EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Sunday! Our distinguished guest editor today is Jennifer Romolini, a writer, editor, speaker, digital media consultant, and author of a career guide for misfits. She is the former chief content officer of Shondaland.com and the former editor-in-chief of HelloGiggles and Yahoo Shine. She was also once the deputy editor of Lucky Magazine and on the staffs of Time Out New York, Talk Magazine, Brill's Content, and Inside.com. Her work has appeared in ELLE, Lenny Letter, The New York Times and many magazines that no longer exist.
Take it away, Jennifer...
I’ve been at this [say in old-timey Hollywood reporter voice] words and pictures game for nearly 20 years. In publishing age, I believe this makes me a sentient pile of dust. I was lucky enough to start at Inside.com, a website about business and media that lived briefly and died rapidly in the early aughts. Inside was filled with outrageously smart reporters and editors; the kind of exceedingly generous, old-school journalists (like Kurt Andersen and the late great David Carr) who made media feel like the most vital, exciting, sexy thing in the world and who made you feel lucky to be a part of it. They took the work seriously; they did not take themselves seriously. It was the best job of my life.
Since then, I’ve worked in glossy print and I’ve worked in scrappy digital, at startups and big tech companies, for big-ego assholes and kindly ineffectual heroes. I’ve been the powerless middle manager getting it from all sides and the impressively-titled chief ostensibly in charge but really subservient to moneyed Oz-like figures who seemed to understand publishing as a unicorn that shat cash.
We like to tell fairy tales about the past, we remember things as better than they were. Truth is, the good old days of publishing were bad — particularly for women and people of color. Things are better in myriad ways today, but what I worry about more than anything in our current media landscape — more than how publishing pays for itself or why so many companies believe an algorithm can define a brand (pivot to video shall we?) — is how we treat writers. This is because, though there are more outlets and more opportunities for writers to publish than ever before, a writer’s quality of life is more unstable than any time I can remember.
Beyond the inhumane policies many publishers have adopted to cut costs (below poverty-level word rates; labyrinthine payment systems that require the blood from a small vermin plus logging in 203 times just to collect a $50 check; ownership of an author’s work for eternity plus 100 years), we’re also not training editors to assign and edit stories with clarity and skill and nuance. Instead, there’s a pattern of nebulous direction while expecting specific, unspoken results. Which leads to rewrites. And rewrites again. Can you make your hot take hotter? Can we do it faster? Can you get a quote I never asked for? Can you pay for your travel to conduct the interview in person? Oh and we’re paying you $28 dollars for this. Don’t like it? Your kill fee is 2 bucks.
Maybe I am so incensed by this treatment of writers because I’ve always looked at editing as a service job, and I’ve always felt like it’s a privilege that I get to do it. Writers are the best people in the world. Treating them with thoughtfulness and care, empathy and generosity; valuing their work and its challenges, giving them realistic deadlines to engage in meaningful storytelling, paying them appropriately and on-time — while we’re profiting from their labor — it’s really the least we can do.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love this fucking business. I love a story well told. I love learning about the weird and the wild. I love when an essay is so honest and emotionally resonant it makes me think and cry long after I’ve read it. I love the escape of long reads that, after a week (month? year? decade?) like this one, we so desperately need. This Sunday’s Long Read newsletter reflects this sentient pile of dust’s hope in our industry. It represents small sites of immense editorial integrity. It showcases ambitious storytelling, careful reporting, marginalized voices breaking through at the highest levels, and smart people having smart conversations about important things. But also frivolous things! Because in the year of our lord 2018, who doesn’t need some levity?
More novels, shoot me. I learned a lot about trans writers I did not know from reading this story. I bought their books. As this monstrous administration tries to erase trans people, it’s never been more important to support them and their work.
“It is very rare, as a disabled person, that I have an intense sense of belonging, of being not just tolerated or included in a space, but actively owning it; this space, I whisper to myself, is for me. Next to me, I sense, my friend has the same electrified feeling. This space is for us.” Maybe this week you want to read a story that gives you perspective of what it’s like to be a body that’s not yours. This beautifully-written piece is that story.
As of last December, China won’t take our recycling anymore. Also our recycling is dirty as hell and the entire business needs to be re-thought. Bonus: Disturbing photos that made me never want to use a plastic bottle again.
Betts committed a crime at 16, went to jail, got out of jail, and spent 20 years transforming his life. His story illuminates the deep dysfunction and prejudice in our criminal justice system in a first-person, in-your-face, can’t ignore way.
“What’s happening in Texas and California is really the story of what is happening in America,” begins this stunning package, which includes eight stories under four headers — “Immigration,” “Urban Policy,” “Economy,” and “Transportation.” Come for the gorgeous design elements, stay for the deep-dive reporting; get smarter, feel better, etc.
