A Short List Of The Best 'Longform' Journalism Of 2014
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
Ready to dive deep into some of the year's best deep dives. We're talking about longform journalism. And who better to wrap up a few of the greatest stories of 2014 than Max Linsky? He's cofounder of the website and app Longform, where they read them all.
MAX LINSKY: It's true. We do read them all.
CORNISH: All right. So you guys have logged a lot of reading time this year.
LINSKY: We've done some reading. We've done some reading.
CORNISH: And as we mentioned, you have a best-of list. Give us some idea of the kinds of articles that were on the top of your list.
LINSKY: The number one story was "The Case For Reparations," which was written by Ta-Nehisi Coates. It was published in The Atlantic in May. It starts with a man in sort of Jim Crow South, and moves forward through the 20th century through redlining in Chicago, a whole series of institutional injustices against African-Americans in this country, and it is what the title indicates. But it is also so much more.
CORNISH: Talk a little bit about how - what it means to be on top. Does this mean this is something that your readers really clicked on many times? Or is it just something that the editors thought was sort of worthy of the title?
LINSKY: Well, in this case, this is the editor's choice for the top ten articles of the year. We have a team of editors, and we get together and drink beer and fight about this. But we also have a section of the most popular stories of the year. And while "The Case For Reparations" was not on it, it was actually quite high. Part of why we ended up picking it as the story of the year was that it was, as far as magazine articles can be, something of a blockbuster. And the other thing about this kind of work that we read and feature is that it tends to be evergreen. Its impact tends to be lasting.You can come back to a story a year later or two years later or five years later and it still has the same impact that it did when it came out. And that's very rare for almost anything on the Internet, right? And I think this story in particular had even more resonance in the months after it was published, with the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, with Eric Garner in Staten Island, with the protests that followed both of those grand jury decisions. We found more people coming back to that story, talking about that story, rereading that story. And it put those events in a larger historical context. It showed that they were part of a narrative in this country for hundreds and hundreds of years.
CORNISH: Tell us more. What are some of the other pieces that ended up on the top list?
LINSKY: Let's see. I'm looking through it right now. Roger Angell, who writes for the New Yorker, he wrote an essay about being 93 and what being 93 is like. But, to me, it was really an essay about the meaning of life. It was about loss and love and getting old and really, you know, what we're all doing here, Audie. And, for some reason, that essay just was impossible to shake.
CORNISH: And you mentioned - I mean, these are two big outlets that, frankly, are known for this kind of writing, right? The Atlantic Magazine and the New Yorker.
CORNISH: But there was also smaller outlets that kind of make a splash on Longform, and one of them is D Magazine. Can you talk about an article there?
LINSKY: Sure. D Magazine - city magazine of Dallas.
CORNISH: Is that what it is (laughter)?
LINSKY: Yeah. And they actually have a great tradition of doing longform journalism. They put together their 40 best stories ever this year, and they were all pretty fantastic. But there's a writer there named Michael J. Mooney, who has also written for some larger magazines. But he had a piece this year and it was called "How Not To Get Away With Murder." It's the story of Nancy and Frank Howard. They were happily married for three decades and then Frank, well, Frank fell in love with another woman. He embezzled about $30 million. And, to get out of the situation, he decided he would hire a hitman to kill his wife. It did not work out, Audie. He hired a parade of basically incompetent hitmen. I'm sort of saying this story with a smile because it's so crazy. These are real people that this happened to. But it does read kind of like a Cohen Brothers movie.
CORNISH: Now, I know you guys keep stats on your readers. And you've got this new app which can kind of track which stories are actually read all the way to the end. Can you tell us kind of what you're finding as you're collecting that data?
LINSKY: Sure. It's actually quite different what people read to the end and what people click on. What people click on tends to be stories about hitmen gone wrong, sex stories. We also find on the website that any story about how much work sucks tends to do pretty well. People who are sitting at work tend to click on things about how work sucks.
CORNISH: Because, I have to say, when I think of something like maybe that story about "The Case For Reparations" in The Atlantic, it felt, in some of the commentary, that there are lots of people out there who said they read it who hadn't read it. And I think...
LINSKY: Yeah, a few.
CORNISH: Right. Like, isn't that the thing with some of this journalism - is people like, oh, I totally read that.
LINSKY: Yeah. If pay attention to this stuff too closely you start seeing, like, you know, we know when a story comes out and you'll start looking on Twitter and you'll see people tweeting five minutes after a 15,000 word story came out, like - incredible read.
LINSKY: What a story. What a story. And you're just like, you didn't read that thing, man, you didn't read that yet.
CORNISH: Max Linsky, cofounder of Longform, thanks so much for talking with us.
LINSKY: It was good to be here.