EDITORS’ NOTE: Happy Mother’s Day! This week's esteemed guest editor is Recode Executive Editor Peter Kafka. Peter covers the intersection of media and technology for Vox Media’s Recode network, and is the host of Recode Media, the weekly interview podcast dedicated to the future of media and technology. He is the producer of the Code Media conference, and the co-producer, along with Kara Swisher, of the Code Conference.
Peter has been covering media and technology since 1997, when he joined the staff of Forbes magazine. He made the digital leap to Forbes.com in 2005. He may have been the first national business reporter to interview Steve "Stone Cold Steve Austin" Williams.
In 2007, Peter became the first hire at Silicon Alley Insider, the predecessor to Business Insider, where he worked as the site's managing editor.
Peter is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and lives in Brooklyn.
Take it away, Peter...
I used to think I wanted to write long reads.
So I moved to New York from Minneapolis, with the hope of getting a job at a magazine, so I could figure out how to write a feature story, and get it published.
That was more than 20 years ago, and now I know better. I love reading long reads.
Writing them—trying to write them—makes me physically and mentally unhappy. And it’s not like it’s worth it when I’m through: When I ever do finish a lengthy-ish feature or enterprise story, I’m not pleased with the work.
It’s not because I’m a perfectionist. I’m just not that good at it. I’m better at other stuff.
“You’re a sprinter, not a long-distance runner,” a big deal magazine guy told me, a few years ago, when he still had a big deal magazine job. He meant it as an insult, but I couldn’t be insulted by an accurate assessment.
Which is a long way of saying I’m incredibly appreciative of the people who do write long, and well. (I’m also grateful that there’s so much of it out there to read, though it seems like we’re probably on the other side of a long-term bubble that funded a lot of this work.)
You’re reading this on a device that makes you acutely aware of how many other things you could be doing instead of reading. So I’ve tried hard to make these worth your while.
Thanks to Don and Jacob for the opportunity to share these with you.
Emily Nussbaum is my favorite critic—this 2012 “Breaking Bad” review is as thrilling as the show—but here she is doing critical work and great reporting and writing, too.
Built with scenes assembled over a year of reporting, about a fascinating and powerful character you probably don’t know much about—and who, courtesy of an historic $300 million Netflix deal, became even more fascinating and powerful during the course of the story.
Murphy is an outsized personality who makes shows about outsized personalities, but Nussbaum keeps all of this at a lively simmer without letting it boil over.
There’s a very good chance you’ve read these, or at least read about them. Let’s call them out, anyway: The Washington Post gave us deep insight into Donald Trump’s suspicious real estate history, and The New York Times gave us deep insight into Trump fixer Michael Cohen’s business history, which is just as suspicious. (My only frustration with these: the legal and professional conventions that prevent both papers from saying exactly what they want to say.) And on Monday evening Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow—who is fresh off of a Pulitzer, and in the midst of a book tour—published a damning story alleging that Eric Schneiderman had abused multiple romantic partners. Three hours later, the Attorney General of New York announced his resignation.
Most writing about video games is aimed at players, so it’s hard for anyone else to get much value out of it. This clever story about gaming the game—and a “theory of cosmopolitics”—will reward you, even if you live in a part of the world untouched by Fortnite mania.
Ezra Klein is on book leave, but he still has the capacity to write thousands of smart words on a regular basis. Here he argues that your memory of American history has a lot to do with your place in American society. His hopeful take: Today’s strife will “eventually look like the turbulence that has always accompanied racial progress in this country, and it will eventually be seen as modest compared to the upheavals of our past.” His worrisome postscript: “I want to be honest. This is one of those articles where I am far from sure I’m right.”
The very sad conclusion to Robin, Itzkoff’s comprehensive and melancholy chronicle of Williams’ life. It’s a great book (shameless plug: I talked to Itzkoff for an upcoming episode of Recode Media) about a man who was such a big star, for so long, that we took him for granted. I recommend reading it with occasional visits to the internet, to remind yourself of how charismatic and incandescent Williams could be. For instance.
