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An Annotated Digital Portfolio

Octavia E. Butler, notes on writing, No entertainment on earth… ca. 1970-1995. The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens

Octavia Butler

Over the last two decades, I've had the privilege to work as a writer, editor, and multimedia producer. I've done this for print and digital publications, for national and international publications, for publications that still exist, and for publications that no longer exist. This last category is a unique hazard of working digital economy. I've had gigs I think of fondly and often of which no trace remains, like the three (shoot, four?) years I spent writing capsule film reviews for an early digital information play that fed physical kiosks in video stores. I wrote some lovely blurbs for those folks; that work paid my rent for a good stretch of my 20s. And yet, all I can legitimately testify to about it at this point is my gratitude.

The items below are either things I'm particularly proud of, or that I believe provide unique insights into my work. They're also items that I can link to easily. Please note that some of the sites linked to below periodically change their designs, so pages may not look as they looked at launch. To share items as they were, I've linked to Internet Archive pages where possible. I'll also be going through some old hard drives and updating this page with screenshots accurately reflecting the work as I can. If you have any questions, feel free to drop me a line.

  1. caamuseum.org Editorial
  2. Feature Writing for Bidoun
  3. Multimedia and Interactives: NPR West
  4. Multimedia and Interactives: KCET Resource Guides
  5. Multimedia and Interactives: KCET Departures
  6. Multimedia and Interactives: KCET Show Support
  7. Multimedia and Interactives: LinkTV World News App
  8. Other Criticism and Essays
  9. Fiction and Memoir

caamuseum.org Editorial

600 State screenshot


After having led the effort to relaunch caamuseum.org in 2017, I started managing the site's product and editorial operations. The work on the edit side varies, but most of it involves researching and writing #blackhistory content for CAAM's blog 600 State, executing web editorial initiatives like #5WomenArtists, and posting listings to the site's program section.

The black history facts I research and write are usually tied to CAAM exhibitions or to events with particular California/Southern California resonance. Every month, I select 4 or so items from a list of straightforward dated prompts like, "January 17, 1929: Aunt Jemima, a minstrel-type variety radio program, was broadcasted, at times on CBS and at other times on the Blue Network." While the history curators compile the list of possible items, I do the research needed to write selected events up, and also decide how to approach them in terms of tone and emphasis. I also find and edit images from open access sources.

Although voiced, the black history posts are extensions of the museum's curatorial and educational activities and are un-bylined. The site also features traditional, bylined articles, all either written or edited by me.

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Feature Writing for Bidoun

Bidoun in the New York Times


I'm incredibly proud to have been one of Bidoun 's regular feature writers. I wrote feature-length pieces and reviews for every issue Bidoun published in 2009, the year it was a finalist for a National Magazine Award and winner of the Utne Independent Press Award for Social/Cultural Coverage. My work with the magazine was also cited in a 2015 appraisal of Bidoun in The New York Times:

*Bidoun* has also sought to broaden the conventions of travel writing by giving space to writers who are often hard to categorize. It published the Kenyan author Binyavanga Wainaina reflecting on the viral success of his Granta essay "How to Write About Africa," and personal essays by the Los Angeles-based writer Gary Dauphin, a former editor in chief of Africana.com and BlackPlanet.com; the Indian writer Achal Prabhala; and the cultural critic Sukhdev Sandhu.

Below are some of my favorite pieces:

Bidoun also republished "A Portrait of the Jihadist as White Negro" as a limited edition book.

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Multimedia and Interactives

Different sites, organizations, and audiences have different needs, which, in turn, call for different product and editorial solutions. Below are some answers I've come up with to the question of how to use multimedia and interactives to serve a given audience.

Multimedia and Interactives: NPR West

Screenshot, NPR Daydreaming blog

Just after moving to Los Angeles, I was fortunate to be able to spend some time at NPR West in Culver City as a digital consultant to two shows then being recorded there, News & Notes and Day to Day. At the time, NPR ran a very tight(-ly controlled!) digital ship where almost all aspects of a show's web experience were centrally managed from the NPR mothership in Washington, DC, this using npr.org pages built to support little beyond broadcast audio support.

