Introducing Ping and Echo

Ping and Echo is a daily newsletter that I started with my kids during the pandemic. Every day, for 100 days, it delivered podcasts kids and grown-ups can listen to together, and provided everything you need to turn an episode into an adventure. The post below was published when I launched the project in March of 2020.

In 2016 I was commuting back and forth between Massachusetts and New Jersey and I was listening to a lot of podcasts. Over and over again I heard terrific stories that I wanted to share with my kids, stories that launched me on explorations of new topics and stories that made me want to build, experiment, and create. Back then I began imagining a short newsletter that would share one great podcast episode for parents and kids to listen to, paired with links to activities and articles for families to explore together. Ever since then I’ve been collecting episodes for a newsletter that didn’t exist.

This month, as schools and businesses started closing and we all began to adapt to self-quarantines and social distancing I realized the time was right to launch this project.

Today I’m launching Ping and EchoSubscribe here.

Ping and Echo is a daily newsletter that links to one amazing podcast episode that is guaranteed to be a great listen for kids and their families. These are not kids’ podcasts per se, but rather, they are episodes of great podcasts like 99% Invisible, Mystery Show, the Memory Palace, Gravy, Radiolab, Snap Judgement, Song Exploder, and others that also happen to be perfect for sharing with curious kids. Each edition of the newsletter also includes links to fun activities, background reading, and videos related to the topic of the podcast.

Ping and Echo delivers podcasts that kids and grown-ups will love to listen to together, and gives you everything you need to turn an episode into an adventure. Subscribe here.

The name Ping and Echo comes from sonar technology which relies on sending out “pings” and receiving back “echos” to discover the world around you. Similarly, I envision this project as a two way dialogue that together can help all of us make sense of the world we live in. Every day I’ll send out a “ping” via this newsletter and I hope to receive “echos” back from subscribers. Parents can send in pictures of creations inspired by the podcasts I share, send art created by kids, or send in other podcasts they love. I’ll be posting all these pings and echos on the project’s Twitter page.

Social distancing with tin can telephones

Like many of you, I’m working from home and my kids are home with me until schools reopen. While I’m writing the newsletter, my kids are serving as editors and producers, helping me research topics, source links and choose podcasts to share. We listen together and talk about the themes in each episode. If anything in an episode worries them, we note it in the newsletter too so parents will have a heads up about sensitive content, language, and topics.

I have a list of about 30 episodes that are in the queue for inclusion in Ping and Echo, but I’m actively looking for more. If you are a podcast producer or host who is making great episodes I should consider — or if you are just an avid podcast listener who hears something great — please send a link to us. You can find our email on the About page here.

Every podcast episode I link to will feature compelling stories, great lessons, and important themes. That will be paired with hands-on activities for kids of various ages that revolve around the themes in the podcast. But I promise to keep the newsletter short.

If you love podcasts and want to turn a bit of audio into a big adventure, Ping and Echo is for you.

Click that monster subscribe button above to join the fun.

Ping and Echo is written by me, Josh Stearns, with editorial support from my kids Toby and Ruby. I always thought I’d grow up to be a teacher until my life went in another direction. I worked for years as a camp counselor and camp director, and have written about parenting for more than a decade, including for BuzzFeed. In 2013 my wife and I wrote a parenting themed cover version of Lorde’s “We Will Never Be Royals” called “We Will Never Be Rested.”

Ten Poems Emailed To Me By Strangers And Friends

Last week I was Many used the occasion of the chain letter to find a poem, or quote, that spoke to the moment we are in — reflections on hope, challenge, and struggle. Others shared writing that reflected on creativity, community and the act of writing itself.

I should note, that I have never participated in a chain letter before, but for some reason I did this time. I’ve so enjoyed the sporadic versus delivered to my inbox that I decided I wanted to share the collection. Here is all the poems people sent in, with an occasional note of context from me.

One of the first notes I received included this passage by Victoria Safford, and I marveled at how words can come around full circle. Earlier this year, speaking to a groups of journalists, I read this passage aloud and so I was delighted to see it come back to me from someone else entirely.

1) The Gates of Hope, Victoria Safford

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of self-righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges; nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right,” but a very different, sometimes very lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it might be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle — and we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

Another passage that draws connections between words and listening, hope and community, was sent to me by a different person.

2) From Ursula LeGuin’s “Words are My Matter”

“Nobody can do anything very much, really, alone. What a child needs, what we all need, is to find some other people who have imagined life along lines that make sense to us and allow some freedom, and listen to them. Not hear passively, but listen. Listening is an act of community, which takes space, time, and silence. Reading is a means of listening.”

