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New blog! March 1, 2014

Posted by Amy in Journalism.
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I haven’t updated this blog in quite a while, so I’m moving things over to another platform — for now, at least. Please find me at amyrolph.com, where I promise to update more often.


I’m Microsoft bound November 16, 2012

Posted by Amy in Journalism.
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Today was my last day at seattlepi.com. In a week, I’ll be starting as a managing editor at MSN, working with the folks at msnNOW. To quote from my goodbye post on the Big Blog:

In the immortal words of Fozzie Bear: It’s time for saying goodbye.

There are probably better, more profound ways to start this post. I guess I just really love a good Muppets reference, and that one seemed appropriate. Also, “The Muppets Take Manhattan” is pretty underrated as far as Muppet movies go. Kermit has temporary amnesia and Gonzo has a Gucci bag.

But back to my point.

This will be the last time I post to the Big Blog. As I announced earlier this week, I’m leaving seattlepi.com for an editing gig with msnNOW. This is my last day blogging. Actually, this is my last 45 minutes. So I’ll be brief. (more…)

Where in the world is Joseph Fonseca? October 15, 2011

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Stories.
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Photo by Joshua Trujillo/seattlepi.com

I had the chance to write a fun story this week — all about a man who’s a whole lot braver than most of us.

Joseph Fonseca has been on the road for years. Each year, a different city. This year, he’s in Seattle.

I spent an afternoon wandering around the city with him this week, and we talked about furniture (he doesn’t own any), girlfriends (hard to keep them when you’re on the move) and books (he brings some of those along).

Fonseca is a pretty shy person, but he says he draws inspiration from writer Jack Kerouac.

“Everyone sort of turns on Kerouac,” he told me. “Instead of seeing him as a symbol of freedom, they see him as a symbol of idiocy. To me, it’s just important that there’s someone out there who’s still being an idiot like Kerouac.”

Here’s the story: “In Seattle now, man’s goal…

Being wrong — and what it means for stories May 18, 2011

Posted by Amy in Storytelling.
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The coffee in question.

Every once in a while, I’m wrong about something. I know you probably don’t believe me, so I’ve even dredged up an example.

I accidentally took another customer’s latte at a coffee shop recently, then insisted it hadn’t happened when my friend pointed it out. In the brief moment between seizing the paper cup realizing my wrongness, I really had it all: An inflated sense of rightness and a cup of coffee that tasted about 200 percent better than anything I’d ever order. (Soy milk? That sounds pretty expensive. Could you substitute water instead?)

Writer Kathryn Schulz has made a career out of studying that kind of resilient indignation — wrongness, if you will. Humans, she says, suffer from “error blindness.” Schulz recently gave a TED talk about the nature of human error that struck me as especially poignant.

Schulz, a journalist by background, had something interesting to say about how our inherent tendency to be wrong effects how we construct and interpret stories. Wrongness, she said, is part of the reason plot twists and literary red herrings are so effective in stories — it’s the pattern we go through in our own lives without realizing what’s happening.

“When it comes to stories, we love being wrong,” she says. “Our stories are like this because our lives are like this. We think the one thing happens, and something else happens instead.”

Perspectives on leadership March 23, 2011

Posted by Amy in Leadership, MCDM.
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I’ve been studying digital leadership for the last few months, a topic saturated with buzzwords like “openness” and “authenticity.” After a while, many of the case studies begin to seem redundant — and many valid points start getting fuzzy.

I produced a collection of video interviews with Seattle-area religious and spiritual leaders as part of my work in the Master of Communication in Digital Media program at the University of Washington. They were an attempt to gain a fresh perspective on effective leadership by talking with people who are several steps removed from the corporate world.

Dzogchen Ponlop Riponche – Buddhist scholar and meditation master (www.dpr.info)

Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche on leadership from Amy Rolph on Vimeo.

