W. Christine Choi | August 22, 2022

The Monday Media Diet with W. Christine Choi

On Ken Burns, WSJ Weekend, and Think Again by Adam Grant

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Christine (WCC) is a longtime friend of WITI, first introduced to us by the great Latif Peracha. She’s had an amazing career working with folks like Richard Branson, and building interesting brands. It is a pleasure to have her on the page today. -Colin (CJN)

Tell us about yourself.

I was recently told that I work too hard and to make room for love so let me start with this: I am still single and ready for my next great romance. Work is admittedly my first love and what keeps me curious. I attended nine schools before college; my father was a diplomat so we moved around every three years. It might explain my intestinal fortitude for the unknown and figuring out hard things. My lifelong pursuit of learning led to a colorful career, first starting education nonprofits (Teach For America, KIPP) and scaling arts education at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston; launching Virgin brands and businesses in North America with Richard Branson and a very lean and talented US team; serving as the first head of communications for Virgin Galactic/The Spaceship Company/Virgin Orbit; building EVTOL brands at Kitty Hawk; and now building a different kind of venture at M13, where I’m a partner and head of brand. I am a good listener. I try to tell the truth, help people break down problems, and give good advice. Every day, I work with and help build the stories of early stage entrepreneurs. The inherent tension is that venture moves fast but humans take time. 

You can imagine the many incredible people I have worked with and the experiences that have shaped my views on humans and why, what and how they build: I have two books in me. Other hobbies: I have worldly taste, love to travel and wander, and am especially skilled at knowing what to order at restaurants. At my core, I make an effort to be a good and present sister, daughter, aunt, cousin, friend, colleague, and neighbor. You can find me on IG and LinkedIn.

Describe your media diet. 

I start my mornings with Twitter, my news homepage. Less than half of the doom scrolling is credible but it gives me a sense of what matters today. Then I play podcasts: BBC Global News and The Daily for news, and Pivot and CNBC Squawk Pod for the banter. Throughout the day, it’s information overload through social media and emails: newsletters (Mixing Board is reliable for stories about my peers), work emails, docusends, ads, PDFs, and white papers. My sister is looking to buy in midtown so lately I’ve been studying staged photos of other people’s homes on Streeteasy. Spaces aren’t real until I see them for myself.

I love an immersive story, and podcasts have been working for me because I can hear what their voices are saying. A recent Daily episode featured a lifelong cruiser with pancreatic cancer; he said that the way he lived during the pandemic lockdown was not living, and I rooted for him as he tried to take a cruise during the pandemic. (I recently went on a Virgin Voyages cruise for Richard’s birthday and can honestly say I understand why cruisers cruise. I plan to do it again.) Other regular listens are Psychoactive with Ethan Nadelmann; Ethan led Drug Policy Alliance which helped catalyze change in criminalized cannabis and now he produces reliably smart dialogue with longtime psychedelics experts. Undistracted with Brittany Packnett Cunningham recently featured writer Nicole Chung on parenting during anti-AAPI violence. How I Built This with Guy Raz unpacks the many downs and ups of entrepreneurs in their own words; call me biased but the episode with Richard was damn good and so was the one with Jamie Siminoff. BBC Grounded with Louis Theroux’s conversation with Helena Bonham Carter while both in lockdown had charm with a London bite. Everything is Alive introduced me to Louis, a can of cola: who can’t relate to “he’s been on the shelf a long while, so he’s had some time to think.” Unchained with Laura Shin’s conversation with Cobie and Chris Burniske on the crypto bear market had lessons learned and humility that would be hard to capture on any other medium. An episode of Reversing Climate Change featured a farmer and why he started trapping carbon in his soil (it’s good for the soil) and getting paid for it, soon in tokens; it gave me hope for the solutions to climate anxiety that people are already doing. Recently started the joyful Bewildered with Martha Beck and Rowan Mangan: appreciate that it’s not heavy and it’s for “people who are trying to figure it out.” It reminded me that I used to enjoy Couples Therapy with Candice and Casey. I hope they return to NY. The unabashed devotion between Bob Saget and comedian Louie Anderson (former TV mother of Zach Galifinakis in Baskets) brought me to tears. I aspire to be as good a friend.

What’s the last great book you read?

