Stories that warrant being mentioned honorably that did not manage to crack my top 10 for 2017

I ranked my 10 favorite stories of the year earlier because that’s what you’re supposed to do with these lists but those hardly represented all the great stuff I read this year.

(Note: Last year’s list of best stories can be found HERE.)

So, while I highly recommend you checking out the top 10 HERE, I’m also including a more extensive list of great reads from 2017.

I separated out stories on Trump because some of you may be inclined to avoid them. If not, have at it HERE.

And if you’re OK with a little self-promotion, HERE are my favorite stories I got to write this past year.

Now, on with the list…

Because food is always a great topic for writing, some great stories on how what (and where) we eat impacts our lives, we’ve got a few that fit that angle.

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* My friend Dave Wilson doesn’t write a ton for ESPN — he mostly edits stuff from lesser writers like myself. But boy, when he finds a good subject, he can run with it, as he does here on the subject of Waffle House as religion among college football fans. I’m not sure I read a story this year with better quotes than Wilson got for this. His secret, he told me, was simply sticking around long enough to get them. That’s something every reporter should remember.

Some of the best:

“The syrup,” she says, “gets in your veins.”

and…

“Its warm, yellow glow, a beacon of hope and salvation, inviting the hungry, the lost, the seriously hammered all across the South to come inside, a place of safety and nourishment.”

and…

“There’s no goat cheese and garlic here,” said Blake Tanner, an area vice president. “Just straight-up eatin’.”

* In January, I was sold on eliminating sugar from my diet. By December, I was mainlining Gummi Bears.

* Speaking of dieting, this story from The Guardian’s Bee Wilson on how we all fell for the “clean eating” fad speaks to so much of the psychology of the modern news cycle.

* On the surface this is a story about science and cheese. But it’s also about how the government makes decisions about what we eat, how marketing manipulates our psychology, how businesses decided what they’ll sell, and… well, cheese. Clint Rainey’s look at the dairy industry for Bloomberg is just terrific on so many levels.

***

In last year’s list, I included a number of stories about artificial intelligence. I’m glad to see the conversation has grown in 2017, and while I don’t know there was a truly great piece of writing on the topic, these were a few stories I thought worthwhile to read:

* If you’re looking for some good melt-your-brain science dumbed down for us commoners, Wait But Why has tons of great content. This piece, from Tim Urban, on the new (literally) mind bending project from Elon Musk is up there with the best of it.

* The Guardian’s Yuval Noah Harari looks at what we’ll do with all our free time once machines do everything. Actually, it’s a little deeper than that.

* Will a small number of companies control AI? And what happens if they aren’t American companies? The Economist asks some important questions.

* The Atlantic looks at what could be the near future for the fast food industry, where robots do the bulk of the work.

* Kevin Drum, in Mother Jones, paints a picture that feels at once both overly pessimistic and perhaps blissfully naive about the AI future. All I really know is we don’t know very much yet, and we should be talking a lot more about it.

***

Mass shootings were a routine topic in 2017 for all the worst reasons. But there was some excellent journalism in the wake of so many tragedies. A few I particularly loved:

* John Branch of The New York Times tells about the little girl on his daughter’s soccer team who lost her mother in the Las Vegas shooting. It hits so hard because it’s so deeply personal. It gets past all the “it’s sad, but it would never happen to me” narrative and kicks you in the gut.

* I’m not sure there was a better piece of deadline-style journalism — a reporter simply showing up on the scene of a story and finding an impactful narrative — than this piece by Matt Zapotosky, Devlin Barrett and Mark Berman in the Washington Post about two strangers who met at a concert in Las Vegas, where their lives were changed forever. Have your tissues ready.

* There’s a time for objective writing and there’s a time for something more personal. This story of Dylann Roof, the Charleston church shooter, from GQ’s Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah is the latter, and by choosing that path, we see a different side of the story.

***

And a potpourri of other great reads…

* I have a lot of strong feelings about this story from Huffington Posts’s Michael Hobbes. On the one hand, it’s an excellent uncovering of the cataclysmic shifts in the economy that could forever overwhelm the current generation of folks under 40. On the other hand, the inclusion of the “Millennial” terminology — and the subsequent discussion of it — feels like an unnecessary lightning rod.