“Reading is not as passive as hearing or viewing. It’s an act: you do it. You read at your pace, your own speed, not the ceaseless, incoherent, gabbling, shouting rush of the media. You take in what you can and want to take in, not what they shove at you fast and hard and loud in order to overwhelm and control you. Reading a story, you may be told something, but you’re not being sold anything. And though you’re usually alone when you read, you are in communion with another mind. You aren’t being brainwashed or co-opted or used; you’ve joined in an act of the imagination. I know no reason why our media could not create a similar community of the imagination, as theater has often done in societies of the past, but they’re mostly not doing it.”

This time of year I often return to Mary Oliver, who was a good friend of Orion Magazine where I serve on the board of directors. I often read a poem of hers for Thanksgiving, and this will be the first Thanksgiving since her death. This poem feels fitting for all those reasons and I was grateful it came when it did.

3) “November” by Mary Oliver, from Why I Wake Early

The snow
began slowly,
a soft and easy

of flakes, then clouds of flakes
in the baskets of the wind
and the branches
of the trees —

oh, so pretty.
We walked,
through the growing stillness,
as the flakes

prickled the path,
then covered it,
then deepened
as in curds and drafts,

as the wind grew stronger,
shaping its work
less delicately,
taking greater steps

over the hills
and through the trees
until, finally,
we were cold,

and far from home.
We turned
and followed our long shadows back
to the house,

stamped our feet,
went inside, and shut the door.
Through the window
we could see

how far away it was to the gates of April.
Let the fire now
put on its red hat
and sing to us.

I have known and appreciated Naomi Shihab Nye’s writing for a long time but somehow this poem had escaped me until now. But I was struck how it spoke to me and seemed in ways to be in conversation with the other poems I received.

4) Kindness by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

Ross Gay is another poet who has worked with and been published by Orion Magazine and I have returned to this poem often. Having it sent to me by someone else helped me see a new connection with the person who sent it, and I look forward to talking about it with her when I see her next.

5) A Small Needful Fact by Ross Gay

Is that Eric Garner worked
for some time for the Parks and Rec.
Horticultural Department, which means,
perhaps, that with his very large hands,
perhaps, in all likelihood,
he put gently into the earth
some plants which, most likely,
some of them, in all likelihood,
continue to grow, continue
to do what such plants do, like house
and feed small and necessary creatures,
like being pleasant to touch and smell,
like converting sunlight
into food, like making it easier
for us to breathe.

We read a Wendell Berry poem at our wedding. It was this specific poem but this one is one of my all time favorites. Berry is another author affiliated with Orion Magazine, and was originally introduced to me by a long time mentor and friend from my first job out of college.

6) The Peace of Wild Things by Wendell Berry

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

This was one of the last poems that was sent to me and in many ways I saw each of these poems like the “unexpected visitor” which Rumi writes about below.

7) The Guest House by Rumi

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

8) The Dash by Linda Ellis

I read of a man who stood to speak at the funeral of a friend. He referred to the dates on the tombstone from the beginning… to the end.

He noted that first came the date of birth and spoke of the following date with tears, but he said what mattered most of all was the dash between those years.

For that dash represents all the time they spent alive on earth and now only those who loved them know what that little line is worth.

For it matters not, how much we own, the cars… the house… the cash. What matters is how we live and love and how we spend our dash.

So think about this long and hard; are there things you’d like to change? For you never know how much time is left that still can be rearranged.

To be less quick to anger and show appreciation more and love the people in our lives like we’ve never loved before.

If we treat each other with respect and more often wear a smile… remembering that this special dash might only last a little while.

So when your eulogy is being read, with your life’s actions to rehash, would you be proud of the things they say about how you lived your dash?

This was one I wanted to hear out loud. Someone in my coworking space gave me a weird look when I read it at my desk.

9) Wise 1 From Transbluesency

If you ever find
Yourself, some where
Lost and surrounded
By enemies
Who won’t let you
Speak in your own language
Who destroy your statues
& instruments, who ban
Your omm bomm ba boom
Then you are in trouble
Deep trouble
They ban your
Own boom ba boom
You in deep deep


Probably take you several hundred years
To get

This was the shortest thing I received. It comes from “Beautiful Losers,” Leonard Cohen’s second book.

10 ) Leonard Cohen

“I am an old scholar. Better looking now than when I was young. That’s what sitting on your ass does to your face.”

Finally, this was the poem I sent. It is one that I revisit often and that touches many parts of my life.

