It requires mettle to be an investigative reporter, and the best in the business channel that fortitude into stories worthy of the subject matter — stories written with bravery, precision, and empathy. Our picks on this list, as well as a few suggested by the writers themselves, examine sexual violence, drug addiction, and government policy that destroys families, among other topics. It’s dark stuff, but in the hands of these writers, the stories sing. The tunes may be mournful, but they’re also gorgeous. You’ll want to listen until the final notes.

Kate Price Remembers Something Terrible

Janelle Nanos | The Boston Globe Magazine | July 28, 2022 | 11,329 words

“Even if many of us never find them again, they may never really be lost,” writes Janelle Nanos about our memories. For most of her life, Kate Price had felt, deep in her body, that she had been wronged when she was a child. When she met Nanos in 2012, Price had already spent decades interrogating her own memory and history, but together — as journalist and survivor — they embarked on a journey to make sense of Price’s childhood, and to find evidence that she was sexually abused by her father and maternal grandfather, and sold for sex to truckers who drove through Pennsylvania. It’s a challenging read about child abuse, long-lasting trauma, memory, and family, but also a remarkably told story 10 years in the making about a woman who risked everything to discover the truth, and who defied the odds and has managed to build a happy life. The piece plays eerie visual tricks on the reader’s eye, from Erin Clark’s double-exposure photos to subtly moving layouts that make you question what you’re seeing; this imagery, combined with audio clips, take you deep into this incredible story. —Cheri Lucas Rowlands

Janelle Nanos recommends two reads about family, loss, and memory:

We Had Such Trust, We Feel Such Fools” by Merope Mills in The Guardian

This horrific story about a UK hospital’s failure to save the life of a young child — written by the child’s mother — was for me a reminder that it’s important to trust your own instincts when facing a medical crisis in order to ensure that your loved ones get the care they need. 

Our Daughter Had a Year Left to Live” by Myra Sack in The Boston Globe Magazine

This essay made me smile and weep, and brought on a cascade of other emotions as I thought about the prospect of what I’d do if facing a similar challenge with my own children. It was written by the mother of a child diagnosed with Tay-Sachs disease who decided to celebrate her with a lifetime’s worth of birthdays.

“We Need to Take Away Children.”

Caitlin Dickerson | The Atlantic | August 8th, 2022 | 28,600 words

In my original blurb for this story, when it was featured in Longreads’ Top 5 newsletter, I wrote that Caitlin Dickerson’s “examination of the Trump administration’s family separation policy is a reporting tour de force and an American horror story that should be read and studied as long as the republic stands.” I remain steadfast in this belief. Assign it in journalism classes, government seminars, law courses, social work degree programs. Every American should know this story and grapple with its devastating contents. And, lest we act like we’re past the cruelty that Dickerson so masterfully unveils, family separation is still happening. Read this story, then use it to fuel demands that policymakers and law enforcement cease family separation once and for all. —Seyward Darby

How a Massacre of Nearly 300 in Syria Was Revealed

Ümit Üngör and Annsar Shahhoud | New Lines Magazine | April 27, 2022 | 7,881 words

This piece instantly came to mind when I thought about investigative reporting. It’s haunted me. A harrowing read, it begins with a description of the videos that inspired Ümit Üngör and Annsar Shahhoud to start the investigation: two men, in broad daylight, executing 41 civilians and dumping the bodies in a pre-dug pit prepared with car tires for incineration. Detailed vividly, I warn it contains upsetting descriptions of violence. The callousness of these videos stood out for Üngör and Shahhoud, even though, as researchers of mass violence and genocide in Syria and elsewhere, they have watched thousands of hours of distressing footage. For previous research, they had created a Facebook profile of a young, pro-regime woman from an Alawite middle-class family — “Anna” — and used her to interview dozens of Assad’s perpetrators. After narrowing their scope with on-the-ground research, they scoured Facebook with this profile, finally recognizing the main shooter from the videos in a photo. Friending him on Facebook messenger, “Anna” leads him on a catfish dance for months before finally approaching the topic of the massacre and convincing him to confess that he “killed a lot of people.” Tracking down a killer and getting him to admit the soul-destroying acts he has committed is an impressive feat. But it took a toll, and to learn more about what Üngör and Shahhoud went through during the investigation, listen to The Guardian‘s podcast series “Searching for the Shadow Man” — they could not keep “Anna” alive for much longer. —Carolyn Wells


