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BuzzFeed, the Ad Model for the Facebook Era?

Longreads Pick

Inside the social media factory created by former Huffington Post cofounder Jonah Peretti—how they’ve cracked viral content, invested in original content, and made money:

“At around 5 p.m., Stopera published ’48 Pictures That Perfectly Capture the ’90s’ on BuzzFeed. ‘These pictures are all that and a bag of chips!’ he wrote at the top of the list. A BuzzFeed visitor with an appetite for ’90s nostalgia could scroll down, gawk at the 48 retro images, read the deadpan captions, recall Bob Saget, Tipper Gore, and Scottie Pippen, laugh at the crazy fashion, and resurface to the present day in a matter of minutes. It racked up 1.2 million page views.”

Source: Businessweek
Published: Mar 22, 2012
Length: 12 minutes (3,208 words)

‘I Feel Closer to My Faith Than I Did Before’: Holding On to Ramadan

PUTRAJAYA, MALAYSIA - JUNE 05: An officer of Malaysia's Islamic authority uses a telescope to perform "rukyah", the sighting of the new moon of Ramadan, in Putrajaya outside Kuala Lumpur on June 5, 2016. Muslims scan the sky at dusk in the beginning of the lunar calendar's ninth month in search of the new moon to proclaim the start of Ramadan, Islam's holiest month during which observant believers fast from dawn to dusk. Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan with the Eid al-Fitr festival. (Photo by Mohd Samsul Mohd Said/Getty Images)

For BuzzFeed Reader, poet and essayist Hanif Abdurraqib considers how holding on to the observance of Ramadan, despite an adulthood spent veering from other aspects of his faith, has been a grounding force in a busy, thoroughly modern life.

I don’t know why Ramadan is the act of faith which has endured for me. I hardly refer to myself as a practicing Muslim these days, but I am still very invested in the rigor of Ramadan. And I suppose that might be it — the rigor is the act I still chase after. A part of this is routine — even when I stopped praying in my early twenties, I found myself still adhering to the commemoration of the holy month. But a part of it, I imagine, is like the home-run hitter who comes to the plate with the bases loaded and his team down by four, swinging for the fences and trying to get it all back at once.

I know the ways in which I fail in the face of my beliefs, and yet I wish to consider myself forgiven once each year, when I wake up early to pray and have a small meal with the sun breaking over the horizon. When I abstain from food and drink and still take a long run. I suppose it has never stopped being a performance, but when I engage in Ramadan now, I feel closer to my faith than I did before. I am performing it for no one but myself, in most instances. I am often traveling, or secluded during the month. My non-Muslim friends and peers rarely know I’m fasting, or often forget. To go about it in solitude is my preferred mode now, when nothing else matters but the monthlong journey back to some emotional center I’ve thought myself to be lacking. When the month ends, I don’t return to a dedicated spiritual practice, and my life resumes as it normally does all other 11 months of the year. But for as many days as it takes the crescent moon to unsheathe itself, I remember all of the old prayers I skipped. I remind myself how to talk to a holy entity. I don’t eat, sure, but the not eating has become the easy part, particularly as I’ve aged. To find the humility to imagine yourself as small in the face of something larger than you is the hard part, and for me, that has little to do with not eating, and more to do with the knowing that you could eat, at any time. That you have the ability and privilege to fill yourself, and you still choose not to. I do this in the name of a faith that I am uncertain of, and haven’t always felt at home in, and that makes the act both more complicated and more fulfilling.

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Wild At Heart

A Bureau of Land Management park ranger tries to corner a steer that escaped from a cattle trailer outside Yuma, Arizona in 2011. (Craig Fry/The Yuma Daily Sun/AP)

Tove DanovichTopic | May 2017 | 12 minutes (2,954 words)

This story is featured in collaboration with Topic, a digital storytelling platform that delivers an original story to your inbox each and every week. Sign up for Topic’s newsletter now.

It was breaking news in New York City. News helicopters thrummed overhead, the police were called in for backup, and a crowd of rubberneckers peered through the chain-link fence at the edge of the Prospect Park soccer field. Over 3,400 viewers watched a livestream online as police exited their vehicles and walked onto the grass, nets in hand, hoping to subdue the escapee: a young chocolate-colored steer with oversize tan ears that stuck straight out from its head, like a disguise that didn’t fit right.