Pen Cook – Pastor at Paradox Bible Church (www.paradoxbiblechurch.org)


I’m working under the globe again July 12, 2010

Posted by Amy in Seattle P-I, seattlepi.com.
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My plan for this morning is pretty straightforward. I’ll head out for a quick run. I’ll eat my Wheaties. (OK, there aren’t really Wheaties here. But I do have a box of stale Joe’s O’s .)

Then I’ll drive south on Highway 99 to a place that’s familiar and new all at once.

I start work at Seattlepi.com today, 16 months after its newspaper predecessor was shuttered.  I’ll be covering general Seattle news and helping with site production. More details about the gig will follow.

Now for some stale knock-off-brand breakfast. Mmmm.

It’s not taboo to talk about losing a home July 9, 2010

Posted by Amy in Stories, Storytelling, The Herald.
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There are some things people have a hard time talking to journalists about.

Losing a home isn’t one of those things. At least, not anymore.

I wrote extensively on the topic of home foreclosures and mortgage modifications during my last few months at The Daily Herald, mostly because the sheer volume of homeowners in trouble has skyrocketed during the last year.

For me, foreclosure reporting started with one family: the Lemkes. They applied to modify their home loan with Bank of America, but got caught up in a tangled and confusing process marked with mixed signals and dead ends. I first talked with Gregory Lemke in the Herald break room while his seven-year-old daughter sat quietly drawing with markers.

After that, there were more interviews with other homeowners — on the phone, at kitchen tables, during lunch breaks. They all had one thing in common: An unexpected change in circumstances. Usually, it was a job loss.

When each story about foreclosures ran, I’d arrive at work to the same scene: phone messages and email from readers worried about losing their homes. They reported frustration with the loan-modification process, usually centered around mountains of paperwork, unresponsive bank representatives and confusing communications. (more…)

Small business: A quick look in pictures July 2, 2010

Posted by Amy in Stories, Storytelling, The Herald.
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I posted this gallery on my small business blog earlier today. It documents the faces behind a few of the small business I’ve written about while working at The Daily Herald.

Photos are by Herald photographers and taken in 2009 and 2010. For photo credits and links to stories, click through to Picasa.

Vodpod videos no longer available.
Favorite Small Business Stories, posted with vodpod

In which I say goodbye to Everett July 2, 2010

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Seattle P-I, seattlepi.com, The Herald.

I started working at the Everett Herald less than a week after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer stopped publishing.

Almost 16 months and a few speeding tickets later, I’m making another change. Today is my last day at the scrappy community newspaper that’s been part of Snohomish County’s fabric for nearly 110 years.

It doesn’t feel like this is really a goodbye. The truth is, Everett and I go way back. Way, way back.

That’s John Krause, my great-great-grandfather, on the job in Everett during the early 20th century. He was a conductor on the Interurban Rail.

I like to think he would have been pleased that I worked for his hometown paper.

I’ve worked with a fantastic team of journalists at the Herald. Maybe the most notable is Mike Benbow, an editor who does his best to uphold traditional journalistic values while encouraging non-traditional storytelling and innovation.

He’s also pretty entertaining. I never thought I’d say this, but I’ll miss having my afternoon interrupted by an over-the-top rendition of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie” being belted out two desks away.

But I won’t miss the drive.

I spend about eight hours a week driving from Seattle to Everett. That’s more than 17 days a year — about two and a half weeks.

I’ll make the drive for the last time today, but not before I say this: Thanks for letting me tell your stories, Snohomish County. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you.

I’ll start my new job at Seattlepi.com on July 12.

Bank failures: They don’t happen in a day May 11, 2010

Posted by Amy in Stories, Storytelling, The Herald.
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Banks appear to die quickly. Regulators pounce late on Friday afternoons, delivering death sentences under a shroud of secrecy. The institutions are shuttered, sold, reorganized and reopened — all in the space of a few days.

It’s fast. It’s secretive. But it’s a process that often makes perfect sense in retrospect. Looking back, it’s clear that banks don’t fail fast. They languish for months — even years — before finally dying.