There was a tiny crack in that wall, though, in the form of free-floating "web-extra blogs." These allowed the embedding--provided you had the staff and the time--of things forbidden on a given show's main page, such as maps, video, and other multimedia. (If I remember correctly, they were using Movable Type at the time to manage the blogs.) Supplementing radio audio with web content that went beyond transcripts was a radical experiment at the time. This meant the blogs were buried on npr.org, and their templates were inviolate, allowing for little customization. News & Notes and Day to Day took excellent advantage of them anyway in the form of News & Views and Daydreaming. (You can probably figure out what belonged to who!) As the "web expert" on the shows, I was charged with editorial calendaring, wrangling posts (a.k.a. "more work") from busy radio professionals, multimedia production, and direct daily updating, as well as management of the comments. (While looking up links for this portfolio, I was tickled to find the discussion guidelines I wrote for Daydreaming in 2008. They are truly a time capsule from a bygone and kinder era.)

News & Views was the earlier (and therefore more rigidly policed) experiment. Still, it yielded a ton of very lovely web extras that extended the broadcast segments. Most notable among these was 2007's "'Photo by Sammy Davis,' Scenes in Black and White." The on-air segment was an interview with Burt Boyar, who'd found and published a trove of previously unseen black & white photos taken by Sammy Davis Jr. For the blog, we took some of those images and paired them with audio of Davis recorded by Boyar decades earlier. (In addition to the book, Boyar would direct a documentary about Davis, Sammy Speaks.) We also wove in older NPR content about Davis, as well as resources from the wider web.

Unfortunately, the extant page on npr.org doesn't preserve "Photo by Sammy Davis'" original build, and the Wayback Machine seems not to have archived it. That said, the piece did win Best Multimedia Package at the 2008 Los Angeles Press Club Awards, the judges commenting, "We didn't want this package to end. The components complemented each other and provided a deeper understanding of an icon."

Daydreaming came later and was decidedly more freewheeling. It feels in many ways like a preview of what NPR feels like now - personal, unafraid of voice, concerned with engaging the audience as collaborators rather than as just listener-consumers. We asked that audience for a ton of input that ended up on-air or on the blog--comments, links, suggestions, even songs. That last item was one of the more fun projects I worked on at Day to Day. Part of summer-long series looking at the state of the "California Dream,", it marshaled a broad range of user inputs using polling and audio upload tools that weren't quite 2020-grade, not to mention generating some internal agita (read: legal concerns) over whether or not the item constituted a contest. Because it was a music segment, though, we were able to use an NPR Music template that was quite nice and featured tools we didn't have access to on the main Day to Day show pages.

You can hear the selected song, as well as some additional context below.

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KCET

I started at Los Angeles public broadcaster KCET as a part-time consultant leading a blog build, took a role as KCET.org's site editor managing that blog, and left a few years later as Vice President of Digital at what was then an entirely new organization--KCETLink. In between, there were a few site relaunches and editorial refactorings, a break from PBS (now unbroken), and a merger with San Francisco-based satellite broadcaster LinkTV. It was a great introduction to the television business, as well as a daily eduction in L.A. history, culture, and politics for this native New New Yorker. The team did a ton of great work, but below I have highlighted some of the interactive and multimedia projects I created for the organization.

KCET Resource Guides

Screenshot, KCET Resource Guide

A very direct answer to the question of how to best serve and audience. The initial plan was to create (and then park) evergreen resource materials around earthquake safety and "green space" access, but we very quickly found ourselves providing round-the-clock information about two simultaneous disasters, the 2009 California wildfires and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic. The formula for doing this was fairly straightforward but new to the station: collect, vet, and then amplify reliable information found on social media; embed official digital assets like Los Angeles Fire Department maps and live streams; use photo- and video-sharing platforms to solicit audience contributions; feed those assets back into the broadcast experience. We also mined the station's existing in-house assets for possible use, reinforcing the various guides' messaging, for example, using a Sid the Science Kid episode around vaccination to enhance the flu area, or baking KCET news programming on earthquake preparedness and fire safety in the appropriate areas.

Screenshot, KCET Flickr Pool

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KCET Departures

Departures was an award-winning KCET digital initiative that looked at neighborhoods in Los Angeles through a wide range of programmatic and digital lenses. Its central conceit was that one could travel in one's own city using well crafted rich media content--articles, videos, interactive "murals"--as a "point of departure."