11) Ode to the Present by Pablo Neruda

present moment,
as a wooden slab,
immaculate hour,
this day
as a new cup
from the past — 
no spider web
exists — 
with our fingers,
we caress
the present;
we cut it
according to our magnitude;
we guide
the unfolding of its blossoms.
It is living,
alive — 
it contains
from the unrepairable past,
from the lost past,
it is our
growing at
this very moment, adorned with
sand, eating from
our hands.
Grab it.
Don’t let it slip away.
Don’t lose it in dreams
or words.
Clutch it.
Tie it,
and order it
to obey you.
Make it a road,
a bell,
a machine,
a kiss, a book,
a caress.
Take a saw to its delicious
And make a chair;
braid its
test it.
Or then, build
a staircase!

Yes, a
the present,
by step,
press your feet
onto the resinous wood
of this moment,
going up,
going up,
not very high,
just so
you repair
the leaky roof.
Don’t go all the way to heaven.
for apples,
not the clouds.
Let them
fluff through the sky,
skimming passage,
into the past.

your present,
your own apple.
Pick it from
your tree.
Raise it
in your hand.
It’s gleaming,
rich with stars.
Claim it.
Take a luxurious bite
out of the present,
and whistle along the road
of your destiny.

20 Of The Best Nonprofit News Stories Of 2017

This was an amazing year for investigative journalism — especially around the country at the local level where nonprofit newsrooms are holding leaders accountable and covering the issues communities care about. Here are 20 important stories that had an impact around the United States in 2017.

Standing Up For Quality News

This year has reminded us why quality journalism matters like never before. From ProPublica’s investigation into why the U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world to Centro de Periodismo Investigativo’s journalists who faced incredible challenges and personal disasters while tirelessly covering their communities across Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. From MinnPost’s coverage of sexual harassment in the Minnesota Capitol, which led to the resignation of two legislators, to InvestigateWest’s reporting on the disarray at Washington State’s foster care program that prompt six new laws and $48 million in funding to keep kids safe.

As nonprofits, these newsrooms depend on donations to bring these stories to light. This kind of public powered reporting helps newsrooms take on the biggest stories facing our community and our nation, without fear or favor. That is why News Match is doubling donations to these newsrooms until the end of 2017. National and local funders have contributed more than $3 million to match your donations but time is running out!

The Institute for Nonprofit News has collected more than 60 of the most important local and investigative stories from nonprofit journalists this year. Below are 20 great examples from that list. Donate today to double your contribution — otherwise stories like these might not get told.

Continue reading “20 Of The Best Nonprofit News Stories Of 2017”

Why Quality Journalism Matters When We Talk About Honoring Veterans

Ahead of Veterans Day, News Match 2017 — the largest-ever grassroots campaign to strengthen non-profit journalism across the United States — is shining a spotlight on journalists and newsrooms whose work has lifted up critical issues impacting veterans and their families. News Match is doubling donations to these organizations, and more than 100 others, between now and the end of the year. You can support quality reporting on veterans issues by visiting

“Every Veterans Day, Americans come together to recognize the sacrifice and valor of our veterans throughout the country,” said Sue Cross, executive director and CEO of the Institute for Nonprofit News. “Non-profit news organizations do this daily through their groundbreaking reporting—ensuring our nation lives up to our commitment to those who have served.”

From Colorado to Connecticut the stories below remind us of the incredible sacrifices veterans have made, and the powerful role journalists play in telling their stories.Continue reading “Why Quality Journalism Matters When We Talk About Honoring Veterans”

Building Journalism With Community, Not For It

At the end of last year Kristin Hare of the Poynter Institute was collecting tech resolutions for 2015 and asked for mine. Here is what I wrote:

In 2015 I want to help more journalists build with their communities, not just for their communities.

At so many publications, journalists are rebuilding their newsrooms around new technologies from smartphones to social networks. But for the most part, the community is left on the other side of the screen. In 2015 there is a huge opportunity to engage communities in the work of helping build powerful journalism.

I want to help newsrooms design reporting projects, engagement strategies, web apps and more, through deeper collaboration, listening and empathy with our communities. Building for the community puts people at the end of the process. Building with community puts them at the start.

In the new year, let’s start the debate about journalism and technology with our communities.

At the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation we believe that journalism sustainability is rooted in building stronger relationships between communities and newsrooms. The distinction between “building with” instead of “building for” feels at first like semantics. However, when we begin to use it as a lens to examine journalism as both a process and a product, we see numerous small and large ways it challenges the status quo.Continue reading “Building Journalism With Community, Not For It”

A Secret History of Unmanned Bombing

Last week America’s drone war was brought back into sharp focus when President Obama admitted that a US drone strike in January killed two al Qaeda hostages, an American and an Italian. “It is a cruel and bitter truth that in the fog of war generally, and our fight against terrorists specifically, mistakes, sometimes deadly mistakes, can occur,” Obama told the nation.

