3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2014, written edition

Every week, I will shine the spotlight on some of the best storytelling in the business and offer my comments. “3 Great Stories of the Week” will post every Monday at 8 AM.

Having done the “3 Great Stories” segment all year long, I now face the challenge of picking my favorites.

But I have picked them, and here they are.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year next week. This week, without further ado, I present my three favorite written pieces of 2014, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

#3) A star player accused, and a flawed rape investigation (4/16/14, New York Times): Wow.

This is how you research, write, and present a piece of investigative journalism.

Instantly one of the most widely spread articles of the year, Walt Bogdanich’s in-depth look at the Jameis Winston rape investigation produces incendiary highlights throughout. From interviews with relevant parties to a timeline of the events in question, Bogdanich offers a thorough look at what was done — and what was missed — throughout the aftermath.

No wonder the article has invoked such a reaction — both from Florida State, where Winston just led the football team to a national title, and from readers, many of whom followed the Winston coverage intently last fall.

#2) The laborers who keep beheadings out of your Facebook feed (10/23/14, Wired): Speaking of capturing one’s attention immediately, here is a long-form magazine article that absolutely nails it.

Adrian Chen of Wired gets extraordinary access here, heading to the Philippines to visit an office where workers scan social media for inappropriate content, which they then delete. These folks are, in some ways, the unsung gatekeepers of the Internet — the ones who do an awful lot of dirty work (no pun intended) so we can all enjoy the Web in peace.

Seemingly every paragraph brings a revelation, particularly the final ones. Chen documents how these workers often wind up psychologically affected by viewing non-stop, as he puts it, “the infinite variety of human depravity. They begin to suspect the worst of people they meet in real life, wondering what secrets their hard drives might hold.”

It’s a strange but powerful story.

#1) The War of the Words (December 2014, Vanity Fair): It lasts six web pages and covers so much, but this story impresses me most because of its restraint.

Writing for Vanity Fair, Keith Gessen discusses the landscape surrounding the current battle between Amazon and book publishers, who feel they are being squashed by a behemoth. He gives a great summary of the current disputes; more importantly, he provides powerful context.

Isn’t it funny how Amazon was initially seen as a force of good for the publishing industry, a counterpoint to the giant chain bookstores like Barnes & Noble and Borders? Now Amazon is the giant, and in many ways, Gessen writes, its ascendance represents the more cyclical nature of business rather than a sea change. This poignant paragraph sums it up:

The dispute between Amazon and the publishers is a dispute between an e-commerce giant and companies that have for generations been printing text on paper. In some respects it is also a dispute between the East Coast and the West Coast. It is definitely a dispute between hyper-capitalism and cultural conservation. But in the end it is a dispute that comes down to different visions of the future of the written word.

Have a suggestion for “3 Great Stories of the Week”? E-mail me at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com.

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