Last week we replaced Kanye hot-takes with Donald Glover hot-takes. Damon Young knows why we’re connecting the two, but he wishes we wouldn’t. “Of the myriad takes I’ve seen so far, about Glover and about that song and that video, the only truly terrible one is that he is now some sort of anti-Kanye West."
I don’t know why the magazine I still think of as “BusinessWeek” seems to get under-praised among the chattering classes I chatter with. So for the record: This is a publication that consistently produces excellent feature stories about Very Important Subjects, without some of the precious bells and whistles that often accompany and sometimes obscure other publications’ Very Important Stories. (Maybe I’ve answered my own question.) In any case, here’s the kind of thing Bloomberg BusinessWeek does routinely: A detailed but easy-to-consume profile of Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who is likely to become Mexico’s next president. He’s a Trump-style populist, except that “ideologically they’re negative images of each other.”
Most giant internet companies are designed to grow without much human oversight, which means humans who are motivated to exploit those companies are often successful. See: 2016. Amazon’s version of Fake News are Fake Reviews, andNguyen’s reporting shows that you don’t need a lot of technical know-how to get this stuff on the largest marketplace in the world—just a little spare time, or a couple dollars to pay someone who does.
This is a Rorschach test of a story: Do you see the tale of a rock star and his manager, who screwed over a hapless artist—or a son trying to show his dad he loves him so much he’ll embark on a futile quest? (You can also answer “C”)
“Before I ever heard Liz Phair, I heard about Liz Phair.” Jessica Hopper’s review of a 25-year-old album isn’t a review, of course—it’s a personal essay about what kind of impact an artist’s work can have in the moment, and in the years after. Which reminds me of a great essay from Bill Wyman on “Guyville’s” 20th anniversary. I assume we’ll have more good stuff to read in five years.
Yes, writing a scathing takedown of your current (for now) employer is stunt journalism. It’s also great journalism, clearly laying out the self-inflicted problems besetting Univision, the TV giant that bought the Gawker sites less than two years ago.
You did not know you wanted to learn the behind-the-scenes story of the global glasses industry (short version: it is dominated by two companiea—Essilor and Luxxotica—that are merging). But once you start this one you’ll read to the finish. History, ruthless capitalism, marketing-meets-medicine—it’s all in there. Carve out time for this.
In civil war diaries, the word coffee appears more than the words war, bullet, cannon, slavery, mother or even Lincoln. This episode explores coffee and war throughout the centuries, with lots of great sound design and a couple recipes snuck in for good measure. I got a chance to see the Kitchen Sisters perform a version of this story live this week, it was really lovely.
Jody Avirgan is the host of FiveThirtyEight's politics podcast and is heading up the new "30 for 30" podcast documentary series from ESPN.
This is the story of how corporate raiding, complacency, excess, and incompetence are gutting a media company that matters to tens of millions of people. It’s not a novel story, and perhaps not even scandalous by the standards of corporate opulence: A shark-obsessed boss, millions wasted on consultants, and an executive who insisted on publishing softcore porn are more embarrassing buffoonery than insidious greed. The main problem—the billions in debt the company ran up in the process of its owners buying it and weighing it down—is practically routine in media and beyond; that doesn’t make it any less infuriating.
This company is Univision, which until recently obligingly filled the role of absentee stepfather to Gizmodo Media Group, our employer.
The first Saturday in May gave us, as always, the running of the Kentucky Derby. But the event wasn’t quite the same this year minus Bill Nack, the elegant turf writer, and longtime SI feature writer, who passed away last month at the age of 77. On May 7, fittingly the first Monday in May, a memorial service in Washington, DC honored Nack—who was as vivid a character as he was an elite writer. In the pews were hymn and prayers books and the latest copy of Sports Illustrated, given to each guest. After the service attended by hundreds of writers, editors, horse racing people and other long-time readers/admirers, refreshments were served and old sparkling stories were swapped, while guests nibbled on Pimiento sandwiches carved into jockey silks.