I covered two bank closures last month. First, Lynnwood-based City Bank was shut down and immediately sold to another small bank headquartered in Washington state.

Two weeks later, Frontier Bank of Everett was closed and sold to a California-based bank with international ties.

For both banks, the writing was on the wall long before before they landed on the FDIC’s list of failed banks.

This timeline on Dipity.com tracks the slow demise of Frontier Bank, a long-time Everett institution that lost a long battle with bad real estate loans on April 30. Note: At the time this post was published, WordPress.com didn’t support <iframe> tags, which Dipity utilizes. If you’d like to interact with the timeline, just click on the image below.

For a look at City Bank news, see this timeline.

Banking Blues: A look at the community banking crisis March 25, 2010

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Stories, The Herald.
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When someone new wanders over to the part of the Herald newsroom where we business reporters tend to spend our time, my editor introduces his small staff like this: “This is Michelle. She writes about aerospace. And that’s Amy – she covers everything else.”

The “everything else” beat works just fine for me. In the news industry, we tend to divide and categorize:  consumer news,  finance, technology, real estate, retail. But outside the newsroom, things are  never that easy to label — especially when it comes to the economy.

A two-part series I wrote for the Herald is a good example of that. Dubbed “Banking Blues, the series examines how several economic factors came together to create a perfect storm for the nation’s community banking industry.

Two questions I set out to answer: What really happened, and who’s impacted most by the crisis?

The first story details how a high concentration of real estate loans and the worst recession in recent history were devastating blows to small banks. The second story looks at what the industry’s troubles means for small businesses, the group economists believe will lead the country out of recession by generating jobs.

So what happens if community banks aren’t lending to small businesses? Some believe that means a slower economic recovery and prolonged high unemployment.

And there you have it: Finance, real estate, small business and employment — all under the banking umbrella.  Banking Blues is fast becoming one of my favorite examples of how the “everything else” beat works.

Want to know more? Listen to me talk about the series on KUOW.

Here’s how the first story starts:

The roadside signs advertise village life, a quiet hamlet painted in muted shades of gray, green and brown. The driveways slope down from two-car garages, and basketball hoops and satellite dishes show that people call this place home.

Just not enough people.

Cars crawl slowly down the streets as twilight creeps across trimmed lawns and tended flower beds. The drivers are home from work for the weekend; there’s no need to rush. The garage doors open, cars drive in. The doors shut. Lights turn on. All seems well at Tambark Village, a compact neighborhood built on a soggy stretch of land near the heart of Mill Creek.

Developments like this one brought the community banking sector to its knees. (Read the rest here.)

Video: An independent bookstore’s last story March 25, 2010

Posted by Amy in Stories, The Herald, Video.
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Mary Burns is calling it quits after eleven years. That’s how long she’s owned The Bookworks, a small bookstore in the heart of Marysville.

I spent a few mornings with Mary last week, and she told me it’s the big guys — the Amazons and the Barnes & Nobles — that make things hard for small stores like The Bookworks. But it’s the recession that makes things impossible.

Here’s footage of Mary telling her last story at The Bookworks.

After eleven years, Mary is ready to let go.

“My customers are so sad, and I feel so bad,” she told me one morning. “I’m ready to go, and they’re not ready to let me go.”

For more about why she’s ready to move on, read the full story. It starts like this:

MARYSVILLE — The music drifts out of Mary Burns’ storefront and down Third Street, eventually losing its way amid rumbling engines.

Ding, ding, ding ding. The silvery chimes sound like a line from a storybook, enchanted music that casts a spell over Burns’ customers and draws them through the open door of her bookstore.

The song is ending. The music box won’t be a heard on Third Street much longer; Burns is closing The Bookworks, which she’s owned for 11 years. (more…)

One year after the Seattle Post-Intelligencer March 17, 2010

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Seattle P-I.
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I remember one year ago like it was one week ago.