These economic issues are real and concerning and require attention. But like everything important (or not important) our political climate gets in the way. When I shared this story on Twitter, the majority of the feedback was anti-Millennial rather than any type of discussion about the actual information presented. Moreover, the story loses me a bit in discussing possible solutions, overlooks major questions about automation replacing low-wage jobs and, perhaps because it is wary to be overtly political, fails to fully pull the curtain back on the rationale for how things have gotten this way.

In other words, it’s a simplistic but necessary start to a conversation that I really hope we can have (but we probably can’t).

* We don’t know exactly how the Republicans’ tax plan will impact the economy or how Trump’s push toward a more libertarian approach will change things, but we have a couple templates. This terrific (and very long!) profile of Texas in the age of ultra-conservative government from Lawrence Wright in the New Yorker offered so much depth, and while there’s tons of great writing out there about the great libertarian experiment in Kansas, I thought this piece on the secretiveness of the government there was as impactful as any economic studies.

* As someone who just had a baby this year, Barbara Bradley Hagerty’s story in The Atlantic about parents whose child is a psychopath is utterly terrifying.

* I went around singing “I hate every ape I see…” for about a week after reading this terrific oral history of the Planet of the Apes: The Musical scenes from “The Simpsons” in Vulture.

* I had no idea there was so much about Great White sharks I had no idea about. This story from National Geographic’s Erik Vance is terrific.

* Bloomberg did some terrific work this year. This piece from Zeke Faux on fraudulent debt collectors and one man who fought back against them feels like it could cast Liam Neeson as the lead and be a blockbuster movie.

* I wish we talked about this more when we discuss health care. The biggest problem isn’t lazy people or greedy insurance companies. It’s the cost of medicine, as Vox’s Sarah Kliff describes.

* It’s sort of crazy to see how obvious Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement seems reading this in retrospect. But my pal Tommy Tomlinson does such a terrific job of digging beneath the surface to find the real Junior in this story, and you come away feeling like the guy has so much more to offer the world off the track.

* I love writing that takes something completely simple and finds the deeper beauty in it. This is a terrific example, as Minnesota Monthly’s Frank Bures writes about the Mackinac Island Stone Skipping contest.

* Billy Joe Shaver is one bad ass dude. This Washington Post profile of the true country music outlaw is fantastic.

* Writing about sports is a difficult job because so few athletes want to really open themselves up. It’s not a business prone to introspection. But boy, when you come across a story like this — the profile of former USC star LenDale White — it hits hard. Great work from Los Angeles Times writer Zach Helfand.

* The Smithsonian Magazine is always a terrific place to find great narrative journalism, but this action-packed story of a sailing disaster on Mobile Bay by Matthew Teague is up there with the best of them.

* I’d never heard for the Barkley Marathons before, but turns out there’s a terrific documentary about it on Netflix. Nevertheless, start with this riveting piece from George Pendle in Esquire which wonderfully examines the insanity of the world’s most difficult race.

* There’s something darkly human in this story from the New Yorker’s James Lasdun on his obsession with his dentist’s murder trial.

* This is a rollicking who dun it tale from Bloomberg’s Kit Chellel and Matthew Campbell on the hijacking of a super tanker.

* The crazy story of a polar expedition gone haywire, from Outside’s Blair Braverman, is just a riveting read from start to finish.

* We all know that Florida is crazy. This piece on how one Florida boomtown came to be is yet another showcase of that insanity. Good stuff from Politico’s Michael Grunwald.

* This utterly haunting portrait of an alternative funeral from Esquire’s Libby Copeland will stick with you for a while.

* I struggled with whether or not to include this, as the aftermath of its publication led to significant criticism of its conclusions. In the end, I think New York’s David Wallace-Wells’ look into the near future and what our environment might look like was so important to the discussion of climate change in 2017 that it warrants inclusion, even if it isn’t quite perfect in its science.

 

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