Longreads Best of 2016: Business & Tech Reporting

We asked a few writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here, the best in business and tech reporting.

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Jeremy Keehn
A features editor at Bloomberg Businessweek.

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard(Shane Bauer, Mother Jones)

Bauer’s undercover exposé on Louisiana’s Winn prison deserves all the credit it has received for its courage and narrative verve. It’s also a marvelous labor and business story, deeply concerned with the line that connects the indignities of life as a $9/hour guard with the Corrections Company of America’s balance sheet. Bauer traces many of the cruelties he witnesses to understaffing and other cost-cutting measures (assertions CCA denies), carefully contrasting what he observes with the company’s contractual obligations to the state, and with standards at public prisons. His tragicomic account of an audit just eviscerates the entire concept of industry self-regulation.

The week after the piece was published, the Justice Department announced steps to phase out private prisons, causing the industry’s stocks to crash, but make of this what you will: the company—-by then rebranded as CoreCivic—-saw its share price rise 43 percent on November 9th, the biggest jump on the NYSE that day.


Max Abelson
A reporter on Wall Street for Bloomberg News, where his work often goes in Businessweek. His stories were included in Columbia University Press’ Best Business Writing anthologies in 2015 and 2013.

Everybody Goes Haywire (Anna Altman, n+1)

Altman’s gorgeous essay about work, pain and disability was unlike anything I’ve read this year. So much of business reporting is about the money and power of the people at the top. To read about a worker’s physical agony — its history, its symptoms, its effects, and the attempts to ameliorate it — made me think about business writing in a new way. It’s a painful read, and a beautiful one.

My Four Months as a Private Prison Guard by Shane Bauer (Shane Bauer, Mother Jones)

Is it a coincidence that the Justice Department announced plans to end the use of private prisons not long after the release of Bauer’s terrifying account of working for the Corrections Corporation of America? I happened to read the jazz saxophonist Art Pepper’s memoir Straight Life this year, but even its vivid description of a cursed life in and out of jail couldn’t match the detail of Bauer’s undercover investigation. It makes me want to be a braver journalist.


Derek Thompson
A Senior Editor at The Atlantic.

The Failure of Welfare Reform (Jordan Weissmann, Slate)

I’d love to recommend this essay on the history of, and failure of, welfare reform by Jordan Weissmann at Slate. How Welfare Reform Failed takes one of the most undercovered issues of 2016–the plight of extreme poverty in America–and gives it the historical, statistical, and moral treatment it deserves.


Jennifer Reingold
Editor at Large at Fortune, where she writes investigative and feature stories as well as the online column Manage This! Co-author (with Dan Reingold) of the book Confessions of a Wall Street Analyst, and (with Barbara Ley Toffler) of the book Final Accounting: Ambition, Greed and the Fall of Arthur Andersen.

My Brother’s Pregnancy and the Making of a New American Family (Jessi Hempel, Time)

This story, by my former colleague Jessi Hempel, is one of the most moving, unusual and politically relevant stories I read all year. It chronicles the journey of Hempel’s trans brother as he gives birth to a child. The photographs are intimate, even shocking to some—as is the story, which upends the traditional notion of a family in every way except for one—love. I wept while reading this. Then, while reading it again post-the 2016 election, I wept for different reasons altogether.

Venezuela, A Failing State (William Finnegan, The New Yorker)

Can a functional society commit suicide? We all know the answer is yes. But experiencing it through the eyes of Finnegan brings it home in a horrifying way. His incredible reporting—peppered with quotes from people who are happy to be quoted by name, since they no longer have anything left to lose—shows the destruction of a society. Once prosperous, if corrupt, Venezuela, in the aftermath of Chavez and Maduro, is a place where people wait in line all day for food and still go home hungry; a place in which the only people who can earn money are security guards and police, though that’s not guaranteed, either. As we flirt with our own dystopia, it’s a cautionary tale indeed.

