Search Results for: Journalism

Nikole Hannah-Jones, a Mega-Donor, and the Future of Journalism

Longreads Pick

“UNC-Chapel Hill’s largest journalism-school donor warned against Nikole Hannah-Jones’ hiring. Their divergent views represent a new front in the debate over objectivity and the future of the field.”

Source: The Assembly
Published: May 30, 2021
Length: 12 minutes (3,000 words)

“The Final Five Percent” Wins 2020 Science in Society Journalism Award

Tim Requarth, author of "The Final Five Percent."

We’re delighted to announce that Tim Requarth‘s piece, “The Final Five Percent,” won the 2020 Science in Society Journalism Award in the Longform Narratives category. For Tim, who holds a PhD in neuroscience, “The Final Five Percent” is both personal and professional. It recounts how his brother has coped in the decade since a traumatic brain injury permanently altered his personality. Here’s what the National Science Writers Association and the judges had to say about Tim’s piece:

“In ‘The Final Five Percent,’ published by Longreads in October 2019, Tim Requarth chronicles the catastrophic motorcycle accident that befalls his brother and the debilitating changes to his brother’s personality that emerge as he recovers most of his brain function in the weeks after the accident. The essay interweaves an intimate portrayal of the complexities of his brother’s life both before and after the accident, and of their sibling relationship, with what’s known about neuroscience of recklessness. ‘The Final Five Percent gripped us from its first paragraphs,’ write the judges. ‘This piece tackles the serious health mysteries around brain injury and explores the human consequences of that science in a way that is clear, nuanced, and emotionally devastating.'”

Be sure to check out Tim’s work elsewhere:

This piece was edited by Michelle Weber, fact checked by Sam Schuyler and Jason Stavers, and copy edited by Jacob Gross.

How Covid Is Decimating British Music Journalism

AP Photo/Mark Lennihan

Few countries have a more robust culture of music journalism than England. “Music is such an inescapable part of the British cultural landscape,” journalist Pat Long writes in the book about the famous music weekly NME, “that it’s strange to think of a time when it wasn’t ghettoised in a weekly newspaper, when families didn’t spend their summer attending well-provisioned inter-generational rock festivals, when parents didn’t swap music with their teenage children.” Imagination is no longer necessary. British listeners have no concerts to attend. Advertisers have no events to sell. And with few stores open to sell physical issues of magazines, Covid-19 is threatening UK music publications, from Uncut to Metal Hammer, the way it has so many communities and business. For The Guardian, Laura Snapes writes about how British music publications are struggling during the pandemic, how they are working together, and what it might take to survive.

Music magazines have “been on the edge of sustainability” for a long time, says Douglas McCabe, of the media research group Enders Analysis. Print advertising has dwindled. There are plentiful free online publications. Key titles have closed: in 2018, NME axed its 66-year print incarnation (the brand survives online). Every year brings headlines about shrinking sales figures.

But many British music magazine editors and publishers say they were thriving in straitened times, at least before the pandemic. “The huge drop-off that most magazines experienced in the early 2010s has, relatively speaking, flattened out for many brands,” says the editor of Metal Hammer, Merlin Alderslade. “Most of our issues in 2019 were actually up year on year.”

Paul Geoghegan, the editor of global music magazine Songlines and managing director of Mark Allen Group music publications including Gramophone and Jazzwise, said the brand’s titles were sustainable before March. Stuart Williams, the publisher at Future Publishing – home to publications including Classic Rock and Metal Hammer – said its 13 music titles were profitable in April 2020, “when half the shops in the UK were closed and the population was barely allowed out.”

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Ira Glass’s Commencement Speech at the Columbia Journalism School Graduation

Longreads Pick

Ira Glass challenges young journalists to tear up old models and find new ways to fight the “massive machine churning out non-factual stories” and come up with “new ideas about how to reach people and what to reach them with.”

Author: Ira Glass
Published: May 17, 2018
Length: 22 minutes (5,503 words)

My Own Bad Story: I Thought Journalism Would Make a Hero Out of Me

Longreads Pick

In an essay from his new collection: Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country, Dear Sugars co-host Steve Almond considers his beginnings in journalism through the lens of the “bad stories” he believes delivered our country to the Trump era. Accompanied by a Longreads Podcast interview with Essays Editor Sari Botton.

