Throughout May and June, a new generation of reporters, writers, editors, and essayists make their way out of school and into the professional world. They come bearing clips, work samples produced for class or during an internship. Hundreds of media outlets at colleges and universities across the country publish student work, and an equal number of professors, instructors, and advisors help students report, write, and edit their best journalism. We’d like to encourage those writers to produce more and better work, and introduce these new voices to a wider audience of readers—and maybe even future employers and mentors.
The short life of Jessica Lum, a terminally ill 25-year-old who chose to spend her last days practicing journalism:
"Jessica hadn’t expected to win. The other finalists were teams of students, and she worked solo on her 'Slab City Stories' project—a multimedia report on the inhabitants of a former Marine base-turned-squatter-RV-park in the California desert (though not, she made sure to point out, without the support of her professors, classmates, and Kickstarter backers). Jessica didn’t enjoy being in the spotlight, either; she was more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it. It took her only a few seconds longer to accept the award than it did to get to the stage. After a rush of thank-yous and a celebratory double fist-pump, Jessica returned to her seat—and to what appeared to be a bright future, one in which she’d tell many more stories and win many more awards.
"Less than four months later, on January 13, 2013, Jessica died. She was 25."
PUBLISHED: May 13, 2013
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3370 words)
This week's Longreads Member Exclusive is "Forever Young,"
a story by Jason Johnson for the literary video game magazine Kill Screen
. Johnson tells us how he first discovered a group of Hungarian developers who have spent more than 20 years developing a game for the Commodore 64:
"This wasn't supposed to happen. As originally conceived, my account of Newcomer
, a Commodore 64 game from Hungary, had no business in a publication that hangs its hat on lengthy works of journalism. My assignment was a paltry 1,500 words. The initial interview wasn't fruitful. However, as is the case with many who've stumbled upon this fascinating lifework––now twenty-three years in the works, and counting––one thing led to another, and I was in it for the long haul.
"I was interested in profiling István Belánszky, Newcomer
's torchbearer, but like so many merely adequate polyglots, István doesn't speak English very well. He was hesitant to interview verbally. I wasn't able to get to Budapest to meet him, so I interviewed extensively, both with and around István, relying on the convenience of email and instant messaging. The result was a scroll of text, some 27,918 words, the majority typed by István, with long intervals between our exchanges as he painstakingly hammered out, to the best of his ability, the ins and outs of writing software for a computer that, quite honestly, was outdated in 1992, when development on the game began. The longest of these sessions lasted for an insufferable seven hours. By the end, I was ready to cry. But every now and then, amidst the barrage of technical talk and 'b0rked English,' a morsel of information would appear in the text window so peculiar and surprising that it made everything worthwhile."
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PUBLISHED: Jan. 18, 2013
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5679 words)
PUBLISHED: Dec. 7, 2012
LENGTH: 5 minutes (1339 words)
On the 1962-1963 printers strike in New York City that effectively shut down the seven biggest newspapers in the city, killed four of them, and made names for writers like Gay Talese, Tom Wolfe and Nora Ephron:
"A city without The New York Times inspired rage and scorn, ambivalence and relief. A 'Talk of the Town' item in The New Yorker lamented a weekend without the 'fragrant, steamy deep-dish apple pie of the Sunday Times.' James Reston—pillar of the Establishment, Washington bureau chief and columnist for the Times, and intimate of the Sulzberger family, to whom he directed a controversial entreaty to use non-union shops—was allowed to read his column on New York’s Channel 4 in early January 1963: 'Striking the Times is like striking an old lady and deprives the community of all kinds of essential information. If some beautiful girl gets married this week, the television may let us see her gliding radiantly from the church. But what about all those ugly girls who get married every Sunday in the Times?'
