3 GREAT STORIES: Best of 2016 (so far), 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.

We are halfway through 2016, which means the continuation of an annual tradition: the “Best Of (so far)” editions of my 3 Great Stories segment.

I will post my three favorite audio/video stories of the year so far next week. This week, my three favorite written pieces from January through June, along with what I wrote about them back then, with minor edits for clarity:

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.

40 percent of the buildings in Manhattan could not be built today (5/19/16, New York Times): This piece, also from The Upshot, again fulfills the tricky task of turning a statistic-laden subject into a visually appealing and informative display.

It lists no author on the byline and only one name at the end: Mika Grondahl, who provides illustrations that reflect exactly what the title implies. They show how a large minority of buildings in Manhattan, most of which were built in generations past, would not be legal under the city’s current zoning code. The article then reimagines New York City if that zoning code existed the entire time. It is fascinating candy for any New Yorker or outsider who views the isle of Manhattan as a singular specimen.

It all sounds interesting, right? It definitely sounds far more so than the news event that spurred it: the zoning code just turned 100 years old.

427: Ten years without Jen, twenty-six with (4/25/16, RogerEbert.com): Finally, here is a first-person journal that provides a deep, introspective, and powerful look at life after love.

It comes from Matt Zoller Seitz, a TV critic and the editor-in-chief at RogerEbert.com. Ten years ago, he lost his wife to a heart attack. His life since has been a sea of emotions I hope I never experience.

But through essays like this, Seitz has grieved both publicly and poignantly, offering a look into how he has moved forward to learned to accept so much about life. This entire entry provides some well-thought nuggets, such as these:

Let me give you another example: the observance of April 27.

Friends have said, This must be a hard week for you, or The tenth anniversary must be especially difficult. That’s nice of them. I appreciate it.

But I honestly can’t say that it is that difficult anymore. I’ve stopped trying to control the day, plan the day, force the day to have meaning. And now the day is usually rather pleasant—the kind of low-stress, intimate day that Jen used to enjoy.

I’m open to all this now. I don’t overthink it like I used to. I accept it emotionally and intellectually but I don’t freight it with more meaning than it can handle. I accept it as part of the natural order of things, more evidence of how your life is always writing itself without your asking it to.

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

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