Four come to mind! Think Again by Adam Grant: he’s the first authority to say no good comes from having a fixed view and to value rethinking and changing your mind. The other two are The Lonely City by Olivia Liang and Cool Gray City of Love, an ode to wandering in San Francisco by former cabbie Gary Kamiya. The last one is The Extra Woman: How Marjorie Hillis Led a Generation of Women to Live Alone and Like It by Joanna Scutts about the rise and celebration of single independent women in post-depression New York City. 

The last great video I watched featured the voices of the few humans who have seen the planet from space. On the eve of the 2015 Paris climate change conference, astronauts (one on his death bed) implored global leaders to protect the planet.  

What are you reading now?

To stay off my screens, I’m reading many real books in small doses. NASA Standards Manual was a recent gift, and I appreciate the rigor. Two collections of writing to exercise my frayed attention span are Ghost Lover by Lisa Taddeo and These Precious Days by Ann Patchett. I’m also reading Shadrin: The Spy Who Never Came Back by Henry Hurt, Ship of Ghosts (about what happened to the crew of the USS Houston) by James Hornfischer, Finding the Mother Tree (still so much we can learn from trees) by Suzanne Simard, Remarkably Bright Creatures by Shelby Van Pelt. Reputation and Power (about how the FDA became the world's most powerful regulatory agency) by Daniel Carpenter and two books about the Uyghurs: No Escape: True Story of China’s Uyghurs by Nury Turkel and  We Uyghurs Have No Say by the imprisoned Ilham Tothi.

What’s your reading strategy when you pick up a print copy of your favorite publication?

The WSJ weekend paper arrives on my stoop on Saturdays so that’s where I read it. While I wish I could say front to back, I start with Off Duty followed by its terrific book columns. I used to be obsessed with Departures’ special regional travel editions (the early Richard Story years) and read those front to back and added stickies, many stickies, for places to remember to go. Years later I would enjoy an occasional lunch with Richard at Lambs Club (a little gossip, a lot of travel stories and Richard’s Soup which used to be on the menu).

Who should everyone be reading that they’re not?

I don’t have a strongly held belief about that. I believe that our consciousness absorbs a lot of toxicity and disinformation so my recommendation is to be intentional about our media diet and to let in as much joy as what you believe you have to keep up with. 

For me, that means less investigative stories and politics and more content about how people live. NYT culture/city critic Ginia Bellafante counts, and I devour her columns. I adore eating out in cities, and Broken Palate keeps me up on food and culture; New York food is reviving in a cool 90s downtown way. There’s not a more fun IGS than Rowan Mangan’s. Patti Smith knows how to live and be grateful. Stewart Copeland is still having a lot of fun.

You didn’t ask me about radio, which creates an instant vibe. WBGO (Newark jazz) is my favorite Saturday night listen. I have fond memories of driving to the Mojave desert before a space flight test listening to Garth Trinidad on KCRW and hope that he’s still sharing his deep grooves with audiences tuning in in the dark.

What is the best non-famous app you love on your phone? 

Fold is a debit card I use to earn satoshis. After a transaction, I spin a wheel on the app and earn. It’s more fun and less complicated than earning miles, and it’s addictive.

Plane or train?

Plane because for more than a decade, my work requires a regular commute to CA – so my favorite carrier is Jetblue (and before that Virgin America). I love trains though and always take the Acela to DC (the bar car is rather nice). My favorite views out of a window took place on a moonlit night train from Berlin to Milan in winter. 

What is one place everyone should visit? 

Chile’s Atacama desert. During a work trip to Santiago, local friends encouraged me to check it out, and it didn’t take long to sort out an itinerary. It meant losing the chance to go with Richard to be interviewed by Zach Galifianakis. This beautiful and eerie desert region has salt lakes and pink flamingos, geysers, massive sand dunes, terrain that is most approximate to Mars, and the world’s largest telescopes. I cannot wait to go back. 

Tell us the story of a rabbit hole you fell deep into.

Vietnam War, the 18 part series by Lynn Novick and Ken Burns sank me in deep despair that history repeats itself. The interviews and footage are revelatory, and it should be required watching for US citizens.

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Thanks for reading,

Noah (NRB) & Colin (CJN) & Christine (WCC)

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