"A city without newspapers was a city in which civic activity was impeded, as two out-of-work Times reporters hired by the Columbia Journalism Review soon documented. Without the daily papers, the Health Department’s campaign against venereal disease was 'seriously impaired.' So was the fight against slumlords: 'There’s a distinct difference,' the city’s building commissioner said, 'between a $500 fine and a $500 fine plus a story in the Times.' The New York chapter of the Congress on Racial Equality discovered that, without newspaper attention, its boycott of the Sealtest Milk Company was considerably undermined. The newspaper strike, the C.J.R. study concluded, had 'deprived the public of its watchdog."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 30, 2012
LENGTH: 22 minutes (5728 words)
[Not single-page] A former journalist calls out the media for the lack of urgency in news coverage about climate change:
"Look, unlike most of your critics, I know you. You're not just names on a page or a screen to me: you're living, breathing human beings, with lives and families. I've shared the stresses and anxieties of journalism in this era. I know how hard you work, and how relatively little (most of) you are paid. I know how insecure your jobs are. And I know that your work — even your very best work — is most often thankless. Believe me. I know.
"I also know that you take your responsibility as journalists, as public servants, seriously. Why is it, then, that you are so utterly failing on this all-important topic? I could be wrong, but I think I understand. I'm afraid it has to do with self-image and self-censorship.
"Nothing is more important to me as a journalist than my independence. Yes, I'm still a journalist. And I'm as independent as I've ever been — maybe, if you can imagine this, even more so. Because leaving behind my mainstream journalism career has freed me to speak and write about climate and politics in ways that were virtually impossible inside the MSM bubble, where I had to worry about perceptions, and about keeping my job, and whether I'd be seen by my peers and superiors as an advocate. God forbid."
PUBLISHED: Nov. 1, 2012
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3930 words)
In celebrity journalism, what do we really know? Absolutely nothing, argues the writer, who constructs a counter-narrative that Katie Holmes has played everyone:
"They compare the pap-friendliness of various celebrities. Among the best are Cruise, in fact, and Hugh Jackman. Scarlett Johansson, who always runs, scowling, is 'the worst.' They scoff at the hypocritical attention-seeking of celebrities ('Why do you think Alec Baldwin tweets his location?'). A middle-aged woman with curly gray hair, tinted granny glasses, and a Hawaiian shirt wanders over. She’s pet-sitting for someone in the building, and she wants to know why the media won’t pay this kind of attention to the problem of puppy mills. Craigslist has really become lax, she says. There’s a 'secret kill site' on 110th Street. There’s also—
"'Katie! Katie! Katie!'
"Holmes, accompanied by a bald, burly off-duty police officer, has emerged from Whole Foods and begun the half-block walk back to the entrance of her building. She’s wearing a salmon blouse and blue jeans, with her hair pulled back in a ponytail. The puppy-mills lady is left talking to the air as eight paparazzi swoop in front of Holmes, forming a solid wall of jutting lenses that moves furiously backward, calling her name as their legs backpedal and their shutters snap, keeping a few feet ahead of her as she proceeds up the sidewalk, eyes down, her crooked half-smile fixed on her face, and then disappears inside the building."
PUBLISHED: July 22, 2012
LENGTH: 20 minutes (5242 words)
A look back at James Watson's book The Double Helix and the controversy it stirred in the science community.
Watson expanded the boundaries of science writing to include not only the formal, public face of Nobel-winning discoveries but also the day-to-day life of working scientists—both inside and outside the lab. The Double Helix rejuvenated a genre that had been largely academic or hagiographic. Its success showed that there was and is an appetite for the story of science; that the stories can be human and exciting; that scientists can be flawed characters; that the whole endeavor doesn’t collapse if you depict it with something less than reverence.
Although the book caused an international scandal that winter, I don’t think any word of the controversy reached me at Classical High School. As a freshman, I read The Double Helix as a story of pure triumph. Now, of course, I can see what I couldn’t then: an epic of the loss of innocence, writ small and large. And I can see the arc of Watson’s life since 1968, which has been another epic of triumph and hubris, ending with a fall. So now I see the darkness around the shining cup.
PUBLISHED: May 10, 2012
LENGTH: 13 minutes (3471 words)