Laura Sydell

Laura Sydell fell in love with the intimate storytelling qualities of radio, which combined her passion for theatre and writing with her addiction to news. Over her career she has covered politics, arts, media, religion, and entrepreneurship. Currently Sydell is the Digital Culture Correspondent for NPR's All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, and NPR.org.

Sydell's work focuses on the ways in which technology is transforming our culture and how we live. For example, she reported on robotic orchestras and independent musicians who find the Internet is a better friend than a record label as well as ways technology is changing human relationships.

Sydell has traveled through India and China to look at the impact of technology on developing nations. In China, she reported how American television programs like Lost broke past China's censors and found a devoted following among the emerging Chinese middle class. She found in India that cell phones are the computer of the masses.

Sydell teamed up with Alex Bloomberg of NPR's Planet Money team and reported on the impact of patent trolls on business and innovations particular to the tech world. The results were a series of pieces that appeared on This American Life and All Things Considered. The hour long program on This American Life "When Patents Attack! - Part 1," was honored with a Gerald Loeb Award and accolades from Investigative Reporters and Editors. A transcript of the entire show was included in The Best Business Writing of 2011 published by Columbia University Press.

Before joining NPR in 2003, Sydell served as a senior technology reporter for American Public Media's Marketplace, where her reporting focused on the human impact of new technologies and the personalities behind the Silicon Valley boom and bust.

Sydell is a proud native of New Jersey and prior to making a pilgrimage to California and taking up yoga she worked as a reporter for NPR Member Station WNYC in New York. Her reporting on race relations, city politics, and arts was honored with numerous awards from organizations such as The Newswomen's Club of New York, The New York Press Club, and The Society of Professional Journalists.

American Women in Radio and Television, The National Federation of Community Broadcasters, and Women in Communications have all honored Sydell for her long-form radio documentary work focused on individuals whose life experiences turned them into activists.

After finishing a one-year fellowship with the National Arts Journalism Program at Columbia University, Sydell came to San Francisco as a teaching fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at University of California, Berkeley.

Sydell graduated Magna Cum Laude with a bachelor's degree from William Smith College in Geneva, New York, and earned a J.D. from Yeshiva University's Cardozo School of Law.

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The Record
5:53 pm
Fri September 21, 2012

Universal's Purchase Of EMI Gets Thumbs Up In U.S. And Europe

The catalog of The Beatles, which was owned by EMI, will be among the assets that the Universal Music Group gets to keep.
Jim Gray Getty Images

Originally published on Thu October 4, 2012 2:20 pm

And then there were three — record labels, that is. Regulators in the United States and Europe have approved the acquisition of EMI Music by Univeral Music Group. The combined label will own close to 40 percent of the world music market with a trove of acts that includes The Beatles.

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Technology
4:58 pm
Wed September 12, 2012

Apple's New iPhone 5 Is Thinner, Lighter Than Before

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Apple introduced its newest iPhone today, and it's thinner and larger than the last. The company also introduced a new line of iPods. NPR's Laura Sydell has more.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: The new iPhone has a four-inch screen, and it's about 20 percent lighter. Apple CEO Tim Cook engaged in typical Apple boosting as he spoke about the iPhone 5.

TIM COOK: The thinnest, lightest and best iPhone we have ever shipped.

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All Tech Considered
4:10 pm
Mon September 10, 2012

What Will Apple's Patent Case Mean For Phone Design?

These Nokia phones unveiled earlier this month are the first smartphones built for Windows 8.
Spencer Platt Getty Images

Originally published on Mon September 10, 2012 5:52 pm

A lot of thought goes into giving your smartphone a distinctive look and feel, from the shape of the speaker — square, round or oval — to where to put the buttons — side, front or back.

But industrial designers like Robert Brunner say he doesn't have a lot of room to be creative.

"Because you're really being so heavily driven on maintaining a minimal physical size," he says. "So you really get into this very fine envelope of a few millimeters that you have to work with."

