Enjoy the best longform journalism. Every Sunday.

The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail by Dan Barry and Jeffrey E. Singer for The New York Times



The week's best reads, carefully curated by Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman. This week's guest editor is Heidi Moore.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

EDITORS’ NOTE: This morning, the entire Sunday Long Read team is thinking of contributing editor Peter Kafka, who lost his wife, historian Cindy Lobel, to breast cancer earlier this month. She was 48. If you'd like to join us in supporting Peter and celebrating Cindy, her family is raising money to create a scholarship in her name at Lehman College.

Thanks to everyone who joined our new Membership Program this past week! We are currently in the process of putting together the first Members' Monday edition for tomorrow while working our way through all of the wonderful compliments and suggestions you provided when signing up. Our charter members were also treated today to their first head start on this list, with an early-bird delivery that all members can expect every Sunday morning. Of course, it's not too late to sign up! We appreciate your support and look forward to hearing from you.


And now, the main event! We're thrilled to introduce this week's guest editor: Heidi N. Moore. Having collected a wealth of journalism experience, Heidi currently works as a digital media advisor to young startups as well as legacy organizations.

Before that, Heidi was the editor and co-founder of the Ladders. She's also spent time advising international newsrooms in Paris, launching the business and personal finance sections for the Guardian US, and working for Mashable, Marketplace Radio, and The Wall Street Journal. Plus, her bylines have appeared in The Washington Post and The New York Times while her face has popped up on—among other places—CNN, MSNBC, and Fox.

Today, she's brought a jam-packed list to share!


In every journalist’s career, there is a moment, a word, a picture, offered by someone else that brings you up short and turns you into a different direction. These are memorable because the journalist’s job is to find and arrange words, photos and narratives for understanding the world. When someone else beats us to the punch, we remember.

For me, one of those moments came in 2008, when the global financial system was -- as you might recall! -- melting down. I was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, covering the steady implosion of a world I had covered at that point for eight years. It was a world I knew well, in minute detail from mergers to stocks, and it was a time in which almost none of that knowledge mattered because everything was falling apart and the old rules had become irrelevant. I knew how things should work, how they used to work, but that wasn’t how it worked anymore. In desperation, Congress had granted Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson $700 billion to fix up the place. Paulson, in turn, put a young former Goldman Sachs banker named Neel Kashkari in charge. No one had ever heard of Kashkari -- including dozens of people at Goldman Sachs I had called steadily for days.

Because the world -- and more pressingly, my editor -- needed information on who Kashkari was, I left behind the banks and started calling his neighbors where he had grown up. In a tight-knit Indian Hindu community in Ohio, Kashkari had been raised, I gathered, as something of a prince, a good example to all the other children of immigrant families. “He was very good at studies,” one of his Indian neighbors told me, approvingly. I asked her about his parents. His mother was a physician who had done much for cancer patients, and his father, an engineer, had helped build wells for drought-ridden areas in Africa.

“They are,” the neighbor told me, “very compassionate people. People with such compassion, you cannot imagine.”

Compassion. I typed it in. The word stopped me short. I looked around the Journal newsroom, a low-ceilinged factory with popcorn ceilings and TVs set to panicky financial-news channels, and high upholstered cubicles that kept us largely silent and separate. I thought of the bankers I called every day, wrapped up in the collapse of their careers, and the people who had sold bad mortgages to unwitting consumers. This was an amoral world we had been writing about. Success was judged on profit and loss, and not on “good” or “bad.”

When was the last time I had even heard the word compassion? When had someone mentioned it as something to achieve?

Once compassion was my lens for the evaluation for success, nothing looked the same again. It is incredibly difficult to create journalism that is not just recounting another human’s story, but that actually results in compassion, in the reader standing in the shoes of someone they’d never met.

I didn’t know what to do about this, either in my work or anyone else’s, except to instruct reporters to bring “human stories and voices” into stories. Many of my colleagues gave similar instructions, which created great journalism sometimes. It was certainly better than the distant, ironic, coldly analytical lens that had ruled journalism for decades in the guise of objectivity.