“In an election steeped in issues of race, voting rights and the South’s past, present and future, Ms. Abrams is trying to become the first black woman elected governor of any state.” This is just a most excellent example of the form.
I might walk through fire to talk to Rumaan Alam, Sheila Heti, and Meaghan O’Connell — three writers whose work I admire and devour genuinely, not bookstagram performatively. They are just three of the authors in this fascinating, honest, often funny conversation that you should read if you like mothers or novelists or good things.
When Washington state Rep. Matt Shea looks out before him, he sees a mostly male crowd in militia T-shirts smiling back. Gathered across an expanse of suburban grass, they hold yellow Don’t Tread on Me flags. A handful carry AR-15s and are dressed in tactical camouflage vests loaded up with ammunition. It’s a hot August Saturday at a public park in Spokane, Washington. Wildfire smoke blurs the sun.
“I’m gonna speak from the heart today,” Shea says into the microphone.
Here, despite being the only one in a blazer, this state legislator is just Matt: Matt who places a hand on a man’s shoulder, Matt who bows his head in prayer moments before stepping to the mic, Matt who tells one man, “Be blessed,” as they part ways.
“Our hope is not in man, our hope is in Jesus Christ. Can I get an ‘amen’?”
Portrait of a would-be assassin living his golden years as a laborer in Cumberland, Md. The writer, David Montgomery, also takes the measure of Bremer's imprint on American culture. Bonus: David Montgomery, the author, quotes swathes of Arthur Bremer's diary. Sample: This will be one of the most closely read pages since the Scrolls in those caves. And I couldn’t find a pen for 40 seconds & went mad. My fuse is about burnt. There’s gona be an explosion soon. I had it. I want something to happen. I was sopposed to be Dead a week & a day ago. Or at least infamous.
Classic Read curator Jack Shafer writes about media for Politico.
With Americans’ eyes trained on the World Series, leave it to four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Carol Guzy to deliver some of the most captivating baseball images of the season from the Girls Baseball-for-All tournament in Rockford, Ill. Guzy is arguably the greatest newspaper photographer of our generation, having established her career at the Miami Herald and Washington Post. Shooting for ESPN, she brings us a series of masterfully lit and composed images in an audio slideshow that captures the intensity of the young players, reminding us that the love of the game transcends genders and stereotypes.
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.
I'll confess, I haven’t been listening to a ton of new stuff these days, since most of my ear time is spent listening to various edits of the new season of 30 for 30 (hint hint). But I guess the fact that I’m recommending a Popcast episode for the second time in five weeks means it’s becoming a bit of a comfortable standby. I really liked this smart cruise through Wayne’s history -- he both consistently stands apart from, and is the embodiment, of the changing music landscape.
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.
After politicians in Britain blamed drill music –a form of rap–for a rise in violence and requested YouTube delete several dozen videos, Britain’s Channel 4 News came up with a powerful idea. It commissioned a drill music-style video based on the words of actual politicians that highlights the hypocrisy and violence.
The World Anti-Doping Agency recently updated its “prohibited list” for banned drugs in sports that fall under its purview. The new prohibited list -- which is effective January 1, 2019 and spans 10 pages -- illustrates the complexity of modern efforts to combat performance-enhancing drugs in sport. From anabolic agents to peptide hormones to masking agents, the new list outlines over 100 banned substances.
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.
Without the grit and groove of the blues, it's a safe bet that rock 'n' roll never happens. That would be a tragic shame for a number of reasons, of course, but chief among them would be that we might never have been introduced to the greasy, Texas-flavored music of ZZ Top.
Similar to the Rolling Stones, ZZ Top folded their love for the originators of the blues into something different while still being true. Lead singer and guitarist Billy Gibbons is one of the blues most ardent blues True Believers. And his new solo album, The Big Bad Blues, is a scorching, lightning bolt-singed love letter to the sounds and legends that have long rustled his musical soul.
Add this satisfying record to ZZ Top's searing 2012 La Futura and Gibbons' other solo album, 2015's adventurous, Cuban-inspired Perfectamundo, and you have an artist who thankfully refuses to age quietly. And why would he? Gibbons can still kick out the jams with the best of them.
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.
"Amarcord Nino Rota,” the re-issued tribute to Fellini composer Nino Roto, is circus-y and fun and perfect for a Sunday morning.
The Sunday LimeRick from Tim Torkildson
@realDonaldTrump:"Facebook has just stated that they are setting up a system to “purge” themselves of Fake News. Does that mean CNN will finally be put out of business?"
The media knows what I think of their tricks;
how all of their stories are written for clicks.
They'd say their own grandmother killed JFK
if it sold more papers and gave them more pay.
There's only one gospel, when it comes to news --
and that is Fox Network with their devout views!
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 TriplePundit.com, a leading publication focused on sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
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: Audra Melton
You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: sundaylongread.blog. Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.