“To be totally honest, growing up in Connecticut, we would come into the city and we loved it, and we lived in the city in San Francisco, so I always considered myself a sort of urban person,” she says. “But living in New York didn’t have that much appeal to me.”
In fact, finishing up her undergraduate degree at Stanford, Grace had ambitions to live in all sorts of far-flung places, hoping to find work in international development. But then as she and her now-husband Mark, who’d began dating in their senior year of college, ended up heading toward different countries after they completed school, the attacks of September 11 changed their plans.
“It shook both of us up,” she says. “It was one of those moments when we were like, ‘Who knows what’s going to happen in life? We love each other — why are we walking away from this relationship, we both want to live and work abroad, why are we doing that at opposites sides of the world?’ So we decided to try to figure out a way to do it together.”
A friend encouraged them join him in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand, where they lived for almost a year. Grace found a position volunteering at what she had thought she’d be interested in – an NGO HIV/AIDS clinic — but because she had no medical training and limited work experience, the work she was qualified to do was essential acting as an administrative assistant. But while there, she met some reporters working The Irrawady, a newspaper that covers what’s happening in Burma and is run by Burmese who are living in exile, and their work was incredibly enticing.
“The mission of what the NGO was doing really appealed to me; the day-to-day work did not,” she says. “That hit me over the head. There was this big difference between what I thought I wanted to do and what that meant on a daily basis. So when I met these guys, it made me rethink everything. The day-to-day work of being a reporter appealed to me.”Though she didn’t get a job with them, she did publish her first piece while in Thailand, a travel story, and it sparked the passion for journalism that continues today. When she and Mark returned to the States, she set out looking for reporting jobs in San Francisco, but with no experience, she had trouble even landing an internship. She took an eight-week Mediabistro course, which, she says, is “quite literally my only formal training in journalism.” Not that she thinks you need, or can’t benefit from, a J-school degree — in fact, she applied and was accepted twice to Columbia’s program, but both times she didn’t go, because great job opportunities arose.
“In journalism you don’t have to have gone to journalism school — it’s one of those rare fields that if you can prove yourself on the job, that’s what people care about,” Grace explains. “They frankly don’t care about your degree or where you went to college. If you can perform, that’s the bottom line.”
She was fortunate to get an internship at a Palo Alto weekly, where the meager pay didn’t even cover her transportation to and from her parents’ house, where she was living at the time. But she knew this would launch her career, so she threw herself into it, and took whatever stories were offered.
“That’s what I always say to people who are starting out in journalism: Say yes to everything. Everything.”
And for her, the best part was finally knowing this was exactly the right path.
“I really knew that I wanted to do it. And once I started, even though I wasn’t doing anything as dramatic or important as going into Burma, I loved it. I found a school board meeting to be really exciting!” she laughs.
She moved on to the Mountain View Voice, hired as the City Hall reporter, though with just three people on staff her mother rightly jokingly called it the Grace Rauh Voice, because half of the stories would be written by her. After that, she got a job at the Fremont Argus covering education, and then continued that beat at the Oakland Tribune — finally, “a city that people knew about,” she says.
And that’s when her husband started applying to law schools, expressing his long-held desire to live in New York. Despite her reservations, and that she’d found a great job she was enjoying, she agreed to move if he got into school there. And, of course, he did.
Part of their agreement was that she wouldn’t move until she found a job, but like everything else, she dove into that head-first, milking every connection she could. When she learned a cousin of a friend was a reporter at The New York Sun, she offered to take him out for drinks on a visit to the city, and he graciously invited her to meet him at the newsroom, where he introduced her around. Though there were no openings at the time, an opportunity soon presented itself, and she found the paper to be just the kind of environment for someone as eager, if unexperienced in NYC, as herself.
“I was lucky that The Sun was a place that didn’t care so much that I didn’t have any New York experience, which is pretty surprising for a job like that,” she says. “Their attitude was, ‘We want to hire smart, hungry reporters, and if you are smart and hungry, you’ll figure out the beat.’ It was an amazing place to work.”
However, Grace admits it was “a bit traumatic” at first. Trying to find a unique spin to the story of the day, she’d see pitches rejected one after another. In California, she’d been considered one of the hardest working reporters, clocking out around 6pm. Now she saw reporters who worked at the office until 9pm every night and then took sources out for drinks after work — and then met another source for coffee the next morning.
“It was just this crazy world where I thought, ‘I can’t live like this, I don’t have what it takes.’”
After a few months at the job, she made a New Year’s resolution to stop fighting the insanity, and embrace it. And though it may just have been the timing, things began to come together – she started doing better work and breaking stories, and was getting great feedback.
“I started to hit my stride, and once that happened, I have to say, it’s just been all fun ever since.”