Source: Longreads
Published: Apr 3, 2018
Length: 8 minutes (2,223 words)

My Own ‘Bad Story’: I Thought Journalism Would Make a Hero of Me

Getty / Photo illustration by Katie Kosma

Steve Almond | Bad Stories | Red Hen Press | April 2018 | 9 minutes (2,223 words)

Since November 8th, 2016, like so many other Americans, I’ve lived in a state of utter shock and disbelief over the results of the presidential election and everything that’s followed. Author Steve Almond found himself equally bewildered, but after wallowing in dread for a few weeks, he decided to try to make sense of what happened through the lens he’s most familiar with as a journalist, author, and co-host of the New York Times ‘Dear Sugars’ podcast: story.  The result is his new book, Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to Our Country, in which he contends that the election of a racist, misogynist, bullying con artist like Donald Trump wasn’t just possible; it was inevitable. He says it’s the result, in part, of our buying into a litany of “bad stories” — about our country and its history, and ourselves. In 17 essays, the book covers vast swaths of American history, from the birth of the nation, to Watergate to now. Here I’ve picked an excerpt of the book in which Steve focuses on his own “bad story,” and those put forth by the Fourth Estate, having to do with his years as a young journalist. I also spoke with Steve for an edition of the Longreads Podcast. – Sari Botton, Essays Editor

Listen to the Longreads Podcast Interview with Steve Almond here:


I spent the first half of my adult life almost comically devoted to the belief that journalism would preserve American democracy. I still believe in the sacred duties of a free press. But if I’m honest about my own experiences in the field, the lessons that emerge most vividly are these:

1. Reporters are no more virtuous than anyone else, and often less so

2. Journalism hardly ever tells the most important stories

3. Even when it does, not much happens


Consider this story: the summer before my last year in college, I took an internship at the Meriden Record-Journal, a tiny paper in central Connecticut. I was asked, toward the end of my tenure, to undertake what sounded like an ambitious project: documenting 24 hours in the life of the city. I was teamed with a veteran reporter named Richard Hanley, an energetic psychopath who sustained himself on a diet of steamed cheeseburgers and Kent cigarettes and who, wisely, consigned me to the graveyard shift.

Had I been serious about this assignment, I would have consulted with police, city officials, maybe a historian to map out an itinerary. I would have hung out with workers on an overnight factory shift, tagged along with a cop, visited an emergency room or a jail or a radio station or a homeless shelter. Instead, I spent most of the night camped in diners and donut shops, cadging quotes from bleary waitresses, then roaming the empty downtown waiting, I suppose, for the essence of Meriden, Connecticut to descend from the dark summer sky and reveal itself, like an arch angel. I eventually retired to the bucket seats of my Mercury Bobcat.

This piece stays with me, I think, because it begins to capture the audacious fallacy at the heart of modern journalism, the idea that a subjective (and frankly haphazard) account of one night in Meriden, compiled by a lazy 20-year-old who has never even lived in the city, can be touted as a definitive version of the place.

Or maybe the lesson is this: my bosses actually liked the story I handed in. The executive editor later called me into his office. He was a towering silver-haired reptile, reviled by that entire small, ill-tempered newsroom. But he looked upon me fondly, probably because I was obsequious and poorly dressed. He floated the idea that I drop out of school and come to work full-time for him. When I demurred — and this part of the story I’ve never quite figured out — he slipped me an envelope with $350 cash inside. “Go buy something for your girlfriend,” he murmured mystically. “Go get her some cocaine.”
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Is Journalism a Form of Activism?

Portrait of journalist and suffragist Ida B. Wells, 1920. (Photo by Chicago History Museum/Getty Images)

Danielle Tcholakian | Longreads | March 2018 | 17 minutes (4,071 words)

Last weekend, as March For Our Lives protests took place all across the country, the student co-editor-in-chief of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School newspaper said on the CNN show “Reliable Sources” that journalism is a form of activism.

I was not surprised to see her quickly criticized on Twitter. Josh Kraushaar of the National Journal tweeted that the belief the student espoused is what’s “killing trust in our profession,” adding in a second tweet that the mentality the student shared “is more common among younger journalists.”