Still, what seemed necessary was a wholesale re-evaluation of what on earth we thought we were doing. Everywhere I looked, I saw where compassion was missing in journalism -- a trend that continued for years, as stories got shorter and snappier and slangier, and traffic expectations grew higher. The rise of the “longread” movement, around 2015, started to repair that. Finally journalism was making room again for human stories, told at enough length to be absorbing, to connect the reader to the source. Longform journalism tells us how other people live, and helps us to imagine living like them. This was helpful. It is, I still think, maybe the only help journalism can really offer the world. 

But if the longform was finally being respected, the impetus to fully exploit it didn’t come until 2016, when the election of Donald Trump created a nation, and possibly a world, that has finally looked deep into the mirror of who we are and what we are creating. For those who experienced Trump’s election as a kind of emotional emergency, the prevailing reaction was despair and anger coupled with an initial sense of helplessness to know how to change it. We couldn’t do this alone. We at least discussed our helplessness.

This often felt like drowning, but it was progress. The way I see it, feeling helpless is the first condition of compassion. It strips us of the coat of ego, of advantage, of the illusion of personal agency, and of all the ways we numb ourselves to the world. You can’t be truly helpful, I think, until you know what it’s like to need help. Feeling helpless helps us understand that we are all the engines of each others’ pain in some way. That feeling, in turn, creates the basis of community -- a social structure that is based entirely on the idea of sharing and distributing a burden, of turning help into an organizing principle. 

This time in history has turned longreads -- with their extensive reporting, interviews and analysis  -- into not just reporting, but into a very useful kind of moral philosophy. In the brilliant NBC show “The Good Place,” the characters have to transform from selfish monsters into compassionate beings by asking one question first: What do we owe each other? It’s a question we never get away with asking ourselves once; being better is an ongoing process, and the questioning never stops.

This week’s best longreads tackle that process of questioning. They help us illuminate a historical moment that, if we understand it correctly, is demanding that we become compassionate -- or choose to be selfish and thus risk our own destruction along with that of everyone around us. What do we believe -- really believe, when the lights are off and we’re left with our own thoughts? What does it mean to be human and exist in these bodies we are given? What communities do we believe ourselves to belong to, and wish to never belong to? As in the financial crisis, the concept of a shared reality has entirely shattered. So now we create a new one. That means deciding what the specific conditions should be of the world that we want to be a part of: the specifics of who and what we treat with compassion -- starting, sometimes, with ourselves.


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Heidi's Favorite

   You buy a purse at Walmart. There’s a note inside from a “Chinese prisoner.” Now what?
By Rossalyn A. Warren for The Goods by Vox

 (~25 minutes):

On Vox’s excellent new site The Goods, Rossalyn A. Warren goes to China to explore the human cost when Chinese prisoners, unseen to us as end consumers, are forced to make products -- working in the bowels of capitalism as a kind of torture.

   Trump May Not Be Crazy, But the Rest of Us Are Getting There Fast
By John F. Harris and Sarah Zimmerman for POLITICO Magazine

 (~10 minutes)

If you haven’t seen Donald Trump as a challenge to your personal illusions of who you are and who other people are, you haven’t been paying attention. This Politico story explores the workings of a presidency that is forcing Americans to confront what sanity looks like, and what experiences we can all possibly share.

My Private Oval Office Press Conference With Donald Trump, Mike Pence, John Kelly, and Mike Pompeo


   The Love Story that Upended the Texas Prison System
By Ethan Watters for Texas Monthly
 (~45 minutes)

Texas Monthly traces the incredible story of a love that was powerful enough to change the prison system in Texas. This is an excellent look at how compassion can transform not only individuals, but entire systems -- because what are our social systems made of, after all, besides humans?


   Do You Believe in Sharing?
By Tim Harford for
 (~15 minutes)

Economics writer Tim Harford asks the essential question that underlies compassion: Do you really, truly believe in sharing? 


   Catie Cuan’s robot choreography
By Chris Ip for Engadget
 (~5 minutes)


An injury a few years ago taught me the word “proprioception.” It’s the word for how well you understand where your body is in space -- what’s around you, how close things are. When you’re injured, proprioception is one of the first things you lose for a while -- if you’re a human. Robots can never lose proprioception, because they understand movement on a grid, which makes them herky-jerky and awkward, and a little scary. Catie Cuan is making robots graceful dance partners, and this video -- at 5 minutes, a kind of visual longread -- is an excellent exploration of what it means to be human, to move like a human, and to invite robots into that community of humanity.