In addition to overseeing the build of all Departures mini-sites during my tenure(s), I edited Departures' neighborhood installments and columnists, wrote articles for the section, and created new content types for the brand.

illustrated map

DJ Waldie Map

One of the new content types I conceived of and managed for the area was the Map Your L.A. contest. "A visual conversation about Los Angeles County as home," Map Your L.A. looked to tease out "social issues important to the participating cartographers" by asking them to share hand-crafted maps of "Los Angeles with a diverse, compelling and intimate character." The contest reinforced Departure's underlying spatial straightforwardly through the use of maps, as well as through supplemental educational/editorial content that expanded on events, themes, and places that surfaced in the user contributions On the logistics side, all of this was supported using readily available polling, form-making and filesharing tools that I integrated into our site and social media channels.

Paul Williams card

I also conceived and edited the Departures feature "Iconic Angelenos in L.A. History," which used a baseball card-style format to engage historical figures taken from yearly heritage months. The goal was to create inherently shareable digital assets that could be converted into physical collectibles as well. I also wrote the initial set of entries to set the tone for the series:

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KCET Show Support

In addition to managing all web-related aspects of KCET's broadcast operations such as listings and the online schedule grid, I crafted, edited, and launched many new editorial features designed to extend the conversation about the station's on-air offerings. These included weekly show recaps, mini-sites, and novel on-air/online integrations such as the package I crafted to support KCET's left-field hit, Borgen

I also managed the creation of show-related mini-sites for the station--build but also editorial--for shows like StandUp Planet, which asked whether comedy could be used to change people's perceptions about global public health concerns. (Please note: some of this material is sensitive in nature.)

You can find the StandUp Planet main site here. Overall, the project represented a dual bet. The first bet was that young, disinterested Western audiences might have their consciousness about issues like access to working toilets in India, or HIV prevention in South Africa, raised using what could best be described as edgy comedy. The second bet was that this "raised consciousness" could be measured in the form of digital actions like increased list sign-ups or donations for related charities. In order to test this, we needed not just the jokes, but explantory materials that provided context around said jokes, as well as those partner organizations. You can get a sense of this interlocking dynamic from some of the materials we created around the role of male circumcision in HIV prevention. In this specific case, I wrote the copy, selected the jokes, and oversaw video, infographic, and page development.

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LinkTV World News App

I was primary product manager and editorial lead on the 2.0 relaunch of the LinkTV World News iPad App. The app was an early attempt to curate international news video using two filters--geography and topic. At its height, the app was a Top 100 news and video download on the Apple store, but was foundation funded and was not viable past the end of its original grant term. The wireframes shared below were created by its designers, Method.

Screenshot, Link TV World News App

Screenshot, Link TV World News App

Screenshot, Link TV World News App

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Other Criticism and Essays

Village Voice Cover 1994

Of all the things I've had a chance to do, getting paid to think and write about culture - film, television, art, comics - ranks highest. I was a weekly film critic for the Village Voice and the lead critic at Vibe Magazine for over ten years, and my work as a critic continues to this day.

Some of my film writing has been anthologized in The Vibe History of Hip Hop, edited by Alan Light; in Charles Burnett - Interviews, edited by Robert E. Kapsis; and in John Singleton- Interviews, edited by Craigh Barboza.

screenshot, KCET Artbound

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Fiction and Memoir

A bottle of Barbancourt rum

I got to share the complicated story of the 50-plus-year-old bottle of Haitian rum I inherited from my dead parents with HiLoBrow's "Political Objects, [...] a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about objects of political significance." The complication? Under what conditions might I dare drink it?

I contributed "Feast of the Epiphany," the tale of my AWESOME-YET-TERRIBLE Catholic high school senior prom to Rob Spillman's The Time of My Life - Writers on the Heartbreak, Hormones, and Debauchery of the Prom.

I also recently published "Suicide Jacq," the first piece of my fiction since college to get off my computer and onto a piece of paper not from my printer. It appears in a lovely anthology called Graffiti edited by Pallavi Dhawan, Devi S Laskar, and Tamika Thompson. You can read a bit more about how it came to be here.