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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All Tech Considered
12:45 pm
Mon January 7, 2013

Why Is Google Exec Interested In North Korea?

Google's Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt (left) arrives at Pyongyang International Airport on Monday. There is speculation that Schmidt's presence in North Korea could have an upside for Google by positioning Schmidt as the company's global ambassador.
David Guttenfelder AP

Originally published on Mon January 7, 2013 1:39 pm

Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, has landed in North Korea. His trip there is a bit of a mystery.

Schmidt, the former CEO of Google, has been a vocal proponent of providing people around the world with Internet access and technology. North Korea doesn't even let its citizens access the open Internet, and its population is overwhelmingly poor — so it's not exactly a coveted audience for advertisers.

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All Tech Considered
11:08 am
Mon December 31, 2012

From 3-D Printers To Wired Glasses, The Tech Year Ahead

Google Glass will be part of a trend in 2013 of computing and connectivity in devices we don't generally think of as computers.
Seth Wenig AP

Originally published on Mon December 31, 2012 3:17 pm

It's unlikely 2013 will be the year that jet packs make it big, but the coming year could bring us a host of other new technology trends and products, such as 3-D printers for consumers, smarter smartphones and more connected devices like glasses and cars.

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Technology
10:28 pm
Wed December 26, 2012

Music-Streaming Services Hunt For Paying Customers

Originally published on Thu December 27, 2012 3:58 am

2012 has been a strange year for content creators — authors, producers, musicians. It was a year when the very idea of physical ownership of a book or CD or even a song file became almost passe.

It was also the year in which music-streaming services like Spotify and Pandora launched major efforts to convince people to pay for something they didn't own. But it's been slow going.

Music-streaming services have been trying to win over two types of customers: a younger generation that doesn't buy at all and an older generation that still likes owning physical albums.

Read more
All Tech Considered
10:21 pm
Tue December 25, 2012

Online Videos: Not Just Made By Amateurs Anymore

iStockphoto.com

Originally published on Wed December 26, 2012 1:07 am

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All Tech Considered
12:09 pm
Mon December 17, 2012

Don't Like The Government? Make Your Own, On International Waters

Andras Gyorfi's winning entry in The Seasteading Institute's 2009 design contest. The institute supports the idea of permanent, autonomous offshore communities, but it does not intend to construct its own seasteads.
Courtesy of The Seasteading Institute

Originally published on Mon December 17, 2012 5:19 pm

Almost all of us have complaints about the government, which probably range from high taxes to too much bureaucracy. Periodically, we get to take our frustrations out at the voting booth. But no matter how unhappy you may be, you probably never thought, "I'm going get out of here and go start my own country."

A group of rich techies in Northern California is planning on starting its own nation on artificial islands in the ocean. They call themselves "seasteaders" and are sort of a mix between geeks and hippies.

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All Tech Considered
1:08 pm
Mon December 3, 2012

Which Tablet Is Right For You?

The new Microsoft Surface tablet on display after a press conference in New York in October. The Microsoft tablet goes up against products from Apple, Amazon and Google.
Timothy A. Clary AFP/Getty Images

Originally published on Mon December 3, 2012 1:50 pm

The holiday season is upon us. In the tech world, that means it's time to talk gadgets, specifically one of the year's most popular gadgets: the tablet.

For the first time, Apple's iPad has some competition: Google's Nexus, Amazon's Kindle Fire HD and the Microsoft Surface.

These tablets represent the marquee efforts of the biggest technology companies. They also represent the four major content universes.

Small Tablets

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All Tech Considered
12:25 pm
Thu November 29, 2012

Yet Another Shift In Facebook Policies Raises Privacy Concerns

Joerg Koch AP

Originally published on Thu November 29, 2012 12:37 pm

Facebook has a long history of upsetting its users by suddenly announcing a change to its privacy settings. In 2009, as a way to quiet the critics, Facebook set up a system for its customers to vote on changes. If enough of them were unhappy, the company would back down. Now, Facebook wants to get rid of the voting.

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Around the Nation
12:37 am
Wed November 14, 2012

Sandy Deals Powerful Blow To Housing In New Jersey

Originally published on Wed November 14, 2012 3:06 am

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

And I'm Linda Wertheimer.

More than two weeks after Sandy hit the Northeast, thousands of people in New Jersey are still unable to return to their homes. And as NPR's Laura Sydell reports, finding temporary housing has proven to be a confusing and difficult process for many storm victims.

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The Record
7:03 pm
Wed November 7, 2012

Studying How, And What, We Download

Drake, who had the top torrent downloaded in the U.S. in the first half of 2012, according to Musicmetric, poses at the MTV Video Music Awards in September.
Frederick M. Brown Getty Images

Originally published on Thu November 8, 2012 7:27 am

As we near the end of another year, the music industry has a few reasons to be optimistic. Digital music sales are expected to reach record highs this year, and legal streaming services continue to gain in popularity. But unauthorized music file sharing is still going strong.