   Samin Nosrat Is a New Kind of Domestic Goddess
By Madeleine Aggeler for The Cut 
 (~10 minutes)


Samin Nosrat, the highly beloved author of the essential cookbook Salt Fat Acid Heat, is Iranian by background, grew up in an all-white San Diego neighborhood, and is helping America develop a globetrotting palate. In her new series, “‘Salt’ is in Japan, ‘Fat’ is in Italy, ‘Acid’ is in Mexico, and ‘Heat’ is in in the U.S., in Berkeley.” Food as an engine of identity and compassion is a very rich vein, and the food descriptions here are wonderful.

   When Asian Women Are Harassed for Marrying Non-Asian Men
By Celeste Ng for The Cut
 (~10 minutes)

Celeste Ng, who is from a Chinese background and married a white man, recounts the relentless harassment she has faced and explores what communities we are allowed to belong to, based on the bodies we inhabit.


By Jessica Bennett, Anya Strzemien and The New York Times - Gender
 (~15 minutes)


The New York Times looks at an experience many of us forget: What it’s like to be 18. Of course, that is bittersweet, a mixture of hope and nostalgia for a feeling of endless potential and showing compassion for ourselves for choosing one path instead of many. The result is brilliant, funny and moving.


   Teens Are Being Bullied ‘Constantly’ on Instagram
By Taylor Lorenz for The Atlantic
 (~10 minutes) 

Taylor Lorenz tells the stories of teenagers who experience what many adults cannot begin to imagine: What it’s like to live on social media, and be bullied there.


   My Great-Grandfather the Bundist
By Molly Crabapple for The New York Review of Books
 (~30 minutes)


In The New York Review of Books, Molly Crabapple explores the history of her great-grandfather, the Bundist, and delves into a world of identity and political movements that makes for an absorbing, illuminating journey through the pasts that inform the humanity of our present.


   A Year of #MeToo Exhausted Women—And Renewed Our Collective Hope
By Moira Donegan for Broadly 
 (~10 minutes)


Moira Donegan, whose efforts to unveil sexual harassers forced the media industry to examine its own pillars, writes an excellent retrospective in Broadly revisiting a full year of the #MeToo movement, which has been an ongoing practice in compassion.


   California’s changing fire country
By Susie Cagle for Curbed
 (~25 minutes)


Susie Cagle explores the slow rebuilding of houses -- and the communities they represent -- after some of the worst wildfires in American history. 


   The Suffocation of Democracy
By Christopher R. Browning for The New York Review of Books
 (~15 minutes)


Historical comparisons have been rife in the past two years. Christopher Browning, writing in The NYRB, examines what happened to the compassion within the old “compassionate conservatism.”


   Queens of Infamy: The Reign of Catherine de’ Medici
By Anne Thériault for Longreads
 (~35 minutes)


Anne Theriault's writing about history is always a must-read, especially about the queens who had to manage power in courts of hostile men. Catherine de' Medici lived in her own Game of Thrones and this piece captures that. 


   The Case of Jane Doe Ponytail
By Dan Barry and Jeffrey E. Singer for The New York Times
 (~50 minutes)


A devastating, well-told story that shows us the lives of immigrant sex-workers who would otherwise be invisible. It's an unflinching story and forces us to confront what we choose to see and what we don't.   


By Finlay Young for ProPublica
 (~70 minutes)


"The charity would raise over $8 million, including almost $600,000 from the U.S. government. Meyler would enter a rarefied world of globe-trotting problem-solvers. She would rub shoulders with Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and Oprah Winfrey, and even get invited to the Obama White House. MTM’s footprint in Liberia would multiply to 19 schools teaching 4,000 students."

“Yet some of the girls present that September day had a secret. Far from being saved from sexual exploitation, they were being raped by the man standing beside Meyler on the stage."

Last Week's Most Read

   The Morality Wars
By Wesley Morris for The New York Times Magazine

   The Most Honest Book About Climate Change Yet
By Nathaniel Rich for The Atlantic 

   Trump Engaged in Suspect Tax Schemes as He Reaped Riches From His Father
By David Barstow, Susanne Craig and Russ Buettner for The New York Times 


Lede of the Week

“Why do you work for a murderer?”