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All Tech Considered
2:18 am
Fri August 24, 2012

Is The Cloud In Gamers' Future?

Nintendo's Wii U is the only new game system on the horizon as console makers are having a hard time figuring out how to improve on what they've got.
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

Originally published on Fri August 24, 2012 10:56 am

Last year, consumers spent $17 billion on video games. That sounds like a lot, but it was nearly $1.5 billion lower than the previous year. One reason: there haven't been any new game consoles out to excite buyers.

Only Nintendo's Wii U might be on shelves for the holiday season.

The console makers are having a hard time figuring out how to improve on what they've got.

Try asking a gamer like Ryan Block what would entice him to drop a few hundred bucks on a new console.

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Technology
4:04 am
Mon July 30, 2012

Samsung Fight Among Many In Apple's Patent War

Samsung Electronics' Galaxy S (left) and Apple's iPhone 4 are displayed at the headquarters of South Korean mobile carrier KT. Apple claims some of Samsung's designs violate its patents.
Ahn Young-joon AP

Originally published on Mon July 30, 2012 8:01 am

An epic battle between the two biggest smartphone makers begins Monday in a federal district court in San Jose, Calif., where computing giant Apple is asking for more than $2.5 billion from rival phone maker Samsung for patent violations.

The suit would be the most expensive patent violation in history, and it's just one front in Apple's war against phones running Google's Android operating system.

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The Record
3:24 pm
Fri July 27, 2012

The Race To Create A Music Superlabel Still Faces Hurdles

Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group Lucian Grainge (left) and Roger Faxon, the CEO of EMI Group, testify during a Senate Judiciary subcommittee hearing on Universal's proposed merger with EMI.
Alex Wong Getty Images

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 6:26 pm

It's been a tough decade for the music industry. Revenues have tumbled — from more than $14 billion in 1999 down to $7 billion last year. EMI, one of the big four record labels, was taken over by venture capitalists and then taken over again, after they defaulted, by Citigroup. Now, Universal Music Group wants to buy the recorded music division of EMI for $1.9 billion. But critics say if the two companies merge it will create a superlabel that will dominate the music industry.

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Business
6:11 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Yahoo May Be Marissa Mayer's Biggest Challenge Yet

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 7:00 am

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

We're going to hear more now about the woman taking the reins of one of Silicon Valley's most famous and challenged companies. Marissa Mayer took the tech world by surprise this week when it was announced she was taking the CEO job at Yahoo. The buzz grew louder when it came out she's pregnant and planning on working during her maternity leave.

Mayer is known for being one of Google's first employees and its first female engineer. NPR's Laura Sydell has this profile of Mayer and what she brings to her new job at Yahoo.

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All Tech Considered
6:04 pm
Tue July 17, 2012

New Yahoo CEO Among A Rare Few: Women Execs With Tech Creds

Marissa Mayer left Google to become the CEO of Yahoo. She was Google's 20th hire and is responsible for the look and feel of many of Google's major products.
Justin Sullivan Getty Images

Originally published on Tue July 17, 2012 7:49 pm

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Business
4:51 am
Thu June 28, 2012

Google Is The Latest To Get Into Computer Tablets

Originally published on Thu June 28, 2012 11:34 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Google opened its World Wide Developers conference yesterday with a few announcements — the most notable is its entry into the highly competitive tablet market.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, with the Nexus 7, Google is headed for a market somewhere between the Amazon Fire and Apple's iPad.

It's called the Nexus 7 because it's a seven-inch tablet. Google also announced more content for its online store. In addition to music, movies and books, they will have TV shows and magazines.

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NPR Story
3:23 pm
Tue June 26, 2012

Facebook's E-mail Change Rankles Users

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 5:52 pm

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

What do your friends see on Facebook when they look for your email address? It might not be what you think. In the past few days, Facebook automatically changed the email contacts it displays without clearly notifying users about what it was doing.

