Category Archives: Author Notes

How to Report on the Life of a 13-Year-Old

There must be few journalistic feats more difficult than getting inside the head of a teenager. But with “13, Right Now,” Washington Post staff writer Jessica Contrera joins the ranks of reporters who have skillfully chronicled the lives of children and teens, including Susan Orlean (read her classic Esquire piece, “The American Man, Age 10”) and more recently, Andrea Elliott, whose “Invisible Child” for the New York Times in 2013 documented the life of an 11-year-old homeless girl named Dasani.

Contrera’s story focuses on Katherine, 13, whose life has been upended by the death of her mother, and whose world seems to increasingly exist inside her phone—through apps like Instagram and Snapchat. (As an #old myself, seeing Katherine’s life revolve around her social networks is shocking only in the way it mirrors the screen addiction of the American grown-up. It practically begs for the return of the “I learned it by watching you” meme.)

I spoke to Contrera about her story, which is one in an ongoing series (“The Screen Age”) that the Post will publish throughout the summer. Read more…

In Praise of Public Pitching

I’ve always been fascinated by how narrative journalism gets commissioned, reported, and published–but the most perplexing part of the entire system is the continued power imbalance between writers and publishers.

This imbalance persists in spite of the internet “democratizing” publishing. More digital publishers are embracing feature writing, but the process behind the scenes feels stuck in the past–a time-consuming marathon of unanswered emails and rejection. Read more…

How Sarah Schweitzer Discovered the Story About a Boy Rescued from Near-Fatal Abuse

There are stories that creep up and remind us that there is no substitute in journalism for simply spending time with a subject. It’s a luxury many reporters don’t get, but what these stories reveal about the depth of humanity—the best and worst sides of it—make them so worth it.

The Boston Globe’s Sarah Schweitzer was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for last year’s “Chasing Bayla,” and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see her nominated again for “The Life and Times of Strider Wolf,” in which she and photographer Jessica Rinaldi documented the difficult life of a young boy and his brother, rescued from near-fatal abuse, and sent to live with their grandparents, who face their own troubles. I sent her a few follow-up questions via email: Read more…

How the ACLU Came to Publish a Powerful Piece of Investigative Journalism

“Out of the Darkness” is not an easy story to read. It chronicles how two psychologists who had previously devoted their careers to training US troops to resist abusive interrogation tactics teamed up with the CIA to devise a torture program and experiment on human beings. The story is a torrent of information artfully webbed into a fluid narrative, fleshed out with specific, vivid details. It has all the elements we’ve come to expect from strong investigative longform journalism, albeit from an unlikely outlet: The American Civil Liberties Union.

One doesn’t typically think of the ACLU as a journalism outlet, so I reached out to the story’s author, Noa Yachot, to hear more about how the piece came about, and the ACLU’s role as publisher (the story was also syndicated on Medium). Yachot is a communications strategist at the ACLU, and she spoke to Longreads via email. Read more…

Postscript: A Secret Society Shuts Its Doors

What happened inside the Latitude Society? In September, we featured a Longreads Original by Rick Paulas, “‘We Value Experience,’” which told the story of artist/entrepreneur Jeff Hull and his group’s attempts to build a sustainable “secret society” in the Bay Area. Paulas has shared the following postscript on what happened after his story about the group went public.

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Five days after my article went up at Longreads (“’We Value Experience’: Can A Secret Society Become a Business?”, 9/24/15), visitors to The Latitude’s website were met with the following prompt:

latitudeclose Read more…