It feels like I’ve been a journalist forever. I’ve done the daily journalism thing with The New York Times. I’ve written long-form journalism for everyone from The New York Times Magazine and GQ to Wired, Newsweek, and the American Bar Association Journal. BROKE, USA is my fourth book, or my fifth if you include the 100-page e-book I wrote for Random House called The Godfather of Silicon Valley.
Through most of my twenties I worked as a staff writer at the Chicago Reader, where I wrote primarily about Chicago politics. I inaugurated a regular “City Hall” column and for a time I co-wrote (with my good friend Ted Cox) the paper’s “Hot Type” column but mainly I wrote long cover articles delving into the distressing race politics dominating Chicago in the 1980s, when the city elected Harold Washington as its first black mayor. That experience led to my first book, Fire on the Prairie: Harold Washington and the Politics of Race, winner of the 1992 Carl Sandburg Award for best non-fiction and also the Chicago Sun-Times’s non-fiction book of the year.
I thought I might write about Chicago politics forever – the topic is that fascinating – but love intervened and I headed to the San Francisco Bay Area. After a short stint covering politics for the Contra Costa Times and its sister publications, in 1991 I took a staff job at the East Bay Express, the alternative weekly serving Oakland and Berkeley. There I began writing about the youth violence epidemic plaguing Oakland, among other major U.S. cities. That work earned awards from the California Newspaper Publishers’ Association, the Society for Professional Journalists, and the San Francisco Bay Area Media Alliance, which named me its print journalist of the year in 1993. That work led to my second book, Drive-By, the true story of a single drive-by shooting that left a 13-year-old dead, put two other teenagers in the hospital, and led to the imprisonment of three young men aged 15 to 18. That book, a 1995 New York Times Notable Book of the Year, was a finalist of Pen-West’s “Best of the West” award.
I was ready for a new topic by the mid-1990s. Attending the funerals of 14-year-olds and visiting California’s juvenile detention facilities can do that to a person. My timing on this front was fortunate. I had written in Fortran, an early computer language, in my short-lived life as an engineering student at Northwestern University; I had programmed in BASIC in high school. And, meanwhile, all around me the Bay Area was going Internet crazy. I started writing about Silicon Valley for a range of publications, from Salon and Feed to The New Republic and San Francisco. Shortly after the publication of my third book, The Plot to Get Bill Gates, I took a job as a senior writer at The Industry Standard, and, after that publication’s unfortunate demise, I became a regular contributor to Wired.
In 2003, the tech editor at The New York Times approached me about covering Silicon Valley. I told him all the reasons that didn’t make sense, I gave him the names of people with more experience as a daily journalist. But he persisted and it proved an opportunity too enticing to refuse. At the Times, I covered Google going public and H-P’s canning of Carly Fiorina (that piece won a “best in business writing” award in the breaking news category from The Society of American Business Editors and Writers) and then temporarily moved to the National desk, where I spent eight months writing about New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The Times was a terrific experience but I missed books and longer-form articles and I left the paper in mid-2008. June 2010 represents the release of BROKE, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. – How the Working Poor Became Big Business, my first book in a decade.
Click here for my resume.