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, lots of people on Facebook are not happy.

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All Tech Considered
4:53 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

Lights, Camera, YouTube: Studio Cashes In On An Entertainment Revolution

Lisa Donovan spoofs the film 300 in a 2007 YouTube video that pits her against a FedEx guy. Donovan's videos became so successful, she was able to make a living off selling ads on them.
via YouTube

Originally published on Mon July 9, 2012 7:54 pm

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The Record
11:03 pm
Tue June 12, 2012

Clear Channel Will Be The First To Pay Royalties For Music On Its Air

Tim McGraw (left) and Scott Borchetta, CEO of Big Machine Label Group, at a press conference in Nashville last month announcing McGraw's signing to the label.
Royce DeGrie WireImage

Originally published on Tue September 18, 2012 6:40 pm

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Business
5:28 am
Thu June 7, 2012

Google Shows Map Features, Apple Likely To Follow

Transcript

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Google has fired the first shot in what might come to be known as the map wars. Yesterday, the company unveiled new features, such as maps in 3D. Google made its move just five days before Apple is expected to announce its own new and improved mapping software.

Google made its move just five days before Apple is expected to announce its own, new and improved mapping software. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

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All Tech Considered
2:57 pm
Mon May 14, 2012

Algorithms: The Ever-Growing, All-Knowing Way Of The Future

Quid's algorithm mapping software shows where discussion of higher taxes is taking place. Yellow dots represent articles that focus on taxation, while the teal dots show articles that don't.
Courtesy of Quid

Originally published on Fri August 17, 2012 4:24 pm

My favorite movie, Days of Heaven, is at the top of my recommendations list on Netflix. But I've never actually watched it on Netflix, so how did they know I like it?

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Fine Art
1:49 am
Mon May 7, 2012

The Serious Comic Art Of Daniel Clowes

Artist Daniel Clowes says Enid, the cantankerous heroine of Ghost World, would probably hate the book she stars in.
Daniel Clowes Oakland Museum of California

Originally published on Tue May 8, 2012 10:09 am

Comics used to be seen as cheap throwaway entertainment for children and teenagers. But over the last few decades, comics have grown up; they're even released in longer formats, on nice paper with hard covers, as graphic novels.

Daniel Clowes is one of the artists cited for turning the form into serious art — in fact, the art has gotten so serious that his work is now in a museum. Clowes is one of the best-known comic artists working today, with two of his books made into Hollywood films: the Academy Award-nominated Ghost World and Art School Confidential.

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Business
3:00 am
Tue April 10, 2012

For $1.1 Billion, Facebook Snaps Up Instagram

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Facebook likes Instagram. That's the top of our business news.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

INSKEEP: And they did more than just click the little thumbs up. Facebook is buying the photo application Instagram and the price is higher than it has ever paid for an acquisition - $1 billion; this for a company with only around a dozen employees. As somebody joked yesterday, why didn't they just download it?

As NPR's Laura Sydell reports, some analysts say the purchase is a defensive move.

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The Record
3:30 pm
Mon April 9, 2012

How To Succeed In The Music Business (By Trying Really, Really Hard)

Raka Dun (left) and Raka Rich of the Oakland, Calif., duo Los Rakas.
Laura Sydell via Instagram NPR

Originally published on Wed April 11, 2012 1:43 pm

It's never been easy to make a living as a musician. But there was always a dream: to become a star on the strength of your talent and your music. The Internet is a rude sandman, however, and today that dream is a lot more convoluted.

No longer can a would-be rock star follow the once-accepted checklist: (1) sign with a big label, (2) get a hit, (3) buy mansions and cars. The number of ways a musician can make money is now varied. The question, for many musicians still trying to make a go of it in the industry, is whether those many sources can add up to something sustainable.

