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The Family Minivan as Reporting Tool

How do New York Times journalists use technology in their jobs and in their personal lives? David Enrich, the finance editor, discussed the tech he’s using.

What are your go-to tech tools for work and why?

You will be shocked to hear that I have an intimate relationship with my iPhone. I use it for all the regular stuff: emails, texts, a variety of messaging apps, Twitter, news, taking photos and videos. Even talking to people.

My MacBook Pro laptop is compact enough that I can easily write or edit stories (and my forthcoming book!) on it during my scenic 36-minute train ride to and from The Suburbs.

Speaking of the ’burbs, my other prized piece of hardware is my black 2017 Toyota Sienna minivan. It has tinted windows and all-wheel drive. My boss, Ellen Pollock, thinks I’m lying, but I regularly put in time from my mobile office. With my wife behind the wheel, I have worked on articles about Brett Kavanaugh, Les Moonves, Jeffrey Epstein and, my favorite topic, Deutsche Bank. Sometimes I whip out my laptop and create a Wi-Fi hot spot with my iPhone. Other times I use Bluetooth to pipe in phone calls over the Sienna’s booming sound system.

So you often edit and report on sensitive stories. How do you protect the confidentiality of sources and leave no digital trace?

I use encrypted chat programs like WhatsApp and Signal for communicating with sources and, increasingly, colleagues. (It beats Slack, which is the bane of my existence.) For security’s sake, my colleagues and I generally avoid discussing confidential sources via electronic communications.

I take notes by hand rather than by typing. One reason is that sources hear a keyboard clacking and are reminded that a journalist is keeping track of what they say — not helpful! Also, my proprietary, heavily encrypted note-taking system (i.e. illegible handwriting) ensures that my little spiral notebooks are useless to anyone other than me.

As an aside, can I mention that LinkedIn is wonderful? I use it on a near-daily basis to identify and make contact with potential sources. Sometimes I just loiter on the site. Earlier this year, I noticed that a Deutsche Bank employee had viewed my profile. I sent him a message asking if he’d like to talk. He said yes, we spoke by phone, and soon I was pursuing what would become a front-page story.

I recently also started using a service called Lusha, which plugs into LinkedIn and provides phone numbers and email addresses for people to whom I’m not connected. It’s great.

As finance editor, how much have you seen tech upend the financial industry and Wall Street?

Lots. The buying and selling of securities has been revolutionized. Transferring money to friends is becoming seamless. Larger loans are available to more people at lower prices. Wall Street firms say they are tech companies, not Wall Street firms, which is not true but sounds cool. Bank employees plot crimes in digital chat rooms. Other bank employees use algorithms to catch them. Bitcoin exists.

On the other hand, despite encroachments from Facebook, Apple and others, the same oligopoly of big banks and Wall Street firms (including those that claim to be tech companies) still dominates.

You’re also prolific on Twitter. What are your rules of engagement on Twitter, and what will or won’t you do on the service?

I try really hard not to say stupid or bad or mean things. I do my best not to fight with people. Sometimes this is hard.

I’ve learned that if I have to spend a lot of time thinking about how to phrase a tweet so that it won’t get me in trouble, I should just put my phone away. Similarly, if I have to ask a colleague if it’s a good idea to tweet something, it isn’t. This seems obvious, but it took me a while to figure it out.

I’d also like to rebut your accusation that I’m “prolific” on Twitter. I joined in August 2010 and have tweeted about 10,700 times — an average of a bit more than three per day. Unhealthy, yes, but prolific?

So argumentative! Maybe we should talk about what tech you and your family love outside of work.

Like everyone, we are big consumers of Netflix and Amazon; we don’t have cable. My wife and I are currently watching “The Good Place,” which is delightful. At important moments when Boston sports teams are cruising toward championships, I subscribe to YouTube TV. We listen to podcasts and Spotify.

My boys love talking to their grandparents on FaceTime. We use WeChat to communicate with my sister and her husband, who live in China.

We’ve largely abandoned Facebook — partly because of privacy concerns and partly because it’s boring. We’ve cleansed our accounts of most pictures of our kids, and we basically use it to communicate with closed groups (to plan school events, for example). I use Facebook and Instagram to promote my work.

Have I mentioned my minivan? Sometimes on lazy weekends, we let our kids play in the Sienna by themselves. They pretend they’re driving, open and close our creaky garage door, and fiddle with the settings on the front seats in mysterious ways that can take days for us to undo. Technology!

The boys also enjoy chatting with Siri and Alexa, which is a little creepy. My eldest grabs my phone, commands Siri to show him pictures of Big Ben (he was born in London) and then commands me to print them at work using The Times’s fancy color printers.

What do you say to your kids about how much to use tech? What’s their response?

We’re very disciplined about technology in our home. We impose a strict, 15-minute limit on our kids’ daily screen time. We do not use our phones in their presence.

Just kidding, we’re as bad as you.

In fairness, we do try to limit screen time. But phones and tablets and “PJ Masks” are such an easy, portable way to pacify our children — especially while we’re getting ready in the morning or when we’re traveling or when they’re upset or when we really want them to eat dinner or when we’re in public. Their silence can be precious.

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