I woke up early. And for once, I wasn’t in a hurry. I didn’t have anywhere to be, anyone to meet, anything to write. I wouldn’t start at the Everett Herald for six more days, and I was at a loss for what to do with myself.

I ended up about a mile away at a Tully’s Coffee, trying to make a cup of tea last long past the point of cooling. A newspaper rack stood next to the coffee bar, and a headline on the cover of the New York Times read:  “Seattle Paper Shifts Entirely to the Web.” I remember that two older gentlemen seated in big chairs near a window were talking about the P-I. They speculated about what went wrong, what the closure meant — if anything.

One year later, I don’t have many answers. But I believe in journalism more than ever. If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that persistence can be a powerful force.

As far as I can tell, envisioning the future of the news industry is a lot like driving without my glasses. I know we’re moving forward. And I can read the signs as they flash past the windshield. They say to speed up, slow down, turn left, turn right. They say to respond quickly, think faster and merge when one lane ends. But as for the destination — that’s a blur. I know it’s out there, but it’s hard to see that far down the road.

Some might say that’s shortsighted (nearsighted, to be precise), but I think it has more to do with flexibility. We don’t know what the future looks like, and we have to adjust our route in accordance with signposts along the way.

Creative storytelling: Links for WJEA workshop March 13, 2010

Posted by Amy in Education, Journalism, Storytelling, Video.
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I’m talking with students at the Washington Journalism Education’s 2010 conference today, first about creative storytelling and then about preparing for a career in journalism.

This post mostly relates to the first workshop, titled “Creative Storytelling: Rethinking the Inverted Pyramid.” We’ll cover several examples of creative journalism, and I don’t expect to have time to show every video from start to finish or read every story in its entirety.

Students who’d like to see more can find links to examples below.

No Greater Love, from the Washington Post

This photo essay is complimented by a more traditional story as well as the photographer’s reflections on her story. Using photos and character-based audio, it tells the story of Classie Morant, 104, who cares for her bedridden sister.

The Dictaphone Doctor, from the New York Times

This photo essay is part of a larger project the Times ran last year: One in 8 Million. Photographers profiled New York City residents and let them tell their stories through audio tracks. Much of it is honest, raw and surprisingly uplifting. My favorite is the story of Ed Grajales, better known as the Dictaphone doctor.

Once again, a photographer’s gallery is complimented with audio that lends a sense of the character through his own words.

“There’s an app for that,” by the St. Petersburg Times (more…)

Boeing coverage wins national award March 7, 2010

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Stories, The Herald.
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When the Boeing 787 took to the sky in December, I was standing in the rain sending tweets with frozen fingers and typing updates via BlackBerry. Several reporters and photographers from the Herald chronicled the much-anticipated first flight of the airplane — we did it because it’s our job, and we enjoy doing that job whether recognized or not.

Still, it’s always nice to get a little pat on the back.

The Herald’s first-flight coverage was recognized last week with a national award for breaking-news coverage from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers. It’s an honor to have our hard work recognized, especially the heavy-lifting of aerospace reporter Michelle Dunlop.

Note to self: Tell better stories January 10, 2010

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Storytelling.
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I leaving myself notes often. There’s one stuck to the back of my front door that says: “Amy, are you forgetting your laptop?”

I’m thinking of adding an addendum below asking about the whereabouts of my keys,  camera, BlackBerry, iPod and yoga mat.

There’s a note on my desk at work that isn’t so much about forgetfulness. It’s written on the back of a crumpled business card, and it’s about telling better stories.

Tell them something they don't already know.

When bank loans hinder business growth December 23, 2009

Posted by Amy in Stories, The Herald.
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Update on January 8, 2010: Chase renegotiated the terms of Travel 4 Real’s loan after this story ran. I got this email yesterday from one of the owners: “Update: Chase changed our loan and issued the disbursement exactly the way we wanted it just after the holidays.”

Sometimes a helping hand does more harm than good. The owners of Travel 4 Real wanted a lifeline, a $35,000 federally backed loan that would help pay for new employees and expansion.