The Brahman steer—one of the most common cattle breeds used in meat processing—had been on the lam since the morning, when it likely escaped from one of South Brooklyn’s live slaughter markets. These aren’t the assembly-line slaughterhouses of factory farming, but rather small establishments where customers can walk up to pens of live chickens, goats, rabbits, and other animals, point to the one they want, and have it killed on the premises. Often such live markets serve immigrant communities used to eating their meat when it’s still fresh, or religious communities who want to ensure their meat was prepared kosher or halal. Apparently, the Prospect Park steer didn’t want to linger long at a place like that.

First, the steer took a breakneck tour of Flatbush and South Park Slope. As early as 8:30 a.m., Twitter lit up with people reporting sightings of the steer as it charged down the sidewalk. “I thought there was nothing new to be seen after a lifetime in NYC,” one woman wrote. Eventually, the little steer got itself into the park, and it was there that the news cameras, and the NYPD, caught up with it. The police tried to use the soccer nets to corral the animal, tipping them over and awkwardly maneuvering the enormous nets around the field. But the steer slipped out of their grasp. This went on for hours. Read more…

Why Beyoncé Placed HBCU’s at the Center of American Life

(Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Coachella)

When Beyoncé strolled onto Coachella’s desert stage like a drum major on the night of April 16, no one was prepared for the spectacle that was to come. There was, of course, the sheer magnitude of it: She wore a cape and crown of painstaking detail, bedazzled by Olivier Rousteing of Balmain, referencing the ageless black regality of Nefertiti and Michael Jackson. Dozens of monochromatically clad dancers joined Bey, along with a drumline with sousaphone and trombone players. It was an ocean of sound and color against the backdrop of bleachers. “‘Let’s do a homecoming,” she reportedly told her choreographers in early rehearsals.

Perhaps we should’ve been ready. Beyoncé, known for rigorous stagecraft, always promises a spectacle. She’s a pop star who sings soul, although she hasn’t ever tried to be earthy or minimalist like Erykah Badu or Jill Scott, two artists whose work I can tell she pays attention to. I’m sure Beyoncé could pull off a full-length, stripped down, acoustic album if she wanted, but she’s always seemed willfully extra. Her sound is emotive, melismatic, acrobatic, and her visuals are similarly bombastic — a lot of hair, plenty of ass and sweat, and more than a few wardrobe changes.

Yet some of my favorite moments of her career are when she’s focused on fundamentals. Keeping the beat on her lap while performing “Halo” at a children’s hospital, ad-libbing on Frank Ocean’s “Pink and White,” harmonizing on the relaxed, minor-note groove of Destiny’s Child deep cuts like “Get on the Bus,” and “Confessions”. You notice her ear for complex harmonies, the strength of her lower register, the sense of rhythm that makes the delivery of her hooks sticky, and the staccato of her cadences — along with everything else she’s capable of, she’s also more than competent as a rapper.

What I loved most about Bey at Coachella was how her performance drew out elements that have been important in her art for the past 20 years and took them to their logical conclusion — or rather, to their true beginning. She’s long had a brassiness in her voice and she’s always mined black, Southern ways of being for her work. When her sister’s meditative album A Seat at the Table climbed the charts alongside Lemonade in 2016, both of which explicitly pulsed with a brazen black consciousness, Solange told the public not to be surprised. “I’m really proud of my sister and I’m really proud of her record and her work and I’ve always been,” she said to Fader. “As far as I’m concerned, she’s always been an activist from the beginning of her career and she’s always been very, very black.”

If you’re black and from the South, it feels like the culture of HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) is in the ether. They are spaces you can’t ignore and wouldn’t want to. Beyoncé was born in Houston and her father graduated from Fisk University. When she was a child in the 1980s and 90s, Spike Lee joints came out almost every other year, and Lee never let us forget that he’d gone to Morehouse, the way Morehouse men are wont to do. The culture of HBCU’s and black Greek life was everywhere: Lee’s 1988 film School Daze and the 1987 TV series A Different World shared similar themes and a few principal cast members, including Jasmine Guy, who was head of the Gamma Ray sorority in the former and iconic B.A.P. Whitley Gilbert in the latter.