But I was surprised to see how many journalists came to the students’ defense, agreeing that journalism is a form of activism. They were highly respected, solid, investigative journalists. Los Angeles Times writer Matt Pearce asked, “Does anybody think that even the fairest and most diligent of investigative reporters wrote their horrifying stories hoping that nothing would change?” The Washington Post‘s Wesley Lowery asserted, “Even beyond big, long investigations, journalists perform acts of activism every day. Any good journalist is an activist for truth, in favor of transparency, on the behalf of accountability. It is our literal job to pressure powerful people and institutions via our questions.” Nikole Hannah-Jones, a reporter for The New York Times Magazine and arguably one of the greatest living reporters today, quoted Lowery’s tweet, agreeing with it. Read more…

‘The Paper’ is the Most Essential and Overlooked Film About Journalism

There’s a lot to like about The Post, a film that has drawn rave reviews even before its pre-holidays debut. The combination of Meryl Streep as Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham, and Tom Hanks as the paper’s editor-in-chief Ben Bradlee is the rare pairing of GOAT actors operating at their all-time peak.

The film covers the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the New York Times, the Washington Post’s attempt to obtain its own copy, and the ensuing battle against the Nixon administration which led to the Supreme Court case about the Daniel Ellsberg-leaked documents. As Manohla Dargis of the New York Times described in her review of the film, “The pleasure of The Post is how it sweeps you up in how it all went down…Like many movies that turn the past into entertainment, The Post gently traces the arc of history, while also bending it for dramatic punch and narrative expediency.”

The Post is the ultimate click-bait film for our current moment: An all-star cast telling the story of righteous journalism while press freedoms are being threatened on a daily basis. There is a time-honored tradition of films that have functioned in a similar way, including NetworkAll the President’s Men, and most recently, Spotlight. Last month The Post published a compendium of the greatest journalism movies ever made, selected by the likes of Katy Tur, Jill Abramson, and Marty Baron (who, of course, chose Spotlight, where he’s played by Liev Schreiber). And on the heels of The Post’s rundown was a feature by Haley Mlotek on the 30th anniversary of Broadcast News, the 1987 drama that “predicted journalism as we know it.”

What’s most interesting isn’t the selection of films that have largely defined what our conceived notions of how journalism functions, including what reporters look like — bodies clad in beige clothing drinking copious amounts of coffee. What I find fascinating is that most of these films deal with large-scale or long-form investigative reporting, the type of work that takes months and involves countless interview montages. What about a film that covers a day in the life of an average newspaper?

I’m talking about The Paper, in my opinion, the best journalism film ever made and one that almost never gets any credit. Starring Michael Keaton as the metro editor of the fictional Sun — a loose portrayal of The New York Post —  the movie details the killing of two out-of-state businessmen in a pre-gentrified Williamsburg and the arrest of two black teenagers for the crime. The problem is the charges are bogus, a mob hit made to look like murders with racial undertones at a time when New York, on the screen and in real life, had reached a tipping point. The Sun and its staff, including Glenn Close as the managing editor, Robert Duvall as the EIC, and Randy Quaid as a quasi-Mike McAlary-Pete Hamill-type columnist, have a day to both confirm and break the exclusive. Asked at one point why the story can’t wait until the next day, as Close tells Keaton during a staff meeting, “We taint them today, we make them look good on Saturday, everybody’s happy.” Keaton exclaims, “Not tomorrow, right fucking now, today!”

Co-written by Stephen Koepp, former executive editor of Time magazine, The Paper beautifully illustrates the lunacy and creativity of working under a deadline. The feeling one gets upon getting the perfect quote — “Don’t take the bat out of my hands, it’s the ninth inning, I got to get the quote, the guy’s not going to be there all night,” says Keaton — or confirming a previously deep background detail on the record. It’s a rush native to only journalists, the endorphins multiplying as you have only minutes to finish the article. Every reporter has experienced at least one editor snapping at them as Duvall does to Keaton, “You want to run the story? You have five hours until 8 o’clock — go get the story. Do your job!” And then it’s over, and you have to do it again the next day. That’s the inherent genius of The Paper. No other film conveys the madness of deadline journalism — or the fun.

Midway through the film, Quaid, who shines as the paper’s embattled columnist who believes people are plotting against him, fires a gun through a stack of newspapers to end an argument, which allows Keaton to finish a conversation with his wife (played by the brilliant Marisa Tomei).

At which point, Tomei, whose character works at the Sun and is at the beginning of her maternity leave, gushes, “God, I miss this place!”

The journalism practiced in All the President’s MenThe Post, and Spotlight is never going to cease — it’s the journalism that will always endure. The deep-rooted injustices that are so outrageous, it is as if the abuses themselves are practically begging for someone to shine a light on. Liev Schreiber, as The Boston Globe‘s editor-in-chief, makes this point in Spotlight: “Sometimes it is easy to forget that we spend most of our time stumbling around in the dark. Suddenly, a light gets turned on.” But what is being threatened is the journalism of The Paper: the daily local grind.