Quotation of the Week

   Colin Kaepernick at Harvard

"If we all believe in something, we won't have to sacrifice everything."

-Colin Kaepernick, accepting the W.E.B DuBois medal. 

The SLR Podcast

   Ben Smith (iTunes | Google Play)

Fresh off his guest-editing turn, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith chatted with Don about how the term "Ben Smith-ing" came into being, why he moved from Politico to BuzzFeed, and the thought process behind publishing the controversial Trump-Russia dossier. They also discussed the journalism industry more broadly, from the blogging heyday to the current environment. "I read a lot of long articles but it’s in spite of the fact they’re long," Ben says.

Subscribe today!

The Classic Read
from Jack Shafer

   A Modest Proposal for Killing the MLB Playoffs, or Not (2014)
By Neil deMause for Vice Sports
 (~10 minutes)

Okay, we lucked out this year because four division winners are playing in the league championship series. But ever since baseball opened the post-season to wild-card teams, none of the worst of the best teams have a chance to Cinderella their way to a World Series victory. Neil deMause takes the correct line in this Vice article from 2014 by throwing a phosphorous grenade at the current playoff system. Seeing as shrinking MLB to two eight-team leagues is out of the question, deMause proposes that we conduct our playoffs the way the Japanese do, with the inferior playoff teams being forced to spot the superior teams a game in a series so they have an uphill climb to win. Makes sense to me, especially if it fucks over the New York Yankees.


Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.

The Sunday Still
from Patrick Farrell

‘Like an atomic bomb’

Aerial photographs conveyed the mass destruction left in the wake of Hurricane Michael in Northwest Florida, but it was up to photographers on the ground to make the human connection and communicate the sense of loss left by the third-most-powerful hurricane to make landfall in the continental United States. Miami-based Getty Images photographer Joe Raedle, who has covered ground zero for named storms in this region for 30 years, captured the devastation and despair in this photo of Panama City resident Kathy Coy. “It looks like an atomic bomb had hit our city,” resident David Barnes told the Panama City News Herald. One look at Coy, dressed in beachwear, surveying the jagged remains of her home, leaves no doubt that life has been turned upside down. 


Patrick Farrell, the curator of The Sunday Still, is the 2009 Pulitzer Prize-winner for Breaking News Photography for The Miami Herald, where he has worked since 1987. He is currently a Lecturer in the Department of Journalism and Media Management at the University of Miami School of Communication.

The Sunday Pod
from Jody Avirgan

   CBC: The Shadows (iTunes | Overcast)

If you’re a fan of Kaitlin Prest’s “The Heart,” you may have noticed there weren’t many new episodes in the first half of this year. The reason is because Kaitlin and friends were hard at work on “The Shadows,” a radio drama that takes on what it means to be young, creative, in love, and confused. No one really does that better than Prest. Binge away.

While I have you, the new season of “30 for 30” podcasts is coming this week! You can read more about the lineup here, and listen to the trailer in your podcast app of choice.

Sunday Pod curator Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.

The Long View
from Justine Gubar

Produced and directed by Nadia Sussman and Kathleen Flynn for ProPublica, co-published with BBC World


In conjunction with this story by Finlay Young for ProPublica co-published with Time, ProPublica's first feature film (which I first saw at the Double Exposure Film Festival) unspools the chilling tale of More Than Me, a charity set up in Liberia to educate young girls and its charismatic founder Katie Meyler. Instead of protecting the students from sexual exploitation, More Than Me delivered the girls into the hands of a rapist and buried the dangers. 

The Long View curator Justine Gubar is a former Vice President, News Narratives at Fusion and the author of Fanaticus: Mischief and Madness in the Modern Sports Fan. Reach out to Justine at if you have a suggestion for next week's long view.

The Sunday Cover
from Étienne Lajoie

   Special Issue: Terror in the Wild

Étienne Lajoie, the curator of The Sunday Cover, is a journalist based in Montreal.

The Sunday Esoterica
from Ryan Rodenberg

   Global Warming of 1.5 °C


On October 8, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a new report entitled “Global Warming of 1.5ºC.” In a press release accompanying the report, the IPCC wrote: "Limiting global warming to 1.5ºC would require rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society." The report is broken up into five chapters and includes a special summary for policymakers.  

