We asked writers and editors to choose some of their favorite stories of the year in various categories. Here is the best in business writing.
Articles editor, The Washington Post Magazine
The State With the Highest Suicide Rate Desperately Needs Shrinks (Monte Reel, Bloomberg Businessweek)
This isn’t a traditional business piece — in the sense that it’s not a profile of a kooky founder or a growing industry, or an investigation into corporate wrongdoing, or a capitalist reckoning. It’s a wrenching read about what happens when a job market/industry (in this case, mental health) slowly folds in on itself while demand for that industry’s services and providers grows dramatically. Monte Reel’s profile of the one psychiatrist in eastern Montana (Joan “Mutt” Dickson, whose grit will stick with you) covers so many other pressing American problems: addiction, guns, depression, anxiety, burnout. Reel’s portrait of Dickson’s work — and his mastery of the background forces at play — is a grim-but-captivating look at what the dearth of mental health resources in the rural and mountain West means.
Features Director at WIRED Magazine, curator at WIRED Health, and author of the book, Game Changers: How a Team of Underdogs and Scientists Discovered What it Takes to Win.
WeFail: How the doomed Masa Son-Adam Neumann relationship set WeWork on the road to disaster (Katrina Brooker, Fast Company)
The debacle of WeWork, a company that rents out office space but portrays itself as a new breed of technology company, is one of the business stories of the year, possessing many dramatic elements of the quintessential Silicon Valley drama: a tech bro CEO (Adam Neumann) with a grandiose sense of self-entitlement, outlandish corporate shenanigans, and an IPO fiasco. And yet, WeWork is but a mere chapter in the bigger narrative of Softbank, the Japanese conglomerate led by Masayoshi Son, a charismatic leader with a grand 300-year vision of the future and a $100 billion fund to realise it. This compelling feature story recounts the relationship between Son and Neumann, whose character arc from prodigal son to pariah is propelled by his flawed instinct that he was born for this.
Independent journalist writing about the economy and contributing op-ed writer at The New York Times.
Life, Death and Insulin (Tiffany Stanley, The Washington Post Magazine)
The story behind the bloated price of insulin is one of economic concentration, government regulation, and corporate greed. But it’s also a human story with a body count. This article deftly weaves the history and data behind the soaring cost of insulin, an exemplar of rising prescription drug costs generally, with a moving story of one family devastated by these larger forces. And it makes the damning case that as pharmaceutical companies keep raising drug prices, people are dying and leaving ripples of grief in their wake.
Can a $1,300 baby bed make me a better mom? (Alissa Walker, Curbed)
If you become a new parent, you will very soon hear people talk about the Snoo, the celebrity-backed, venture capital-funded $1,300 smart bassinette that supposedly cracks the biggest of all parenting codes: getting infants to sleep. But in what purports to be a look at this particular consumer product ends up being a thoughtful examination of how the structures we exist within, particularly in the United States, make sleeping, working, and keeping a baby healthy and alive all incompatible with each other. While this dilemma creates a consumer market of desperate parents, there is no product that alone can fix it.
Associate editor, The New York Times Magazine
Pimple patches are everywhere, but do they work? (Cheryl Wischhover, The Goods by Vox)
This story about pimple patches combines several of my personal obsessions and locates it within a larger market/consumer phenomenon so marvelously, I’m left grinning in awe (and a little healthy envy, let’s be frank). At its core this is a story about why a simple war wound first-aid technology is all of a sudden being sold as a skincare treatment, but it also illustrates the darker tendencies of unchecked profiteering, and how corporations know exactly what hollow buzzwords to deploy (“skin positivity”) to convince frustrated shoppers into spending $30 for a sheet of novelty silicone stickers. All I ask for is that someone pierce the seething, bubbling mass of unscientific nonsense that is perpetrated in the free-for-all grift economy of the beauty market, and Cheryl regularly does it, while also managing to bring great humor and delight to it.
The Adults in the Room (Megan Greenwell, Deadspin)
Before dozens of staffers walked out right behind her, Deadspin’s former Editor in Chief Megan Greenwell conducted her own exit interview after resigning from her position in August 2019. In this courageous farewell column, she diagnoses why so many media owners are unfit to be in the business of journalism, despite the woefully misguided trend of private equity firms purchasing “cheap” media companies as just another asset to flip in an investment portfolio. In the eyes of the already-wealthy, turning a profit — practicing the quaint art of adequately resourcing, supporting, and otherwise getting out of the way of a thriving business run by trustworthy professionals — pales in comparison to the bottomless project of turning wealth into more wealth.
The 1619 Project (Nikole Hannah-Jones, Matthew Desmond, and Trymaine Lee, The New York Times Magazine)
By any measure, The 1619 Project, a visionary initiative that examines the legacy of slavery in America on the 400th anniversary of its brutal beginning, is one of the major accomplishments of the year. Three essays in particular offer essential histories that are key to understanding American capitalism today: Nikole Hannah-Jones‘ opening essay on the nation’s founding, Matthew Desmond‘s essay on plantation economies, and Trymaine Lee‘s essay on the racial wealth gap. Heirs born into this wealth have maintained whitewashed delusions for centuries, refusing to acknowledge that economic prosperity in this country could never have existed without so much systemic, generational violence. Each of these essays haunts any based-on-an-untrue-story American business narrative that relies on sidestepping an honest accounting of overdue reparations. Together, all three serve as a blanket correction to business writing that omits slavery from the historical ledger.
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