BACKGROUNDER: About The Washington Oculus
Updated, February 2010
THE WASHINGTON OCULUS is an online notebook, journal and personal blog by Michael E. Grass, an editor, writer, Web developer and editorial manager, originally launched in 2003 in the District of Columbia.
Grass co-founded DCist.com in 2004 and has helped develop online media platforms for The Washington Post’s free daily newspaper Express, and The New York Observer’s 17-state national political reporting network during the 2008 campaign cycle.
He most recently served as editor for a D.C.-based non-profit news organization that funds investigative, public affairs and politics reporting in Colorado, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and New Mexico, and managed work on dioxin contamination, HIV policy, rural health care, ethics and transparency, among other issues.
He has written for The Washington Post, Roll Call and Crain’s Detroit Business and was once jokingly described as “Zeus” and, more seriously, a “tireless, content-generating machine” by The Huffington Post.
At Roll Call, Grass was a copy editor, writer, K Street Files lobbying column contributor and helped manage RollCall.com. For his highlights from Roll Call, click here.
In 2005, Grass was recruited to edit the Local section of Express and later as Web editor, was part of The Washington Post Co. team that conceptualized, planned and launched ReadExpress.com in April 2006. He also edited restaurant coverage and on Free Ride, wrote on a variety of localized topics, including transit, politics and neighborhood news. For his highlights from Express, click here.
An alumnus of the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Grass worked for The Michigan Daily and as a news reporter and editor covered the administration of then-President Lee C. Bollinger, including the Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger affirmative action lawsuits. Grass served as editorial page editor and edited an award-winning series of dispatches from a Daily writer sent to Pakistan and Afghanistan during the fall of 2001. He is a published contributor to “Writing Ann Arbor,” (University of Michigan Press, 2005) a literary anthology featuring the work of Arthur Miller, Joyce Carol Oates, Wendy Wasserstein and other writers who have made their way through Ann Arbor.
Although Grass grew up in East Grand Rapids, Mich., his family has lived in the District of Columbia since the 1860s. During the Civil War, his German ancestors settled in what is today Foggy Bottom. His great-great grandfather, August Grass, would open a carpentry and furniture-making workshop at New Hampshire Avenue and M Street NW and was commissioned to craft much of the intricate woodcarving in the Dupont Circle mansion of D.C.’s master brewer Christian Heurich, which is today open for tours. Pictured at left is the Heurich House’s dining room, where some of the best Grass carvings can be found. His grandfather grew up in the house that is now Kinkead's restaurant on Eye Street NW just west of Pennsylvania Avenue and 20th Street NW, a few blocks from the White House. The Swiss branch of his family, which has ancestral ties to the oenologist who helped develop the Muller-Thurgau grape, settled on Capitol Hill near Lincoln Park. His great uncle and great aunt were some of the last residents of K Street NW, living in a rowhouse in what is now D.C.'s infamous lobbying corridor.