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All Tech Considered
11:39 pm
Wed October 24, 2012

Watching TV Online Often Exposes Slow Bandwidth

In much of America, the availability of online video is often frustrated by slow broadband speeds. In this 2011 photo, Valerie Houde waits for a dial-up Internet connection in East Burke, Vt.
Andy Duback AP

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 6:20 am

There are more ways than ever to watch TV programs on the Internet, from Netflix and Amazon to Hulu. But many viewers discover that watching TV on the Web can be frustrating. Their favorite show might suddenly stop, stutter and be replaced by a note that reads "buffering." The problem is lack of bandwidth: The data that is the video just can't squeeze through the wires and onto the screen.

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All Tech Considered
1:36 pm
Tue October 23, 2012

Hands On With The New iPad Mini: Lighter, Costlier Than Rivals

The new iPad Mini is displayed after its unveiling at an Apple event in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday.
Kevork Djansezian Getty Images

Originally published on Wed October 24, 2012 6:29 am

  • Hear Laura Sydell's Story On Morning Edition

Apple has unveiled a smaller, cheaper version of its popular iPad tablet. NPR's Laura Sydell attended the event Tuesday in San Jose, Calif., and got a hands-on look at the new iPad mini. Below are her first impressions.

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Books
12:12 pm
Thu October 4, 2012

Google, Publishers Reach Deal On Book Scanning Plan

Originally published on Thu October 25, 2012 7:19 am

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. Today, a long legal battle came to an end. On one side, Google; on the other, book publishers. The two have reached an agreement to resolve a lawsuit that's dragged on for seven years. But this does not end Google's legal trouble, as it tries to digitize the world's books. An even more important lawsuit remains unresolved - with thousands of authors of those books that Google has scanned. NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

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The Record
7:03 pm
Wed September 26, 2012

YouTube Shares Ad Revenue With Musicians, But Does It Add Up?

Donna Summer in 1976. YouTube's Chris Maxcy says the company targets advertising to videos by artists like her and gives a share of the revenue from it to the track's label and publisher.
Keystone Getty Images

Originally published on Thu September 27, 2012 5:04 am

YouTube is well-known for videos, but a recent Nielsen study revealed 64 percent of teens and young adults go to it to listen to and discover music. The free website, which is owned by Google, has set up advertising deals to help musicians get compensated. But it's not clear how they're getting paid — or how much.

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The Record
1:53 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 10:20 am

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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Digital Life
12:06 pm
Thu September 20, 2012

Vimeo's Virtual Tip Jar Invites Viewers To Chip In

The video sharing site Vimeo has added a feature that invites users to chip in to support the filmmakers they like.
Vimeo

Originally published on Thu September 20, 2012 1:04 pm

From teenagers strumming guitars in their bedrooms to big studio executives in Hollywood, there are a lot of people trying to figure out how to make money from online videos. The video-sharing site Vimeo has just added to their site a feature with a time-tested history in the real world — a virtual tip jar.

Electric-bass player Brian Compton has been a musician for 20 years. He plays with a three-piece band on a San Francisco street corner and hopes for tips from afternoon commuters. He estimates that less than 1 percent of passersby actually leave a tip.

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Technology
12:58 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
12:10 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 1:52 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
10:18 pm
Thu August 23, 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 6:56 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.

Read more
Technology
12:32 am
Thu August 2, 2012

Amazon Takes Entertainment Step With App Offerings

Transcript

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Amazon is positioning itself to be a bigger player in the digital music and movie market. This week, the company announced that it would be offering its movie and music apps on more devices, including Apple's iPad.

NPR's Laura Sydell reports.

LAURA SYDELL, BYLINE: Netflix has been a dominant player streaming movies online, and its app is on almost every device, from Xboxes to iPads. Now, Amazon's added a movie and TV app to the iPad.

Should Netflix worry?

SARAH ROTMAN EPPS: Netflix should worry.

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Technology
12:04 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 4:01 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
11:24 am
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 2:26 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
2:09 am
Thu July 19, 2012

Yahoo May Be Marissa Mayer's Biggest Challenge Yet

Originally published on Thu July 19, 2012 3:00 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
2:04 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 3:49 pm

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Business
12:51 am
Thu June 28, 2012

Google Is The Latest To Get Into Computer Tablets

Originally published on Thu June 28, 2012 7:34 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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Digital Life
11:40 am
Tue June 26, 2012

Facebook's E-mail Change Rankles Users

Originally published on Wed June 27, 2012 1:52 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
12:22 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

Lights, Camera, YouTube: A New 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 3:54 pm

Over the past year, YouTube has spent tens of millions of dollars to commission professionals to make content for the site — but those pros aren't necessarily coming from traditional TV and film studios.

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The Record
7:03 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 2:40 pm

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All Tech Considered
10:57 am
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 12:24 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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