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Starting Up: Silicon Valley's Origins
2:26 am
Fri April 6, 2012

Intel Legends Moore And Grove: Making It Last

Intel's first hire (from left), Andy Grove, and Intel co-founders Robert Noyce and Gordon Moore in 1978, the 10th anniversary of the company. Grove is sitting on a graphical layout (a rubylith) of one of Intel's early microprocessors.
Courtesy of Intel

Originally published on Fri April 6, 2012 8:06 am

Part 3 of a series on Silicon Valley's history

In Silicon Valley, the spotlight is often on young entrepreneurs with fresh ideas that will change the world — people like Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, or Jack Dorsey of Twitter.

But for decades, two older titans of the high-tech industry thrived in that fast-paced world: Gordon Moore and Andy Grove of Intel.

Speaking recently in a rare joint interview, the two discussed how their company survived, and what they think of the current crop of Silicon Valley techies.

Intel's Odd Couple

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Starting Up: Silicon Valley's Origins
2:20 am
Thu April 5, 2012

America's Magnet For Innovation, And Investments

Virginia Klausmeier (left) makes her pitch for Garage Technology Ventures to invest in her clean diesel fuel company, Sylvatex, to Bill Reichert and Joyce Chung, two of the firm's general partners.
Cindy Carpien NPR

Part 2 of our Silicon Valley history series

Think of the most technologically innovative companies of the past 50 years, such as Intel, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter. Each company has a Silicon Valley address — and each one got backing from venture capitalists. Over the past decade, more than 35 percent of the nation's venture capital has gone to Silicon Valley startups.

High-tech and venture capital go hand and hand in the valley where technology and venture capital grew up together.

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Starting Up: Silicon Valley's Origins
2:00 am
Wed April 4, 2012

A Rare Mix Created Silicon Valley's Startup Culture

Courtesy of Intel

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 1:47 pm

The first in a 3-part series airing this week on Morning Edition.

When Facebook goes public later this spring, its founder, Mark Zuckerberg, will be following in the footsteps of a long line of Silicon Valley tech entrepreneurs that includes Steve Jobs and Google's Larry Page and Sergey Brin. But there was a time when the idea of an engineer or scientist starting his or her own company was rare.

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Technology
3:38 pm
Thu February 23, 2012

California Industries Spar Over Internet Piracy

Supporters of the website The Pirate Bay, one of the world's top illegal file-sharing websites, demonstrate in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2009.
Fredrik Persson AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Thu February 23, 2012 6:10 pm

There's a civil war going on in California. It's the north vs. the south — Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley. And much like that other American Civil War, there are two different economic worldviews at stake. One of the highest-profile battles was fought last month, when large Internet sites like Wikipedia staged an online blackout to protest anti-piracy bills in Congress.

The north won that battle, and for now, the legislation is on hold. But the war between Hollywood and Silicon Valley over how to deal with intellectual property is far from over.

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The Record
6:00 pm
Fri January 20, 2012

Four Views On Megaupload

Bram van der Kolk, Finn Batato, Mathias Ortmann and Kim Schmitz, also known as Kim Dotcom, (from left to right) are remanded in custody in New Zealand on Friday.
David Rowland EPA /Landov

Originally published on Fri January 20, 2012 6:08 pm

When the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI shut down the web site Megaupload yesterday, there were many responses, from outrage to confusion to applause, and nearly as many questions. One that stood out was simple: If Megaupload provides a service that can be used for legal pursuits, are they legally responsible for the users who use it to illegally share copyrighted material?

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The Record
7:00 pm
Thu January 19, 2012

Megaupload Shut Down By The FBI

Courtesy of Megaupload.

Originally published on Fri January 20, 2012 3:37 pm

Click the link above to listen to Laura Sydell's conversation with Morning Edition's David Greene about the Megaupload indictment and the attack on the Department of Justice's website by the group Anonymous.

