The unbearable difficulty of finding the right headline for a goodbye letter - DC


May 19, 2017 1:00 pm

The unbearable difficulty of finding the right headline for a goodbye letter

Plus, a few thoughts on nearly two years of obsessively covering #dctech.

The reporter, in the wild.

(Photo for by Rich Kessler Photography)

Dear #dctech,

I won’t bury the lede. After nearly two years as DC’s lead reporter, the time has come for me to move on to new things. Friday will be my last day.

I’ve spent the last few days — no, weeks — agonizing over what to write here. Should I take the opportunity for a trip down memory lane? Should I reflect on what I’ve learned? Should I attempt to offer some sort of wisdom from my vantage point, a key takeaway or two? Should I be heartfelt? Should I be funny?

I’ve spent the last few days pushing off the act of putting pen to paper (fingers to keyboard?), trying to conjure the right words. Once I find my angle, I thought, it’ll come. It wasn’t until I broke down in tears over pizza (who cries near pizza??) that I realized I’ve been avoiding this task for another reason — it makes me sad.

The sweet sorrow of parting, though, is mixed with gratitude. Gratitude to everyone who welcomed me into their companies and communities. Gratitude to everyone who took time to gently explain something new to me. Gratitude to everyone who has shared their stories and trusted me to do those stories justice.

And whoa that’s a lot. Because while there have been plenty of mistakes made and frustrations felt and roadblocks encountered, there’s hardly been a day where I haven’t felt (in some way by some member of #dctech) welcomed and included and trusted.

This has been a hallmark of my experience, and I hope it continues to be D.C.’s calling card.

It hasn’t been the only recurring theme, though. I’ve found that, just as I’m curious about you and your experiences as entrepreneurs, developers, designers, civic hackers and more, you’re curious about me too. So here’s what I’m going to do by way of goodbye — I’m going to answer, from the vantage point of my 20 months of coffee interviews and pitch competitions and meetups and launch parties, the two most common questions I get asked. Here goes.


What’s the favorite story you’ve ever written for

One day, as I’m going about life as a reporter, I get an email in my inbox. You’ve built a thing. Do I want to know more? Of course I do. We meet for coffee and you’re a little nervous — what should you say about the thing? Maybe I’m one of the first people you’ve talked to about it; probably I’m the first reporter. But we start talking about what it is and why you built it and what you hope will happen next and all the things that scare you about building things in the first place. Before we know it 45 minutes or an hour have gone by.


Later, alone with my laptop, I start thinking about the thing. About its strengths and weaknesses. About intentions and pitfalls. I remember that spark I saw in your eyes when you started telling me about the thing and I begin to write.

Soon the story is online and there’s another email in my inbox — “thanks for capturing it,” you write.

Sound familiar? It should. It’s probably a story I wrote about you.

Do you want to work at a startup or start your own company?

I used to field this question with a kind of dismissive frustration. No, of course I don’t want to start my own company, I want to be a journalist, not an entrepreneur. I like being where I am — on the outside, telling stories.

But what I’ve come to realize over 20 months is that I, the journalist, and you, the entrepreneur, have more in common than we might initially imagine. One key similarity — we both wake up every day with the drive (and the imperative) to build something that doesn’t already exist. Our methods and tools and output may be vastly different, but in some meaningful way we’re both creators (damn you, WeWork, for hijacking that word).

This realization has, at my best moments, enabled me to see past the (sometimes alien) technology and business model and funding status to connect with the passion and drive that we share. It’s enabled me to tell tech stories that are ultimately about people.

What I have is the ability to take lots of information and experience and weave it into a cohesive narrative, and what you have is the knowledge necessary to build websites and data visualizations and even businesses. I think we’ve done a pretty good job.


Got more questions? Reach out and ask ’em — I’m not going far. Send an email (, tweet a tweet, find a carrier pigeon … or, you know, we could grab pizza. ?

It’s been a true honor.


Tajha Chappellet-Lanier

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