The Cost of Caring (Rachel Aviv, The New Yorker)

The pain in this story is deep and strong, not only for every mother but also for every child. Aviv takes us deep into the life of Emma, a Filipina nanny who leaves her nine children in order to send them to university. She succeeds in doing that by taking care of other people’s children—but the tradeoffs are so brutal that the piece is hard to get through. In Aviv’s voice, the story of Emma is the story of globalization—both how it provides incredibly opportunities and also takes them away.

The Most Exclusive Restaurant in America (Nick Paumgarten, The New Yorker)

I loved this piece so much, as much for how it was written as for what the story is about. Paumgarten takes the reader on a light-hearted journey inside the world of the most exclusive restaurant in the country, if not the world: Damon Baehrel. The place is booked, says the owner for so many years that he has stopped taking reservations. But all is not what it seems—and Paumgarten skillfully draws you in, confuses you, and leads you to a conclusion that you somehow feel is all your own, even though it isn’t. A refreshing interlude on food, facts and when the two don’t quite intersect.


Mike Dang
Longreads Editor-in-Chief and Editor at WordPress.com / Automattic.

How “Silicon Valley” Nails Silicon Valley (Andrew Marantz, The New Yorker)

I don’t know a single person who has watched the HBO comedy “Silicon Valley” who hasn’t given it rave reviews or compared someone they know to one of the characters on the show. Marantz takes us behind-the-scenes, revealing a network of more than 200 consultants, which includes “academics, investors, entrepreneurs, and employees at Google, Amazon, Netflix, and several other tech firms,” who help make the show so good.

Theranos Whistleblower Shook the Company—And His Family (John Carreyrou, Wall Street Journal)

In 2014, Tyler Shultz anonymously emailed a complaint to New York officials who administered a proficiency-testing program in which Theranos, a once promising blood testing company, was enrolled. Shultz complained that Theranos doctored research and ignored failed quality-control checks, and warned his grandfather, former Secretary of State George Shultz, who was serving as a company director, about his misgivings. This is a terrific story about turmoil within a tech company and a prominent family, but I would like to acknowledge John Carreyrou’s consistently impressive reporting on Theranos; his investigative work should win plenty of awards in the coming year.


Sari Botton
Writer, contributing editor to Longreads, editorial director of the non-profit TMI Project, and owner of Kingston Writers’ Studio.

The Clean (Lizzie Feidelson, n+1)

As someone who is forever trying to strike a balance between work-writing that keeps me afloat, and my writing-writing, I loved this nuanced essay from n+1’s Dirty Work issue. It’s by an artist–a dancer, specifically–who finds a day job cleaning people’s houses. She’s working for another artist–a painter–who started the business as a way to leave her Wall Street job, so she could have more time to paint. But that doesn’t seem to be working out, and the painter/owner seems to resent the dancer/worker when the dancer/worker wants to take one week to attend a workshop.


Michelle Weber
Longreads Senior Editor and Editor at WordPress.com / Automattic.

Uncanny Valley (Anna Weiner, n+1)

Take Anna Weiner’s hand and go beyond the world of Silicon Valley to see what the people at those standing desks near the ping-pong table in the middle of a tech start-up’s open-concept office are really talking about. “We escape for drinks and fret about our company culture. ‘Our culture is dying,’ we say gravely, apocalyptic prophets all. ‘What should we do about the culture?'” This on-the nose piece about life, identity, and disillusionment in the Bay Area tech sector could only have been written by someone who (1) has been there and (2) is fearlessly honest.

Well, and (3), is a great writer — although this could come across as overly insular or unrelatable, it doesn’t. She shines a light on the very human desires of the people involved — to engage in work that’s meaningful, to care about what they do, to have financial and emotional stability, to live free of sexism and discrimination — in a way that makes them real and familiar, even if we’ve never been to San Francisco or sent a tweet, let alone stood at a treadmill desk.


See more from our Best of 2016 series