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Digital Life
3:31 pm
Mon January 9, 2012

Seeking Female Founders In The Tech Startup Scene

The founders of startup accelerator Women Innovate Mobile (clockwise from top right: Deborah Jackson, Kelly Hoey and Veronika Sonsev) aim to boost the profile of tech companies founded by women.
Lisa Tanner Courtesy Women Innovate Mobile

More often than not, when we hear about hot tech companies, all the founders are male (see: Google, Facebook, Twitter and Zynga). But in an effort to change that profile, a new funding source is targeting companies founded by women.

Kelly Hoey thinks a lot of investors may be missing some good business opportunities because they aren't coming from someone who looks like the next Mark Zuckerberg.

"You're looking for a white guy in a hoodie, and that next visionary is ... going to be wearing a skirt and a great pair of shoes," she says. "They're going to look different."

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Presidential Race
2:00 pm
Fri January 6, 2012

Why Santorum's 'Google Problem' Remains

Rick Santorum has been working hard this week to capitalize on his strong showing in the Iowa caucuses, trying to convince Republicans in New Hampshire that he is presidential material. One thing he's not encouraging possible supporters to do: Google him.

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It Was A Good Year For...
6:18 pm
Tue December 20, 2011

No Excuses: Robots Put You In Two Places At Once

The two "eyes" on the Anybot are actually a camera and a laser. The camera "sees," the laser points, and the person on the screen controls it all.
Anybots.com

Originally published on Tue January 3, 2012 12:11 pm

Mike Fennelly isn't easily surprised by cutting-edge technologies, but when he started as an IT guy at a Silicon Valley startup called Evernote, he was caught off guard by a robot rolling around the office.

"It was slightly disturbing for not really knowing what the robot was for at the beginning, and then going, 'Oh, OK. That's Phil,' " he says.

CEO Phil Libin is also known as the company's "robotic overlord." Libin himself isn't actually a robot, but when he's out of town, his robot keeps an eye on things.

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Business
3:59 am
Fri December 9, 2011

Online Video Sites Go Pro And Get Original

Cast members of the canceled sitcom Arrested Development reunite at a New Yorker panel in October. Netflix will exclusively stream a new season of the cult hit — and that could bring the service a lot of new subscribers, one analyst says.
Neilson Barnard Getty Images for The New Yorker

Originally published on Fri December 9, 2011 2:31 pm

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Technology
4:00 am
Tue December 6, 2011

How Twitter's Trending Algorithm Picks Its Topics

Occupy Wall Street protesters meditate while a sign bearing their Twitter hashtag hangs from a railing in Zuccotti Park in October. Some activists accused Twitter of censorship because #OccupyWallStreet wasn't appearing on trending lists.
Jessica Rinaldi Reuters/Landov

Originally published on Wed December 7, 2011 1:18 pm

The list of "trending topics" on the right side of Twitter's home page is a coveted spot because millions of people see it. It often reflects what's hot in the news, from the death of Steve Jobs to Kim Kardashian's latest exploits.

Sometimes a topic that seems hot, like Occupy Wall Street, doesn't trend, leading some activists to charge Twitter with censorship. But the complex algorithms that determine trending topics are intended to find what's trending in the moment, and not what's been around for a long time.

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Digital Life
5:29 am
Wed November 9, 2011

Teen Study: Social Media Is Positive Experience

A study by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project reveals what teens think about the online experience. While bullying on social media sites like Facebook gets a lot of news coverage, most teens think social networks are a friendly place for them.

Music Interviews
1:44 pm
Sun October 9, 2011

Bjork's 'Biophilia': Interactive Music, Pushing Boundaries

Bjork's new album, Biophilia, is also an interactive multimedia project.

Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin

The title of Bjork's new album came to her after she read a book by neurologist Oliver Sachs about the mind's empathy for music.

"He called it 'musicophilia,' she says. "Obviously, I make music, but I wanted to do a project about nature. So I thought, if I call it Biophilia, it's sort of empathy with nature."

So there are song titles like "Solstice," "Dark Matter" and "Crystalline." The lyrics actually touch on processes in nature — for instance, how crystals grow.

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