Honorable mentions: Because I can never narrow a list down to just 10.
I’m not good at promoting my own work, and I’m certainly not suggesting any of these belong among the other stories included, but since you’re here, have a look at some of the stories I enjoyed writing the most this year.
- How Dino Babers’ victory speeches help define his approach to rebuilding Syracuse football.
- Ryan Finley doesn’t care what you think of him, but he’s trying to become a better person and a better QB anyway.
- Burt Reynolds had plenty of friends in sports, and they all had a good story or two to tell about The Bandit, who died in September.
A few oral histories worth your time:
- The “Fuck” scene from “The Wire”
- The making of “Step Brothers”
- Here’s one I did on the 30th anniversary of “Seminole Rap,” the horrendous FSU knock off of “Super Bowl Shuffle.”
My former colleague Natalie Pierre wrote this essay on her Facebook page. It’s a tough read. It’s brutally honest. It’s a reminder of how much we don’t see in other people’s lives, and how often they don’t realize there are people who care about them.
- This story from my pal Kyle Bonagura on the final ride of the Night Runner, a Utah State super fan, is just gorgeous. That the Night Runner died just days after its publication only lends it more meaning. I’d also encourage you to check out this Tweet thread from Kyle after Steve Wiley’s passing.
- I was one of many journalists taken by this essay from Kevin Alexander at Thrillist about a burger spot he declared the best in America that soon shut down following the hype. Turns out, there was a lot more at play here than initially reported, but that doesn’t alter the deeper context of how our what we report and write about can leave a lasting impact on the subjects — even when we’re writing something positive.
As a general rule, I hate celebrity profiles. For one, most celebrities are vapid and overexposed. But the bigger issue is most celebrity profiles are carefully choreographed bullshit that spends way too much time describing the meals everyone ate during the interview. Still, a few good ones get written every year.
- Example No. 1: Johnny Depp is a complete train wreck, and Stephen Rodrick’s story in Rolling Stone captures the tragic downfall and utter loneliness of its subject.
- Example No. 2: Media profiling media annoys me (see the 15 or so profiles of Stephen A. this year) but I genuinely enjoyed this piece on Dan LeBatard and Stugotz, who are both great, written by the equally great Mike Schur for Slate.
- Eli Saslow’s story on the cop who failed to act at Stoneman Douglas makes my top 10, but this look at how fake news is created and then consumed — a piece that showcases the “laugh and point” liberals as arguably more heartless and destructive than the ill-informed and fearful consumers of fake news — is worth a read, too.
- The Mueller investigation has been perhaps the most significant non-story of the year, insofar as it hasn’t landed the president in any legal trouble yet. But there have been numerous convictions, perhaps the biggest of which is Paul Manafort. This piece by Franklin Foer for The Atlantic details Manafort’s long history of corruption, well before he joined the Trump campaign. Really exquisite reporting.
Typically I wouldn’t include a film review in a list like this, but Jelani Cobb’s take on what “Black Panther” means within the context of slave trade from Africa is heartbreaking and gorgeous.
- One of the reasons I loved Cobb’s examination of “Black Panther” is that it made me realize how little I really understand about slavery, so I started searching for more. Coincidentally, I came across this piece on the persistent whitewashing of our past, which really underscores how ill-informed virtually all of us are, because those who wrote the histories often had incentive to distort the truth.
- And along those same lines, this story from The Smithsonian Magazine on how the real history is whitewashed from confederate monuments at a significant cost to taxpayers is compelling and frustrating.
- Two in the category of modern horror: This tale of the roommate from hell in New York Magazine from William Brennan is utterly insane and completely terrifying, and this from Reeves Wiedeman in New York Mag on a family terrorized by an anonymous stalker after moving into a new home is scary, strange & captivating. Terrific reporting & writing.
- This story in The Atlantic from Kate Julian is long, but it’s all about sex, so you should be able to stick with it. The basics: People are having less sex, and there are a lot of theories as to why.
- This story from my pal Dan Murphy opens with one of the most heart-pounding narrative leads you’ll read this year. The story of Kyle Richard’s heroism is a must-read and one of my favorite sports pieces of the year.
- I read the Tom Petty biography this year and found it to be good without really delving as deep as I’d have liked. This follow up from author Warren Zanes in the wake of Petty’s death, however, does go deeper. It’s sweet and insightful and worth a read.
- I have a lot of liberal friends who hated this story, which only goes to show the Jon Stewart fans can be just as humorless as the Sean Hannity crowd. In any case, this story for Politco by Adam Wren is just a terrific satire of all the journalistic excursions to middle America in hopes of understanding the average Trump voter, instead using those same techniques to show how foolish you can make the Hillary folks look, too.
- This story made the social media rounds for a bit this summer, but its impact shouldn’t be shrugged off as simply “interesting.” We hold the basic tenets of our Democracy as sacrosanct, but the fact of the matter is, the demographics of the U.S. have changed markedly since the Constitution was written, and the migration of people to denser areas forces the question: Is our representative government still representing us?
- There were a lot of mixed opinions on this New Yorker story about the flat earth society, from Alan Burdick. There’s a reasonable faction that feels like giving attention to these people is the same as giving them credibility — an accusation made about many of the stories on Trump apostles like Sarah Sanders and Tucker Carlson and Steven Miller, too. I get it, but that’s now how I viewed this story. It wasn’t a “aren’t they dumb” or “isn’t this funny” story. It was incredibly sad — a story about how far we’re willing to go to find our tribe, to feel a part of something.
If you’d asked me a year ago if I could switch lives with one person, who would it be, I’d have answered, without hesitation, Anthony Bourdain. That Bourdain was also depressed and suicidal never crossed my mind. That’s the tragedy of mental illness for so many. In any case, plenty of great eulogies were written on Bourdain, including
- this from Drew Magary in GQ
- these insights from Bourdain over the years compiled by Vice
- this from Longreads on Bourdain’s impact
- and this heartbreaking essay from the great David Simon.
And a few stories on what I think was perhaps the most interesting (non-Trump) storyline of the year for me: Blockchain.
I entered 2018 knowing essentially nothing about it other than that Bitcoin was booming, and the bubble would eventually burst. I end the year knowing… a little more. It’s still wildly confusing, but two things are clear:
1. The folks who believe in it REALLY believe in it, and they’re smart enough to force it into the public conscious eventually.
2. The horrific stories we continue to learn about Facebook, Twitter, Google and other data miners only underscores why Blockchain may be our ultimate solution.
In any case, plenty was written on the subject, including some really terrific stories.
- Start with Steven Johnson’s fantastic story from the New York Times that both explains the technical aspect of Blockchain and how it may one day change the way we use the Internet. It’s both very technical and still completely consumable.
- This piece from MIT Technology Review offers a good follow up to the New York Times story, with a look at how Blockchain may be a lot like the 90s dot com bubble — bursting initially but providing the foundation for so much of what followed.
- Bloomberg’s Paul Ford writes an amusing, largely critical but ultimately hopeful essay on the growth of Blockchain and why so many people are worshipping at its altar.
- And this, from Wired, is a mesmerizing narrative about the humans involved in Blockchain — romance and horror.