Paula Lavigne and Tom Junod | ESPN | April 11, 2022 | 31,519 words

There are few sports scandals more horrifying than Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky being indicted in 2011 for the sexual abuse of dozens of young boys. It killed the program’s reputation; it led to the ouster of legendary head coach Joe Paterno, a man revered in the town of State College and beyond. But decades before, the Penn State football system met another monster in its midst. Todd Hodne, a young and aggressive defenseman, was arrested for rape in 1978. Paterno ousted him from the locker room, but the end of Hodne’s football career didn’t mean the end of his atrocities. With patience and empathy, Lavigne and Junod piece together the saga in an investigation that’s something more than a magazine story. For the women who crossed Hodne’s ruinous path, it’s an exorcism, a defiant testimonial that desecration doesn’t have to mean destruction. For the reader, it’s a crucial reminder that the sports world has a way of coddling even its outcasts. And for the journalists who searched and listened and wrote this outstanding work, it’s yet another laurel in their already legendary careers. Between the ongoing true-crime podcast wave and Netflix phenomena like Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story, it’s clear that our society has developed a lurid fixation with serially violent men. “Untold” will help you remember that every voyeuristic frisson comes at the price of another person’s life. —Peter Rubin

Tom Junod on his favorite investigation of the year:

Sources: Commanders Boss Snyder Claims ‘Dirt’ on NFL Owners, Goodell” by Seth Wickersham, Don Van Natta, and Tisha Thompson in ESPN

Full disclosure: The people who wrote this are my friends and colleagues at ESPN. But my admiration for this story about NFL owner Daniel Snyder goes well beyond the personal. Simply put: The question that the writers started with was provocative enough — with all of Snyder’s baggage, why doesn’t the NFL just get rid of him? But the answer was, literally, jaw-dropping: Snyder remains an NFL owner because he’s let it be known that he’s investigated all the other owners. I mean, when I read that, I’ll admit that I was like, “Holy cow — these guys better have the goods.” That they had the goods is proven by all the disclosures that keep following in the original story’s wake, and the fact that Snyder is putting the Washington Commanders up for sale. But even more telling is the experience of reading the story. Sure, it has all the investigative revelations promised by its rather ungainly digital title. But it’s also an expert exercise in melding investigative and narrative journalism, one that, by its end, convinces readers that they know very little about how rich and powerful people live — about what they value and what they might be willing to destroy. 

‘These Kids Are Dying’ — Inside the Overdose Crisis Sweeping Fort Bragg

Seth Harp | Rolling Stone | September 4, 2022 | 5,922 words

They’re young, healthy members of the U.S. Army stationed at Fort Bragg. So why are far too many of them dying by accidental fentanyl overdose? That’s the question that Seth Harp set out to answer in this deeply reported piece for Rolling Stone, but he ended up discovering much more about the needless reasons Fort Bragg soldiers are dying while stateside, despite a lack of transparency from top brass at the military installation. Is it the nature of the work at a place that houses mostly “male soldiers in combat-arms units”? Could the personality traits that make for elite soldiers make them more likely to dismiss the risks of drug use? Could the horrors of serving in Afghanistan and the recent U.S. withdrawal have spawned trauma that causes soldiers to self-medicate? In this unflinching piece, Harp does the work to try to find out and call the U.S. Army to account. Aside from the accidental overdose crisis killing soldiers at Fort Bragg, perhaps Harp’s most alarming discovery is about the most common way that soldiers stationed there die: “Forty-one Fort Bragg soldiers took their own lives in 2020 and 2021, making suicide the leading cause of death. A spokesman for the Army, Matthew Leonard, confirmed that no other base has ever recorded a higher two-year suicide toll.” —Krista Stevens

You can also browse all of our year-end collections since 2011 in one place.