That Beyoncé chooses to highlight the specific culture of HBCUs and black Greek life shouldn’t really surprise us, either, and if it does, it feels to me as if we haven’t really been paying attention. A host of black artists have seen black college culture as ripe for the imaginary. At JSTOR Daily, Lavelle Porter reminds us that it was taken up by novelists Ralph Ellison and Nella Larsen at the beginning of the century, and later, by the creators of films and shows like Drumline, Stomp the Yard, and The Quad. To that list,we could add Janelle Monáe, who depicted HBCU life in her 2013 music video “Electric Lady,” as well as Kanye West, whose mother got degrees from Virginia Union and Atlanta University and was the head of the English department at Chicago State for six years.

Growing up, my older sister ran a small business selling Afrocentric gifts and black Greek paraphernalia at Classic ballgames and other events throughout the South. This was the early 90s, when Kenté cloth and Malcolm X fitted caps and medallions were everywhere. One of the T-shirts in our inventory read “The Blacker the College, the Sweeter the Knowledge,” a riff on an old saying about blackness and fecund soulfulness. At a well-attended event at Memphis’ Cook Convention Center, a customer looked me in the eyes and said she knew the future was secure since I’d been such an eloquent and competent salesperson for a fifth grader.

My sophomore year of high school, I visited a few Southern and East coast colleges, both HBCUs and PWIs, on a tour bus with a church group. Spelman felt like home in a way that I didn’t know a place of learning could. Missy Elliot videos played in a student center, women who looked and sounded like people I loved carried full backpacks, answered our questions. When we got to Howard, we were giddy. It was a Friday afternoon in the late spring, and we spent a long time out on the green, buzzing Yard.

Part of the reason I didn’t go to an HBCU was that I was so familiar with them. Now, I wonder what I could have been had I let myself bask in that kind of affirmation for a little bit longer. Nonetheless, I was pretty sure that who I was — a nerdy, bespectacled daughter of a poor-to-working class single mother, wouldn’t easily fit in at one those campuses.

My experiences with wealthier black families in Memphis — and watching Bill Cosby’s shows — made it clear that I needed to aspire to a pristine, black middle-class ideal. I think Cosby’s crimes have given us an opportunity to think about the limits of some of our sacred black spaces, how the pressure to be respectable can force you to abandon or question or edit yourself if you’re poor, or queer, or anything else. By associating herself with HBCUs, Beyoncé challenges those mores with her self-avowed feminist, queer-loving and blatantly sexual art. She helps expand the possibilities of what it looks like to be a black thinking person.

That she chose to share this at Coachella, with its largely wealthy, white audience, wasn’t exactly a disruption. I truly believe that her performance placed HBCUs and black Greek culture at the center of American life, and that’s where they belong. Today, there are 102 HBCUs, a mix of private and public institutions. Most have some relationship with federal or state funding, and none have endowments like those of the oldest, private universities in the northeast, many of which are uncovering their ties to slavery.  The share of black college students enrolled in HBCUs has declined in recent years, but the schools do more than their share of the work — enrolling about 9 percent of the nation’s black undergraduates and graduating about 15 percent of them.

They are also American institutions that have an important relationship with our nation’s long march towards democracy. According to W.E.B. Du Bois in his 1935 essay Black Reconstruction:

The first great mass movement for public education at the expense of the state, in the South, came from Negroes. Many leaders before the war had advocated general education, but few had been listened to. Schools for indigents and paupers were supported, here and there, and more or less spasmodically. Some states had elaborate plans, but they were not carried out. Public education for all at public expense, was, in the South, a Negro idea.

Before this mass movement, the South’s leadership did not believe in the “educability of the poor,” and much of the white laboring class in the region saw no need for it, mired as they were in the plantation system’s feudalism. State by state, Reconstruction governments set up tax-based schools that would be open to all. There was resistance to nearly all of this — to the idea of blacks becoming educated, to whites teaching blacks, to the black and white students sharing facilities. As a compromise, secondary schools and colleges were opened specifically to train black teachers. Fisk University opened in 1866, and Howard University was founded in 1867, partly funded by the Freedman’s Bureau. Du Bois said these institutions “became the centers of a training in leadership and ideals for the whole Negro race, and the only fine and natural field of contact between white and black culture.”