They were among just a few small-business owners to receive a special federally-backed loan through JPMorgan Chase earlier this year. But it turns out, the extra money won’t add jobs. It could even cost some.

I wrote about Travel 4 Real’s dilemma for the Herald, and was surprised by what I found out. For now, the business is in limbo, trying to make it through the winter without cutting employees.

“It’s just put us in a bad situation,” said Rem Malloy, who runs the Everett-based travel company with his mother, Deborah De Maio. “If they’d told us this would happen, we could have planned.”

Chronicling the first flight of Boeing’s 787 December 17, 2009

Posted by Amy in Stories, The Herald, Video.
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Update on March 7, 2010: The Herald’s coverage of the Boeing 787’s first flight won a national award from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

I wore three pairs of socks, but forgot gloves.

Herald aerospace reporter Michelle Dunlop and I spent hours standing along airport runways — first in Everett, then in Seattle. My fingers felt frozen, and my socks (all six of them) were drenched.

It was all to see a big, metal airplane finally take to the skies.

I watched 787’s takeoff with Boeing employees who crowded shoulder to shoulder along the runway at Paine Field in Everett. The moment is captured in this footage, which I shot from a tripod balanced on my shoulders in order to clear the sea of heads.

To see more of our updates throughout the day, and the content that ran in a special first-flight section the next day, click here. And here’s my account of what happened during the few hours the plane was up in the air.

Highlights of the last few months December 13, 2009

Posted by Amy in Journalism, Stories, The Herald, Video.
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Economic recovery is underway, according to economists. But from my seat at the business desk, it doesn’t look that way yet.

The last few months brought a hodgepodge of news stories on my beats at The Daily Herald. Some news was good, some was bad. But most stories had to do with the gloomy state of the U.S. economy.

Today’s story about the dire state of the restaurant industry was a good example of that. I interviewed several Everett-area restaurant owners, managers and chefs — all of whom said their dining rooms just aren’t filling up. Some said they’re not hoping for a recovery. They’re preparing for a new reality where consumer spending remains low.

High unemployment has continued to plague Washington state. In a story last month, I reported that unemployment rates won’t likely return to lower levels for some time. My story detailed government efforts to jumpstart hiring, as well as the trials of three long-unemployed Snohomish County residents. Here’s how the story started:

Barbara Headrick reached the pinnacle of frustration when she applied for a sales job with Harry & David, the fruit-basket distributors.

She didn’t get it.

And that’s when the 65-year-old realized just how battered the job market is.

“I interview well,” Headrick said. “I’m neat. I’m clean. I’m knowledgeable, and I’m well-spoken. But I didn’t even get a job with Harry & David. I didn’t even get a job selling sausage.”

It’s not all gloom and doom, though. I recently had the chance to catch up with an Edmonds shop owner who spent several months camped out on her roof for charity. I first wrote about Carol Schillios in July, when she took to the roof to raise money for the Fabric of Life Foundation. She came down in November after raising $100,000, but not before I made this video.

The community banking sector hasn’t recovered after crumbling along with the state’s real estate market. I’ve chronicled the struggles of several banks, including Everett-based Frontier Bank. The bank’s future remains uncertain after findingthen losing — a white knight investor who promised to inject millions of dollars into an expansion plan.

Small business has remained a staple of my work at the Herald, with The Storefront blog gaining a stronger following. And my small business profiles are still a regular feature on HeraldNet.com.

The Herald launched a weekly online business newsletter a few months ago; the Business Insider publishes every Wednesday.

Getting to know the Common Language Project December 11, 2009

Posted by Amy in Journalism, MCDM.
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The Common Language Project is a Seattle-based journalism organization devoted to under-reported international issues. Along with a few other MCDM students, I recently researched how to improve the organization’s Web site.

Click below to watch the presentation on Vimeo.

Watch a presentation outlining our recommendations on Vimeo.

Untitled from Gerrit Vyn on Vimeo.