Over at The Stacks Reader—with Bill’s permission and blessings—we honor our friend with a look at two horse racing features he published in GQ in the early 2000s: “The Almighty Bill Baffert,” the true story of how the most controversial trainer in horse racing sent a 20-1 longshot named War Emblem to the Kentucky Derby and nearly ran off with the Triple Crown, and “Dubai’s Dream Team,” the tale of how Sheik Mohammed Rashid al-Maktoum became the most powerful force in the history of the sport. If you love horse racing and stellar writing, you are in for a treat. Salute.
Alex Belth is the editor of Esquire Classic as well as the proprietor of The Stacks, a site dedicated to preserving great journalism and writing about the arts and culture.
"These granite walls are like 18 feet high, and we got off the bus inside the second set of giant gates, and they clanked shut and John goes, ‘Jim, that sound has a feeling of permanence about it.’ You know, I'm thinking, ‘Oh, goddamn.’ Because only a year before, I was arrested for shooting somebody. I could have been in there.”
THE SUNDAY STILL
And they’re off … chasing a legendary, 85-year-old photo: Thoroughbred racing’s most iconic photo was snapped in 1933 by Louisville Courier-Journal photographer Wallace Lowry, who rolled under a rail and pressed his shutter once to capture the Kentucky Derby’s “Fighting Finish.” Today, 85 years later, some of the world’s best sports photographers try to recreate that historic shot’s angle with dozens of assistants and pricey digital cameras. Courier-Journal photographer Michael Clevenger came pretty darn close on May 5, capturing the Twin Spires, the crowds and the split-second victory as Justify and jockey Mike Smith fended off Good Magic for a win in the 144th Kentucky Derby (only front-running Justify wasn’t mud-splattered at the finish line). Clevenger pays homage to the legendary photo that inspired him and the fascinating mechanics of documenting the Run for the Roses today in a personal account that reads like a feverish play-by-play of the homestretch. More than 30 years ago, Miami News photo legends like Charles Trainor, Joe Rimkus, Gary Montanari and Bill Reinke used a simple bucket and lamp cords to out-shoot national news crews with the latest high-tech equipment at a rocket launch at the Kennedy Space Center. Today, even with the most sophisticated cameras, Clevenger proves that it still takes talent, timing—and a trip to the hardware store.
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 Distinguished Executive-in-Residence in Emerson College’s Department of Journalism.
Two researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago—Laura P. Schaposnik and James Unwin—just released a new "study of human dependence on inactive mobile devices." In other words, why do people walk with a phone in their hand when not using the phone? The scholars pinpoint three possible explanations. The authors also flag one reason why people "stop holding mobile phones whilst walking." The 21-page reader-friendly paper even includes a figure of four common poses of how people hold phones when walking.
"For reporters, withholding valuable information from the public is anathema. But in a world in which foreign intelligence services hack, leak and fabricate, journalists will have to use extreme caution and extra transparency."
Reporters who have a great ‘source’
May hereafter feel great remorse
That some of their leaks
Are nothing but tweaks
To put us all on the wrong course.
Tim Torkildson is a retired circus clown who fiddles with rhyme. All his verses can be found at Tim's Clown Alley.
Founder, Curator: Don Van Natta Jr. Producer, Curator: Jacob Feldman Producer, Curator: Étienne Lajoie Senior Recycling Editor: Jack Shafer 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 Campus Editor: Peter Warren
Header Image: Ringer illustration
Contributing Editors: Bruce Arthur, Shaun Assael, Alex Belth, Sara J. Benincasa, Sara Blask, Greg Bishop, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Chris Cillizza, Rich Cohen, Pam Colloff, Maureen Dowd, Charles Duhigg, Brett Michael Dykes, Geoff Edgers, Lea Goldman, Michael N. Graff, Justine Gubar, 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, 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, Bruce Schoenfeld, Michael Schur, Joe Sexton, Jacqui Shine, Rachel Sklar, Dan Shanoff, Ben Smith, Matt Sullivan, Wright Thompson, Pablo Torre, Kevin Van Valkenburg, John A. Walsh, and Seth Wickersham
You can read more about our staff, and contact us (we'd love to hear from you!) on our website: SundayLongRead.com. Help pick next week's selections by tweeting us your favorite stories with #SundayLR.