A few studies have shown that throughout the world, compulsory education increases voter participation, and increases in education predict social engagement in the sort of groups and organizations that do critical grassroots work. The push for education on the part of emancipated blacks, then, can be considered a driving force in the ever-widening democratization of American life.

Beyoncé’s Coachella sets were a correction to the erasure and historical amnesia that make us feel like she could possibly disrupt something that her forebears had such a heavy hand in creating.

For further reading:

A Kendrick Lamar Syllabus

Kendrick Lamar performs at the Grammys on January 28, 2018. (Christopher Polk/Getty Images for NARAS)

Last month, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth won the Pulitzer Prize in music for his 2017 album DAMN. It’s the first work of hip-hop to be commended since the award for musical composition was created in 1943. Most winners have been classical musicians, and a few, like Wynton Marsalis and Ornette Coleman, composers of jazz.

The Pulitzer board noted that DAMN. “offers affecting vignettes capturing the complexity of modern African-American life.” The album’s selection updates and redefines conceptions of music and high culture — it is canon expanding and its reverberations and aftershocks should be significant.

DAMN. is Lamar’s third album, and while it is spectacular, I don’t think it’s his most thrilling. good kid m.A.A.d. city, from 2012, succeeds more on the plane of hip-hop aesthetics, with its structurally sound story arc. To Pimp a Butterfly, from 2015, was more melodically lush, and it magnetized a rising tide of political fervor: The single “Alright” became a protest anthem, and every major release by a popular black musician afterward seemed to form a politically-charged chorus.

Lamar has made a career of delivering prescient, complex work that is sometimes fiery and discordant, and other times deeply meditative or grief-stricken. But his work always feels honest, as writers have found when they dive deep into his literary influences. With the significance of his Pulitzer in sight, I offer a small selection of the insightful writing on Lamar that has published in the years since his debut.
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End the White House Correspondents’ Dinner

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at the 2018 White House Correspondents' Dinner. Photo Credit: Tasos Katopodis / Getty Images Stringer

The White House Correspondents’ Dinner happened this weekend and mostly no one cared, rightly, until some journalists thought it was a good idea to criticize a comedian for telling the truth, which is what both comedians and journalists are supposed to do.

Michelle Wolf was the comedian at this year’s dinner, and made some jokes about White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders that were both funny and pointed, in that they pointed directly at Sanders’ penchant for lying to the press.

“I actually really like Sarah,” Wolf said. “I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.” Read more…

Could Paulette Jordan of Idaho Become the Country’s First Native American Governor?

LAS VEGAS, NV - JANUARY 21: State Rep. Paulette Jordan (D-ID) speaks during the Women's March "Power to the Polls" voter registration tour launch at Sam Boyd Stadium on January 21, 2018, in Las Vegas, Nevada. Demonstrators across the nation gathered over the weekend, one year after the historic Women's March on Washington, D.C., to protest President Donald Trump's administration and to raise awareness for women's issues. (Photo by Sam Morris/Getty Images)

For BuzzFeedAnne Helen Petersen profiles Idaho gubernatorial candidate and former state representative Paulette Jordan, whose left-of-center views are an anomaly in a region that has been a Republican stronghold for decades. She’s a woman of color in a state that is 82% white, and at 38, nearly half the age of A.J. Balukoff, her opponent for the Democratic nomination. Jordan grew up in a ranching family on the Coeur d’Alene Reservation, began her political career on a tribal council, and developed a reputation in the state legislature for reaching across party lines. She’d become the U.S.’s first Native American governor if elected; Petersen describes how Jordan represents a new model of leadership.

When people meet [Paulette] Jordan, they often assume she’s younger than her 38 years. But she emphasizes that she has more than a decade of experience, on the local, state, and national levels — it’s just that much of that experience was tribal, and often ignored as a form of governance, leadership, or service. Words like “tribal” and “Indian” aren’t included within the (white, male-dominated) spheres of “experience,” especially when it comes to preparation for political office. (Natives aren’t the only ones who see their experience cut out of those definitions. As A’shanti Gholar, political director for Emerge America, told Newsweek, “When people think about a successful candidate, they still tend to imagine a straight white man as the person to get the job done.”)