Writing in the New York Times, Peter Baker noted that the apology underscored “the perils of a largely invisible, long-distance war waged through video screens, joysticks and sometimes incomplete intelligence.” Jason Linkins and Ryan Grim of the Huffington Post put it more directly in their piece, “A Drone Program That Has Killed Hundreds Of Civilians Finally Killed Some That The White House Regrets.”

Two days before Obama’s press conference I was on a long drive, binging on podcasts, and found myself immersed in a kind of secret history of unmanned bombing. Two random podcasts came on almost back-to-back that were haunting in their description of the lengths humans will go to drop bombs on each other. The two stories are powerful in and of themselves, but were made all the more striking in light of Obama’s comments.

Continue reading “A Secret History of Unmanned Bombing”

The Art of the Commons

(This essay was originally published in Orion Magazine’s spring 2015 issue)

There is a growing recognition that the solutions to some of our greatest struggles are rooted in our relationships to one another. They are built by hand, often slowly, and begin in our communities. From the environment to the economy, conservation to culture, people are developing creative networks to tackle wicked problems at a human scale. New digital tools have helped catalyze many of these efforts, but this tendency towards cooperative, participatory, and equitable problem-solving has a long and rich history.

Continue reading “The Art of the Commons”

Why Journalists Need to Take Reader Privacy More Seriously

(A version of this post originally appeared on Medium)

Last week longtime local publisher Howard Owens, founder of the online news site the Batavian, launched a new publication covering Wyoming County in upstate New York. Buried in a parenthetical within his welcome message to readers was a fascinating promise: “We’ll also respect your privacy by not gathering personal data to distribute to multinational media conglomerates for so-called ‘targeted advertising.’”

This kind of explicit promise regarding reader privacy is increasingly important and all too rare.

Even though stories about government surveillance, commercial tracking and financial data theft have become commonplace in the press over the last two years, news organizations are still loath to talk about their own practices in regards to reader privacy. It’s time for some real talk about what we owe our readers in the age of big data and mass surveillance.

Just last week this blog published an analysis of news organizations’ use of encrypted HTTPS connections. “Virtually none of the top news websites,” writes Kevin Gallagher, “including all those who have reported on the Snowden documents — have adopted the most basic of security measures to protect the integrity of their content and the privacy of their readers.” Without this encrypted connection it becomes possible to essentially eavesdrop on what people are reading online, as the NSA did with people who visited the Wikileaks website.

Earlier this year, in a report on the challenges of encrypting news websites, theWashington Post pointed out how much this kind of surveillance can reveal about someone. “Among the issues potentially illuminated by what you choose to read, advocates say, are your health concerns, financial anxieties, sexual orientation and political leanings.”

And yet, the use of encrypted connections on news websites is just one part of a much larger and more complex issue.Continue reading “Why Journalists Need to Take Reader Privacy More Seriously”

Thirteen Questions About the Future of Participatory Journalism

At this year’s Association for Educators in Journalism and Mass Communications conference I moderated a panel on legal, educational and practical debates about participatory journalism and citizen reporting. I had the good fortune to be joined by a terrific group of scholars and activists: Amanda Hickman of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, Lisa Lynch of Concordia University, Madeleine Bair of and Morgan Weiland of Stanford University.

I posted a preview of the discussion before the panel. But the panel itself was a lively and engaged debate where a number of important new issues were debated. Below are recordings of the panel’s opening remarks. You can listen to the entire half hour on Soundcloud, but below I’ve split it up into short three and four minute clips, highlighting a few key themes that emerged.Continue reading “Thirteen Questions About the Future of Participatory Journalism”

Media Making as Participatory Democracy: Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street

“If we appear to seek the unattainable, it has been said,
then let it be known that we do so to avoid the unimaginable.” 
– The Port Huron Statement, 1962

 We are unstoppable. Another world is possible.”
– Occupy Wall Street, 2012

Fifty years ago, the authors of the Port Huron Statement wrote that “Every generation inherits from the past a set of problems – personal and social – and a dominant set of insights and perspectives by which the problems are to be understood and, hopefully, managed.” 

Today, the generation that sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement has likewise inherited a distinctive set of problems and generated its own new insights and approaches to them. One of the most important characteristics of the Occupy movement is the expanding universe of media makers – citizen journalists, livestreamers, artists and others – who see their work as overtly political and a central part of the movement itself. 

