3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2016, 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.

The tradition continues.

Every December, I look back at my “3 Great Stories” posts from the past year and decide on which stories, I feel, rose above the rest.

I often find I enjoy the stories the second time almost as much as the first.

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 2016 — and an honorable mention — along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

HM) Brotherhood (3/23/16, Bleacher Report): Early on in “Brotherhood”, Howard Beck’s infinitely engrossing long-form story about the friendship between two basketball superstars, one of those stars makes a poignant statement.

“In our sport, or sports in general, everyone wants instant oatmeal,” says LeBron James. “Put it in the microwave, hit 30 seconds, you got a meal. Sometimes, no matter how great you are, it doesn’t happen like that.”

Now replace “sports” with “journalism”. In this era, many audiences — and news bosses — demand “instant oatmeal” from journalists, seeking and investing in clickbait and easy answers over more layered, complicated work.

Stories like this prove what one can get by waiting for a splendid meal.

Beck presents a fascinating portrait of two players — James and Carmelo Anthony — whose friendship and rivalry have provided a powerful undercurrent to the NBA’s past dozen years. This piece made headlines for a different “instant oatmeal” quote, where James muses how he would love to, one day, join forces with Anthony. But that quote comes at the end. The rest is a beautiful blend of smile-worthy memories, did-you-know-that stories, and revealing quotes from two of the league’s best.

#3) They promised us jet packs. They promised the bosses profits. (7/24/16, New York Times): Talking about massive tech companies, how about the one formerly known as Google?

Now operating as Alphabet, the conglomerate has developed its X research lab, which takes the seemingly longest of long-shot ideas (jet packs, for example) and attempts to turn them into reality.

Sounds great, right? Sounds amazing, even!

Except how does it make money?

That’s a question Alphabet’s investors regularly ask, as illustrated in this article by Conor Dougherty. And that’s fascinating.

Dougherty outlines the situation while nodding to its compelling nature. He also delves into the concept of “failure bonuses”, which could be the subject of its own article.

#2) Politics of pain: drugmakers fought state opioid limits amid crisis (9/18/16, Center for Public Integrity): The authors of this story refuse to bury the lead.

In a thorough and brutal report on various states’ efforts surrounding the current opioid crisis, reporters Liz Essley Whyte, Matthew Perrone, Geoff Mulvihill, and Ben Wieder lay it all out in the first paragraph:

“The makers of prescription painkillers have adopted a 50-state strategy that includes hundreds of lobbyists and millions in campaign contributions to help kill or weaken measures aimed at stemming the tide of prescription opioids, the drugs at the heart of a crisis that has cost 165,000 Americans their lives and pushed countless more to crippling addiction.”

They spend the rest of the article backing up that powerful premise.

Like any great investigative piece, the reporters here present both their methods and findings with enormous detail. They represent a collaboration between the Center for Public Integrity and the Associated Press, and they make a powerful storytelling team.

#1) The official coming-out party (10/12/16, ESPN): Rarely have I seen a story whose tone is set immediately by its opening photo.

But upon clicking on the above link, you will be confronted with not words but a full-screen snapshot of a recent Pride Parade — with one figure on a float towering above the crowd, in both height and happiness.

He is Bill Kennedy, an NBA referee who came out last winter after a player described him with a homophobic slur.

As you scroll down, you will find 7,000+ words from versatile ESPN scribe Kevin Arnovitz, who provides some of the site’s best analysis and, in this case, a compelling portrait. He fills his profile of Kennedy with revealing anecdotes and morsels. He describes Kennedy’s complicated existence as a gay man in a high-profile job, constantly monitoring who among his colleagues and connections knew of his sexual orientation.

Arnovitz deserves credit for a masterful story. But it starts with that first photo, taken by David Dow, which displays Kennedy’s newfound comfort and happiness better than any word.

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


The Solo Video Journalist is available for purchase. You can find it on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the publisher’s web site.

Matt Pearl is the author of the Telling the Story blog and podcast. Feel free to comment below or e-mail Matt at matt@tellingthestoryblog.com. You can also follow Matt on Facebook and Twitter.

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