man I spoke grew up in St. James. He recalled a childhood spent running in the fields, slicing off chunks of sugar cane and chomping on them as he played. His father ran a depot where farmers would gather to sip coffee and chat. As time went on, American agriculture began to wane and the business eventually vanished, at least for his family and many of their friends. He’s now a successful manager in the oil industry, moving fast to keep up with the ever-growing volumes of crude coming in by rail, barge and pipeline. 

Visiting St. James was probably one of the most fun things I’ve done on the oil beat. Between interviews, I parked at a plantation and ate a boiled sausage procured from a gas station. I spent the weekend taking in New Orleans. Louisiana is very different from Texas, but I’m a huge fan of it all the same. And it was especially fun to see a small little town where sugar meets oil. 


Blog, Life, Stories

Remembering a friend: Sujal Parikh

Last week, I learned of my friend Sujal’s passing. He died in an accident in Uganda, and my mind is still reeling with sadness and shock. Part of me still can’t believe that he’s gone.

Sujal had been working in Kampala, Uganda on AIDS research and education at the time. It was the last of the many good, world-changing things he set out to accomplish. He was killed when a car struck the motorcycle taxi he was riding. (The story was featured an msnbc.com article about international roadway safety, and also written up in the local paper in Ann Arbor, Mich., where he attended school.) I found Sujal’s blog chronicling his time in Uganda. Tears streamed down my face as I read about all he was doing, and how happy he seemed.

Sujal and I attended high school together and worked alongside each other in student clubs. Even at 16, he was eloquent, organized, passionate and vocal about helping those who were suffering in the world. Many of us remember him well for his relentless work on global health and his ability to lead, even when we were in high school.

There were many wonderful things about Sujal I had forgotten. Reading through the old AOL instant messenger conversations, I started to remember them all. We had talked about serious things, like poverty in Africa, as well as random stuff like bad reality TV shows. No matter the topic, he always had insights that I hadn’t thought of.

In our serious talks about what it would take to change the world, he would quote famous leaders like Che Guevara. “At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolution is guided by a great feeling of love,” he once told me. Ghandi was one of his favorites: “The planet has enough for everyone’s need, but not everyone’s greed,” he once shot at me when were were debating economics and the scarcity of resources.

When the powerful call-to-arms “World on Fire” music video went viral, he sent me the link, and talked of how it made him want to leave school, roll up his sleeves and begin assisting the poor.

In high school, Sujal juggled a staggering number of things, all while keeping up his grades. Some of it was stuff most high schoolers do — he worked at Subway for a summer, and once in a while hooked us up with sandwiches. But most of it what he did, whether it was college-level lab research or volunteering in his spare time, was extraordinary. Continue reading


The status of Kuo

Wow, I’ve been a slacker when it comes to this website. All for good reason (or so I tell myself).

After a whirlwind and wonderful trip to the AAJA 2010 national convention in Los Angeles, I landed a new freelance gig as the green writer for VentureBeat, a very cool Silicon Valley blog that ferociously covers the intersection of business and technology. As you might glean from the name, we cover a lot of startups and venture capital.

I’ve been at it for almost two months now. You can read my work here. (I’m still based in Houston, FYI.)

VentureBeat itself is a startup based in San Francisco, and working with their talented and forward-thinking staff has been a pleasure thus far. It’s been an adjustment to write for a blog — almost all of my training has been in newspapers and traditional media. VB’s doing some cool things when it comes to pushing the digital edge of news — all very relevant to the future of news and media organizations.

The culture of a startup is also markedly different from that of a traditional newspaper’s newsroom. It’s also very fun. We tweet about it sometimes.

The challenges of the new gig and new beat have kept me from posting (ah, it’s probably a cop-out to say that, but rest assured this blog is never far from my mind).

What else can I say? As one of my favorite editors often likes to end his emails: More to come.

(Picture of San Franscisco by alsakr, via Flickr)