Sunday Esoterica curator Ryan Rodenberg works as a professor at Florida State University, where he teaches research methods and sports law.  He writes a lot of academic articles and some mainstream pieces too.

The Sunday Long Play
from Kelly Dearmore

Charles Bradley - No Time For Dreaming (iTunes | Spotify)

The Screaming Eagle of Soul has been silent for over a year now, since his 2017 death from stomach cancer. But in a most bittersweet turn, Charles Bradley has one last album to bestow upon us who have yet to curb the tear-shedding over his passing. Black Velvet, named after the moniker he employed in the '90s as a James Brown cover artist, will be released in November.

If you haven't done so yet, devote some time to the excellent 2012 documentary, "Soul of America", which follows Bradley and offers a bare-boned glimpse into the pain, art and soul of a man with many hard truths to share.

The centerpiece record the film revolves around is his first, No Time For Dreaming. At the age of 62, the Brooklyn dweller made a splash with what many critics lauded as a stunning debut. He would go on to release two more records packed with the same rib-sticking soul before he died. Thankfully for us all, though Bradley the man might be gone, his soul shall endure forever. 

Long Play curator Kelly Dearmore is the Music Critic for the Dallas Morning News. Yes, he's heard your son's demo tape, and he thinks it's fantastic. 

The Su♬day Sou♬dtrack
from Heidi Moore

By Hozier

The Sunday LimeRick
from Tim Torkildson

Those sneaky advertisers with 'Paid Content' written wee
keep fooling me so that I read their ads consistently.
It's true their graphics sparkle with a gorgeous sex appeal,
but I ain't in the market for a Rolex or oatmeal.
I'm going to the newsstand for a paper copy cuz
the ads stand out so plainly I can notice friend from foe.

Sunday Limerick writer Tim Torkildson is a retired circus clown who fiddles with rhyme. All his verses can be found at Tim's Clown Alley.

The Sund&y Ampers&nd
from Nick Aster

The Sunday Ampersand is chosen by Nick Aster. Nick most recently served as founder of, a leading publication focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.

The Last Laugh
from Heidi Moore

   Free Willy? A Family Called the Cops on a Bunch of Whales and I Am the Opposite of Surprised

By R. Eric Thomas for ELLE

 (~5 minutes)

Here's a headline that you won't understand but about which you will be totally unsurprised: a family encountered a bunch of whales in Puget Sound and got scared so they called the police on them.

Read Later

Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr.
Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman
Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie
Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer
Senior Long View Editor: Justine Gubar
Senior Photo Editor: Patrick Farrell
Senior Music Editor: Kelly Dearmore
Senior Limerick Editor: Tim Torkildson
Senior Podcast Editor: Jody Avirgan
Senior Editor of Esoterica: Ryan M. Rodenberg

Digital Team: Nation Hahn, Nickolaus Hines, Megan McDonell, Alexa Steinberg
Podcast Team: Peter Bailey-Wells, Cary Barbor, Julian McKenzie, Jonathan Yales
Webmaster: Ana Srikanth
Campus Editor: Peter Warren

Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Nick Aster, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Jonathan Bernstein, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Maria Bustillos, Chris Cillizza, Anna Katherine Clemmons, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Hadley Freeman, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Maggie Haberman, Reyhan Harmanci, Virginia Heffernan, Matthew Hiltzik, Jena Janovy, Bomani Jones, Chris Jones, Peter Kafka, Paul Kix, Mina Kimes, Peter King, Michael Kruse, Tom Lamont, Edmund Lee, Chris Lehmann, Will Leitch, Glynnis MacNicol, Drew Magary, Erik Malinowski, Jonathan Martin, Betsy Fischer Martin, Ana Menendez, Kevin Merida, Heidi N. Moore, Eric Neel, Joe Nocera, Ashley R. Parker, Anne Helen Petersen, Jo Piazza, Joe Posnanski, S.L. Price, Jennifer Romolini, Julia Rubin, Albert Samaha, Bob Sassone, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Adam Sternbergh, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, John A. Walsh, Seth Wickersham and Karen Wickre.

Header Image: Todd Heisler

You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.

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