By the end of The Sun’s run as a print paper in 2008, Grace had begun speaking with people at NY1 about possibly transitioning to television reporting. It started by chance — one of her first assignments at The Sun had been a profile of NY1 anchor Dominic Carter, and while interviewing him, she met the station’s political director, Bob Hardt. When he reached out to her out of the blue later about working with them, she was open to the idea, and was hired that fall.
Now she’s approaching her sixth anniversary as a political reporter for NY1, her longest job by far, and she couldn’t be happier, noting what a wonderful place it is to work.
“The one thing that struck me from day one, and continues to strike me: It is the nicest newsroom I’ve ever been in,” she says. “There are a lot of really nice people who work there! It’s pretty remarkable. I feel like there is a real effort in the newsroom, a culture of people being kind. It comes across in the coverage too. It’s measured — we’re not out to do gotcha journalism, and we want to be a reliable news source for people, not alarmist, just tell them what they need to know.”
Her days haven’t slowed down to the pace of her West Coast reporting days, however — she says that sometimes she still has to change out of her pajamas to get to the station for breaking news, like the night Osama bin Landen was killed. But that’s not the norm — though, she admits, there isn’t much “norm” to her days, which is how she likes it.
“It’s a lot of fun because every day is a little different,” she says. “You are all over the city, which is my other favorite thing about it.”
As someone who never really thought she’d live here, Grace is now perhaps an expert at one particular aspect of city knowledge: food.
“I’m obsessed with food,” she says. “Anyone who works with me knows that I have my food places. I always carve out some time, even if it’s a drive-by, to get some food.”In Queens she recommends Ayada Thai in Woodside, and by City Hall, where she spends much of her time, she says Pakistan Tea House is great (“I love everybody that works in there.”), and she also hits up Sophie’s for Cuban food and Blue Spoon for coffee and sandwiches.
“You have to hunt down your food spots,” she says, noting that she relies on locals for recommendations all the time.
She and her husband moved to Park Slope from Chelsea about a year and a half after their first child was born, so Grace admits that they eat more at home now than they do in local restaurants, as their daughter “likes to eat and like run around the table three times, so that’s not going to work.”
Still, she’s managed to find some favorites: Sushi Katsuei, the new place on 7th Avenue, Stone Park Cafe for both brunch and dinner, and Franny’s, where even their daughter has settled down enough to join them.
“The pizza is so good, and all the appetizers, and the menu changes often — I could eat there constantly.”
But these days, they’re cooking at home at lot. Grace says Mark is an excellent cook, and that she’s more of the brains behind the meals.
“I have created this title that some people find a little much: I’m the ‘food visionary’ of the family,” she says. “It’s very important. I’m someone who can open the fridge, or envision what’s in there while I’m at work, and say, ‘This is what we can make for dinner using those ingredients.’”
When they don’t have everything they need in the fridge, though, Grace says they feel lucky to have two farmers markets in our area, and says Valley Shepherd Creamery is her top choice for cheeses and pastas. The accessibility to great food, plus the closeness to Prospect Park and the community feel, are all reasons they ended up settling in the neighborhood.
“When I first moved here there was almost this urban family utopia,” she says. “Especially in the morning — all the kids and parents are walking or biking to school, and we walk our daughter to daycare. It’s really wonderful.”
Of course, sometimes in Park Slope you’ll run into a certain high-level New Yorker during those morning walks — and if you’re a political reporter, you may know that man pretty well from your job. Not that it has any leverage around here.
“After we took a tour of a preschool, we were outside of the building and the Mayor and his wife Chirlane were walking back from the gym, and so I turn around and I’m like ‘Bill, how’s it going,’ and we chatted, and they went on their way,” she says. “I jokingly said to my husband, ‘Well, maybe this will help us get into preschool!’ I’d just like to report that we were wait-listed, so that did not help us at all. We eventually got off the wait list, so it all worked out, but, ha.”
Now expecting her second child, Grace says she has totally embraced the stereotypes of the typical Park Slope parent.
“I bought Birkenstocks this summer!” she says, laughing. “I used to wear them in high school, but they’re back! Everyone in the fashion set is wearing them.”
Whether she’s hearing the calls for her daughter from the girls next door as they shout from the stoop, or building a snowman out front with the boy next door, Grace says that, much like discovering her path toward journalism, she’s definitely found her place.
“We have a nice community of people,” she says. “I miss California, but I love the people in New York so much. I love the constant conversation that you have with strangers. People engage with each other all the time in a way that I find wonderful and friendly, and you just feel connected to something bigger when you’re here.”
Now that she’s been here a while, she appreciates that in Park Slope in particular there are a lot of families like hers, who are putting down roots in the city for the long-haul, rather than moving once they have children. And though she admits that with kids, “you just don’t know until you’re in it,” as they await the birth of their new child, their plan is to stay.
“I never would have expected ten years ago that this is where I would be, but it’s the best — we totally drank the Kool-Aid.”