Freelance Writer

My work

I have reported on politics, business and climate change.

Water Deeply / Sacramento News & ReviewThe Day / RecodeInc. / Select All 

@Tess_Townsend, LinkedIn,

Sacramento, California

Favorite clips

The Bizarre Truth Behind the Biggest Pro-Trump Facebook Hoaxes (Nov. 21, 2016, Inc.) Exclusive profile of the secretive Romanian creator of one of the most prolific fake news websites during the 2016 presidential election, Ending the Fed. (Plus follow-upResearchers say Ending the Fed is one of a network of websites advancing Russian interests around the world by churning out fake news.

Silicon Valley’s rank and file prepare to fight Trump (Jan. 10, 2017, Recode)  The engineers who predominate in the Valley are better known for their political apathy. But Trump’s election has awakened the nerdy set to a kind of inchoate activism. The people in attendance came from companies like Google and Facebook as well as area startups.

Can Silicon Valley’s Pro-Antitrust Congressman Navigate His Monopoly-Friendly District? (Dec. 11, 2017, Part of the Antitrust Me series for Select All) For decades, U.S. antitrust policy has centered on protecting consumer welfare — which in essence ends up translating to keeping prices down, to the exclusion of other impacts of corporate mergers and expansions. Reformers like Rep. Ro Khanna believe that this approach has allowed corporations to grow unwieldy and control too many competing interests, to the overwhelming benefit of a thin strata of executives, exacerbating income inequality.

When millennials run: Young progressives ran for local offices with mixed results but a unified message: make elections more representative (Nov. 15, 2018, Sacramento News & Review) As far as elected bodies go, even local ones, the American River Flood Control District Board of Trustees is obscure. What made Rachelanne “Rae” Vander Werf’s race interesting—aside from heightening flood risk as the climate changes—was her platform of broader civic reform. Her effort reflects a common cause among progressives to make government more attentive to historically disenfranchised groups. But higher-level threats to protections mean she’s building on uncertain foundations.

Can dilapidated Seaside be salvaged? (April 27, 2014, The Day) The structures of the former Seaside Regional Center off Shore Road have sat vacant in the hands of the state for the better part of two decades. Vacant, that is, except for a few bats and other things that squeak and live in the dark, and the vandals who have found their way into the H-shaped main hospital building.


School’s Out (Nov. 22, 2018, Sacramento News & Review) School closures over wildfire smoke don’t just mean classes are cancelled. Parents must decide between going to work and staying home with their children, which can be costly, and hourly school employees lose shifts. These are some of the economic impacts of climate change. 

Why Emergency Drought Assistance Will Be Needed in California for Years (June 5, 2018, Water Deeply) The legislature is considering $23.5 million in emergency drought assistance as part of final budget negotiations. But the needs the money is slated to cover won’t disappear entirely by the middle of 2019 when the next budget year starts and that’s because many of the problems are related to groundwater overdraft. The state now has more than 20 groundwater basins that are deemed “critically overdrafted.”

California Considers Charge on Utility Bills to Create Safe Water Fund (May 8, 2018, Water Deeply) A plan to help fix some of the state’s most persistent drinking-water problems is opposed by many water agencies, but a similar scheme has worked in the energy sector for decades.

Independent governance eyed for State Water Project (May 22, 2018, Capitol Weekly) The State Water Project is huge, has a lot of infrastructure, and it’s most of what the Department of Water Resources does. But after more than 60 years of this arrangement, there is a move under way to take control of the project out of the hands of DWR and place it in an independent commission. A bill proposing the change puts a spotlight on the convoluted, interwoven nature of California’s water management structures, and the pressures and conflicts those structures potentially create.

Seaside will become a state park (Sept. 30, 2014, The Day) Two decades, three requests for zoning changes and a handful of lawsuits since the Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled was vacated, state officials have decided upon a new fate for the state-owned parcel once destined for private development. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that the state has terminated its contract to sell Seaside to developer Mark Steiner and will instead make the parcel a state park.


