Picking these stories activated an obsessive part of my brain and I’m already regretting throwing the “best” around without spending a few months reading all of the Longreads of 2012. But there’s always 2013!
Best Farmer/Vampire Story
This story really needs to be read to be believed. First of all, hats off to the writer, Abigail Tucker, for introducing and then eliminating the possibility of a serial killer in the first ten lines. And then the chilling line: “Ever heard of the Jewett City vampires?” What follows is a window into East Coast agrarian life in the 1800s, a time when supernatural folklore took hold as demographic changes drained the land of people. (Also, you guys, VAMPIRES.)
Best Public Safety Story
Silos. You don’t really think about them, right? Thanks to this fantastic bit of reporting from The New York Times, you won’t be able to forget them. When federal officials noticed that a strangely high percentage of “grain entrapment” deaths, basically corn avalanches, were those of teenage boys, regulators moved to ban child labor on the farm. This caused a great controversy because child farm labor is the only kind exempted from labor regulations—many protested that it was a denial of age-old tradition. The forces that collided over this issue are fascinating, and heartbreaking.
Best Tech Criminal Story
From The Verge, this in-depth look at the subculture of a particular kind of online scam stayed with me all year. The reporter dug in, and got the perspectives of both those peddling a strange kind of snake oil (marketing, basically) and the poor souls who spend thousands of dollars on worthless products. I still can’t totally wrap my mind around what these Scamworld folks are selling—the ability to market yourself online?—but in a way, it doesn’t matter. They are selling what con artists always sell: themselves.
Best Immersion Journalism Story
Immersion pieces can be tricky—oftentimes, the writer spends most of the copy patting himself on the back for the bravery to, say, pretend to be homeless for a week or read the Bible in sequential order. But Mac McClelland really nails the balance here, as she spends a month showing us something we never see: the elves who package our online shopping goods, for little wage and under bad conditions. After this story came out, when I saw the headlines that Amazon was trying to do same-day shipping, my heart sunk.
Best Call-to-Action Essay
Okay, this story (or whatever it is—a combination of op-ed and essay) is far from perfect. But the issues raised by Wen Stephenson—a former editor for the Atlantic and longtime journalist—about how the media deals with (and doesn’t deal with) climate change are big. Very big. The bottom line is that unless journalists treat the environmental changes happening right now on our planet as a crisis, not a debate, the public is not getting adequately informed. We may not be all doomed yet but the odds are swiftly tilting against our favor.