RS: You've been doing some great work as part of the team at the BuzzFeed news app. What have been some of the challenges and rewards in that position?
AE: The highlight of working at BuzzFeed News has, without a doubt, been our team. They are a ridiculously smart, engaging, curious, diverse and, umm, ~beautiful~ bunch of people who came to BuzzFeed from different corners of the industry with one common goal: build something awesome that people will find useful and interesting. Early on, we all committed to being open about the process of our app's development — without giving everything away, of course — and we've been documenting this in a very public way. The #teamnewsapp hashtag on Twitter, for example, has evolved into a repository of sorts withexperiments, shoutouts, thoughts and (of course) GIFs. But we haven't hidden from our challenges. I wrote about how it was getting really tough to approach design meetings and brainstorm sessions with the same curiosity and fresh perspective I had when I started on the team. And my colleagues have also written about questions we run into every week, from developing process to getting feedback on an unfinished product. We don't pretend to have all the answers. But we want to be good citizens and put more of what we're trying to solve out in the open. We're like a bunch of cool aunties.
You were a James Reston Reporting Fellow with the New York Times, a very prestigious honor, right after graduating from Ithaca College in 2012. What was in like to get thrown into that world right after finishing school?
I had imposter syndrome for the longest time when I landed the fellowship. I was 20 years old and in my mind, I was still this little black boy from Queens who talked too much and got on people's nerves by doing unsolicited recitations of Destiny's Child lyrics. But the reality was that I worked hard to be prepared for the fellowship. I had covered the BP oil spill with the Times' Student Journalism Institute, did breaking news on the CBS News national team for a summer, spent five months reporting and editing in London for The Associated Press, covered state government and crime for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and exhaustively memorized the choreography to Single Ladies. So it took a while, but eventually I had to own and accept that I was ready for it. My editors trusted my abilities. I owed it to them, and to myself, to deliver on that trust.
What can people expect from your reading?
I haven't written a ton since shifting from reporting and writing to more product- and editing-focused areas of journalism, but when I do write it's often about things close to my heart (or stuff about CLAPBACKS, which are also close to my heart). I'll be reading an essay that I wrote last year, and published earlier this year. It's about navigating grief in a place where I didn't quite feel at home.