“I have ten years of elected experience,” Jordan emphasizes. “For [opponent] [Balukoff] to try and suggest otherwise is dishonest. I think women — and men! — should be disgusted for him to say that a woman with leadership experience should step aside. That I should ‘wait my turn.’”

“I think we’re done with that,” Jordan said. “This is a generation that says, we’re not going to tolerate old white men telling us to step aside anymore. This is when it’s time for us to take action — and to lead.”

As much as her name, and her campaign, is preceded by “first Native American woman,” Jordan doesn’t see herself uniquely in those terms. “I never really bring it up,” she told me. “Other people do. Maybe they like the idea. Which is fine. I want people to see beyond my race and my color and know that I actually have had a strong career. I want them to understand that when I do make a decision, they might slightly disagree, but they’ll know why I made it.”

The chance to support a history-making candidate is an effective hook, and one that Jordan’s own campaign has embraced in its online rhetoric. Sometimes, however, it can elide, or displace, her greater policy ideas. When asked what they liked about Jordan, attendees at her Boise fundraiser responded with variations on, “Wouldn’t it be incredible for Idaho to have a female governor?” and “I like what she stands for.” Most also identified as progressives and early supporters of Bernie Sanders, who won the Idaho Democratic caucus with 78% of the votes.

While Jordan’s policy positions have been labeled progressive, she resists comparisons to Sanders. And it’s hard to evaluate the aptness of the comparison, as Jordan’s positions, like many candidates still in the primary, remain vague. She’s for increasing the minimum wage in the state, which is currently the lowest in the West, but is more focused on promoting educational training opportunities for highly skilled, more sustainable jobs. She wants to invest more in education, especially in rural areas, as a means of attracting businesses and sustaining the rural economy. She vows not to “shy away from the topic of discrimination” and to “promote legislation that ensures people feel safe and heard.”

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Maybe We’re the Circle


Megan Stielstra with Nicole Piasecki | Longreads | April 2018 | 18 minutes (4,936 words)


This is the third in a three-part series on gun violence.

In part one, long after the shooting at her old high school, Megan Stielstra worries about her father’s heart.

In part two, Nicole Piasecki writes a letter to the wife of the shooter who killed her father.

In part three, Megan and Nicole talk about the shooting that changed their lives, who owns the story, and what to do with fear. 

* * *

On December 16th, 1993 there was a shooting at my high school in Chelsea, Michigan. A sleepy little town west of Ann Arbor, the reporter called it. I was a freshman in college. I watched it unfold on the national news from a thousand miles away. This was years before Twitter, before we all had cell phones in our pockets. I couldn’t get through to anyone at home. I couldn’t find out what had happened. One fatality, said the reporter. A local school administrator.

My father was a local school administrator.

Hours later, I heard his voice on the phone. Anyone who has been through such waiting knows that planet of relief. But here’s the brutal truth: as I learned that my dad was alive, another girl learned that hers was not. Our superintendent and friend, Joe Piasecki, was killed that day. He had a daughter a year younger than me. Her name was Nicole.

I’ve thought about writing to her at least a hundred times.

“Here,” I would say. “Here is my heart.”

A few years ago I started working on an essay about my relationship with my dad. He lives on an island now in the Gulf of Alaska. He had heart problems while hunting in the mountains, and, after surgery, went right back up. I was angry at the risks I thought he was taking with his health. I was scared I would lose him and I didn’t know what to do with that fear, but I learned something in the writing about the choices we make to keep living. He’d quit his job and moved to Alaska not long after the shooting. He needed those miles. He needed that mountain. I get that now.

After I finished a draft, I looked Nicole up online. She’s a writer now, and a writing teacher, same as me. How do you start with someone you haven’t spoken with in 20 years? I wrote. I sent her the essay, asking if she wanted me to change anything, cut anything, leave it in a drawer. I’d never given anyone that kind of power over my work but in in this case it felt vital. It didn’t matter who I was as a writer. It mattered who I was as a person.
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The Top 5 Longreads of the Week

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Jeffrey Greenberg / UIG via Getty Images

This week, we’re sharing stories from Chelsea G. Summers, Linda Villarosa, Ben Smith, Chappell Ellison, and Louisa Thomas.

Sign up to receive this list free every Friday in your inbox. Read more…