New tools and technologies are empowering more and more people to commit acts of journalism – many for the first time – as their preferred mode of engaging with the movement. For many, grassroots media is not just a means to forward the goals of Occupy Wall Street. Creating media and telling a new story about our society is also an ends in and of itself. Media making is increasingly a political act as important as the occupations themselves.Continue reading “Media Making as Participatory Democracy: Port Huron to Occupy Wall Street”

Covert Consolidation Undercuts Supposed Growth in TV News

Two recent reports paint a rosy picture of local TV news. Stations are launching new programs, jobs are coming back and revenues are up. Bolstering these reports are stats from the Radio Television Digital News Association, which called 2010 a record year for local news.

I just wish that were the whole picture. However, neither of these reports fully grapples with the impact covert consolidation — in which a station signs away control of its newsroom to a competitor — is having on the media ecosystem.Continue reading “Covert Consolidation Undercuts Supposed Growth in TV News”

An Architectural Framework for Public Life

I have been increasingly interested in the connection between the civic health and the information infrastructure of our communities. The intersection of these two ideas raises important questions about the role of journalists and news organizations in constructing civic discourse and civic spaces – both real and virtual.

For those interested in this line of thought, Megan Garber’s post “Energy-efficient journalism — urban planning for news” over at the Nieman Journalism Lab is a must read. She uses urban planning and architecture as a metaphor for how we might construct the future of journalism. One thing I found attractive about the vision she describes is the way in which it aspires to be comprehensive (she describes the project that inspired her approach as “An approach to civic space that is strategically comprehensive — the product not merely of collective efforts, but of collaborative ones.”).

With so much experimentation and so many emergent tools, models, and projects in the journalism space, it is often necessary – and useful – to focus in on one trend, one model, one question. To paraphrase from Garber’s post, this leaves us with a view of journalism and our communities that is full of small pieces, loosely joined.Continue reading “An Architectural Framework for Public Life”

Imagined Communities and the Future of News

There’s a great blog post from Chris O’Brien over at Next Newsroom on the role of passion and community in the future of news.

In his post “How Passion For Newspapers Points To A Way Forward” O’Brien taps into a vital aspect of the work we are all doing in media reform and the future of journalism. Like so many current social movements we get bogged down in the stats, figures, and data and lose sight of the role of emotion in the fights we wage. It doesn’t just matter how people read the news or where advertisers spend their money – we also need to be concerned with how people feel about news organizations and why people read the news.

“Too often, we boil a newspaper down to the idea that it’s just about journalism. In fact, at their peak, a printed newspaper provided about 50 different services to readers, one of which was journalism. Taken together, these things created not just a product, but also an experience. This is where the emotional component kicks in.”

While it is easy to talk about the vital role of journalism in democracy, and we have to keep doing so. By focusing on such huge abstract issues, we risking missing the more local direct way that people experience the news and the immediate role journalism plays in our lives. As O’Brien notes, this role is not just about providing news and information. And its not just about creating a local marketplace. The sum is greater than its parts here. News orgs are vital civic orgs – they organize information (or help people organize information) and in so doing they help organize people themselves. This is the community building power of the media – that has for the most part been forgotten (or abandoned). This is what the best community newspapers, community radio stations, and community access TV still do.Continue reading “Imagined Communities and the Future of News”

Journalism Policy in the Spotlight

Free Press created to argue for the importance of public policy in discussions about the future of journalism. Last week, however, policy took center stage with three articles examining our government’s possible role in fostering a robust and diverse free press in America. The articles came from an array of sources – a scholar, a journalist and a pair of advocates – and appeared in newspapers across the country, from Washington, D.C., to Seattle.Continue reading “Journalism Policy in the Spotlight”

Thinking Across the Issues, Part Two

A Report Out from the Free Press Summit: Changing Media (

The mid-day panel at the Free Press Summit: Changing Media, raised vital questions about the future of American media: Will our new media system be a resource for all Americans, an engine for economic growth, and a platform for new forms of art, entertainment, education and information? Or will we let the digital divide grow, expanding the information gap and cutting more people off from the benefits of the Web?

Moderated by Ray Suarez, of PBS’ The NewsHour, the panel included two former FCC chairmen, Reed Hundt and Michael Powell, as well as Jessica Rosenworcel from the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, venture capitalist Ram Shriram and Free Press Policy Director Ben Scott.

Together, the panel took a hard look at the role of government in shaping the media in America. Since our nation’s founding, government – recognizing the vital role of a robust media system – has developed policies that have had an impact on everything we see, read and hear. If we are at a turning point for the media in America – what role will the government play?Continue reading “Thinking Across the Issues, Part Two”