By Kwame Opam | March 14th, 2016
It was around the time of CES 2016 that I got tapped to write The Verge’s Michelle Obama feature. I forget when exactly the discussions with her team in Washington started, but I distinctly remember sitting in that trailer in Las Vegas, going over what we could do, what we should do, how fast we needed to get it done, and how big of a deal it was.
If you can recall anything about 2016 other than that election, you’ll remember that Vine was in full flower at that point. The former First Lady had made a splash on it — something about turnips — and her team was trying to attract youthful eyes to her initiatives. It was certainly a bit fluffy, but it mattered. After all, here was someone in the public eye trying to meet young people where they were and do some good.
We were going to blow the doors off the thing. I’d leave Vegas early and fly to DC to meet with her team. A week later, Nilay would interview her for the site’s first 360-degree interview. James Bareham would conduct a photo shoot right there in the White House. It was all incredibly ambitious.
And I was not ready. Like, hilariously unready. I’d never written a 3,000-word feature before. Picture me standing in the East Wing in wide-eyed terror meeting functionaries of the Obama administration, not even Mrs. Obama herself. And when we did finally meet, my awestruck brain could only think, “Wow. She’s really tall.”
That line made it into an early draft of the piece. Nilay’s note was something to the effect of, “Cut this. It’s bad.”
We got the thing where it needed to be. (Thank you, Nilay and Michael Zelenko, my editor at the time.) There were long, coffee-drenched weekends. Late nights. A few panicked texts and phone calls. By the time we hit publish two months later, I was at South by Southwest, an entirely different event. I don’t think I ever slept quite as well as when it finally went live.
In the end, I’m proud to have my name on such a huge project. Up to that point, it was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted. It made me a better journalist. But honestly? Rest in peace, Vine. We didn’t deserve you.
Kwame Opam — Senior Producer of Digital Strategy, The Problem with Jon Stewart