Why Political Ads Are Regulated but Fake News on Facebook Isn’t (Dec. 9, 2016, Inc.) Viral hoaxes on Facebook during the 2016 presidential election revealed the limits of campaign finance laws and regulations.

Keith Ellison and the New ‘Antitrust Caucus’ Want to Know Exactly How Bad Mergers Have Been for the American Public (Dec. 4, 2017, Select All/New York Mag) A House bill would require the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice to conduct annual retrospective studies of how mergers impact prices, jobs, wages, and local economies.

Controversy Rages Over ‘Pro-Slavery’ Tech Speaker Curtis Yarvin (March 31, 2016, Inc.) If you’re not an engineer, you likely have not heard of LambdaConf or Curtis Yarvin, A.K.A. “Mencius Moldbug.” That the conference and the person are colliding, though, matters for the movement to diversify the world of tech.

Trump’s possible pick for FTC chair might have to recuse himself in cases involving Google, Facebook or Microsoft (Mar. 3, 2017, Recode) The trio, along with other tech companies, have all donated to Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes’ campaigns.

Google has bigger challenges with Home than just recognizing different voices (May 14, 2017, Recode) Voice is the technology every major Silicon Valley company is racing to dominate before anyone else; and Google, with its search and language capabilities, would seem poised to take the lead. But Google is starting from behind. And to master voice, the company will have to contend with technology that’snot friendly to advertising, its main business, or suitable for Google’s directory-like approach to organizing web results.

Google’s updates to its photos app walk the line between useful and creepy (May 17, 2017, Recode) Our photo libraries aren’t as idyllic as Google presents them to be. Technology doesn’t work perfectly, and people make mistakes. So while these features may be new, the question they raise is a familiar one for Google: Where do you draw the line between useful and creepy?

Google is telling employees not to worry about Trump’s latest immigration crackdown (April 3, 2017, Recode) Google anticipates that new guidance on H-1B visas will not affect its own employees, according to an email obtained by Recode.

How Yelp Compares to Other Tech Companies on Pay (Feb. 23, 2016, Inc.) An Eat24 employee’s Medium post complaining of low wages draws attention to the wealth gap within the tech industry. Here’s what employees in similar positions at other companies make.

Writer Who Got ‘Scammed’ by Startup on Why Her Story Went Viral (Aug. 31, 2016, Inc.) Penny Kim never anticipated the explosive response to her Medium post about a hellish startup experience. Now she knows a lot more about viral marketing.

Google’s Allo app can reveal to your friends what you’ve searched (March 13, 2017, Recode)  Google’s mobile messaging app Allo can reveal your Google search history to people you message, which could have big privacy implications. The behavior appears to be a glitch. Google responded to our story: “We were notified about the Assistant in group chats not working as intended. We’ve fixed the issue and appreciate the report.”

The Crowdfunding Pioneer Responsible for $850 Million in Startup Capital (April 2016 issue of Inc. Magazine, cover story) The Indiegogo co-founder was once distraught that she couldn’t help a struggling dreamer. So she built a platform where businesses and creative types can get the funding to make their dreams real.


Can’t live without it: A trucker’s take on I-95 (Sept. 1, 2015, The Day) I wrote this as part of a series I proposed and spearheaded on the dangers of Interstate 95. The series won first place in investigative reporting from the Connecticut Society of Professional Journalists.

Staying on track (May 10, 2014, The Day) For the 15 years Terry Eames ran the Waterford Speedbowl, he was known for last-minute miracles – pulling rabbits out of hats, as one creditor put it.  

Get Married, Save Thousands on Tuition (Feb. 5, 2011, The New York Times) The financial stakes to attend the University of California are so high that some out-of-state students are employing an unusual technique to meet the system’s strict residency requirements: they’re getting married.

U.C. Proxy Voting Skirts Review Guidelines, Documents Show (Sept. 16, 2010, The New York Times) The University of California, which prides itself as a leader on social and environmental issues, voted against hundreds of shareholder resolutions designed to promote human rights, environmental sustainability and efforts to fight discrimination, according to a review of U.C.’s voting record.