Following the dissolution of uber-local sites DNAInfo and Gothamist, Danielle Tcholakian wrote about what happens when newspapers stop covering what immediately impacts its citizens:

That was a big part of what we were there to do: show people exactly how every action, big or small, impacted their daily lives in the neighborhoods they lived in and loved.

And that is what makes The Paper so special, and why Tomei’s quote is such a genius line. She underscores the heart of the film: forget the money, the fame, and the accolades, all that matters is getting the story right — for a moment, because as the 1010 Wins tagline blares throughout the film at various points, “Your whole world can change in 24 hours.”

Will Podcasts and Video Journalism Make Our Syntax Less Rich?

There are many ways in which texts give us pleasure, but none has accumulated more prestige than what some have called syntactical vertigo. When we think of masters of prose, the names that typically jump to the front of the line are the Virginia Woolfs, Thomas Manns, and Marguerite Yourcenars of the world: the writers who could turn a trainwreck of clauses into an unlikely thing of beauty. This might be changing.

In her Nautilus essay on the ever-shifting terrain of English syntax, Julie Sedivy shows how languages become exponentially more complex as societies transition from oral communication to textual transmission. This makes one wonder: if we’re indeed in an age that moves (dare I say, pivots) away from the printed word, will this lead to an inevitable flattening of our syntax?

When children are fed a steady linguistic diet that is rich in complex sentences, these become easier to compute, and in turn, more readily produced under the time pressures imposed by speech. For example, psychologist Jessica Montag and her colleagues targeted relative clauses in the passive voice (the dog that was hit by the car), which are exceedingly rare in speech but more abundant in text, even that written for children. They found that heavy readers in the 8-12-year-old range produced such structures more often than children who read less. Even among adults, the production of these sentences was highly correlated with how much text they consumed, suggesting that avid readers are far more likely to transmit complex sentences to future generations.

All of this suggests that exposure to literary language is essential for the health of complex recursive sentences in English. If certain structures are too rare in speech to be reliably mastered by learners and passed on, then they may fade out within a community of non-readers. Naturally, this raises the question: Could syntactic complexity in literate languages diminish over time, if new technologies (podcasts, video lectures, and audiobooks) tether language more tightly to speech and its inherent limitations?

In fact, heavily recursive sentences like those found in the Declaration of Independence have already been dwindling in written English (as well as in German) for some time. According to texts analyzed by Brock Haussamen, the average sentence length in written English has shrunk since the 17th century from between 40-70 words to a more modest 20, with a significant paring down of the number of subordinate and relative clauses, passive sentences, explicit connectors between clauses, and off-the-beaten-path sentence structures.

These changes may reflect shifts in readers’ experience with language: Where literacy used to be an elite skill commanded by a very few steeped in lives of scholarly study, now it’s a universal basic necessity. More people now read—because they have to—but many probably still consume the vast bulk of their linguistic diet in spoken form and may have little patience for writing that is mentally taxing and reeks of snobbery. The need to make text accessible to a broader population, with a wide range of linguistic experiences, has created some pressure to bring the structures of written English more in line with spoken English.

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Why Quotas Still Don’t Work for Journalism

(Jonathan Torgovnik / Getty Images)

Imagine you work in an industry where accuracy and precision are hugely important. Your work is scrutinized by an ever-growing field of critics eager to catch any misstep, and if you get something wrong it has the potential to do people serious harm.

Your job often requires making dozens, if not hundreds of calls to obtain or even just verify a single fact. You spend your days wheedling information out of people who don’t want to provide it. You pore through mountains and mountains of documents which may only include one salient fact buried deep in a dense bog of data. Often these documents are difficult to find, or require the assistance of lawyers to access — lawyers you personally can’t afford and your higher ups may not want to pay for.

Now imagine this industry is failing at being a viable industry.  People in a different department than you are supposed to be responsible for that aspect — business, finances, the bottom line — but your department creates the product that is being sold. When “innovators” are brought in to come up with dynamic ideas, they pin them on you. There’s nothing to suggest the product is broken or failing, and everything to suggest that the means by which money is made from the product is the problem, but that doesn’t seem to matter to the innovators. They have figured out how to track how your product is consumed — do we have the metrics on that?  — and so they are going to use that information to suggest changes to how you do what you do.

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