Riverside alumni Adam Playford was recently appointed as the projects editor of the Upshot at the New York Times.
The Upshot is a website offshoot of the New York Times that combines traditional journalism with data visualization.
“The upshot is a department that does ambitious work with data and visual journalism,” Playford explained. “We try to find stories and tell stories with interesting ways of using technology.”
Playford got his start in journalism at The Pirates’ Hook, where he served as a reporter and eventually a special projects editor from 2003 until when he graduated in 2005. However, journalism wasn’t always his calling.
“I liked writing a lot and I liked to do science,” Playford said. “Before journalism, I thought I would probably be a computer programmer who would maybe write on the side for fun.”
Convinced by his friends to take journalism, Playford was eager to attend a class taught by Steven Unruhe, journalism advisor at the time.
“I thought, ‘this is really, really great.’” he said. “And so I started going to journalism conferences and reading books and writing for the Herald Sun. And it’s kind of stuck with me.
“With journalism in particular, it is so important to kind of have exposure to it. I think the biggest thing The Pirates’ Hook did for me was give me a chance to try stuff. And I don’t think I would have ever figured out how much I liked journalism if I hadn’t just had the chance to try it.”
Playford’s first story ever published was about bus driver pay, an issue still relevant nearly 20 years later.
“It was all about how little money school bus drivers make,” he said. “I don’t remember too much more than that, aside from just talking to the drivers about these terrible stories about them struggling to make ends meet. I just remember it was a really good example of the kind of the kind of thing journalism can do. And it really taught me a lesson just about talking to people and listening to them and how powerful it can be just to hear someone’s story in the paper.”
Back then, the technology was very different. For one thing, The Hook only published in print.
“We used these colorful plastic Macs, and like half of them were blue and some were purple or orange,” Playford said. “We had a ton of those. People laid out the paper on software on those machines.”
To students with journalism aspirations, Playford advises be persistent.
“The most important thing is to do it, you know, and just do it a lot,” he said. “They do it over and over and over again and write a lot of stories and edit a lot of stories and read a lot of stories. And all of it is really hard the first time you do it. So you have to really work to build that muscle to have the skills to do a really good story. And also, the best way to figure out if you actually like it is by trying it out.”