3 GREAT STORIES: Starring clickbait, death row, and a $75 truck

Every week, I 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 virologist (1/5/15, New Yorker): Happy new year, journalist and storyteller friends!

Want to start 2015 with a startling look at your industry?

Andrew Marantz fires a fastball high and tight in this long-form piece from the New Yorker’s first issue of the year. The writer profiles a content creator of a different brand: a 27-year-old named Emerson Spartz who, per the article, “has been successfully launching web sites for nearly half his life.”

What are these web sites? They are cold, hard generators of clickbait.

To read about Spartz’s operation is to peek into a calculated industry that shadows the journalistic experience while utterly ignoring its ethics. In this case, Marantz is as brutal a storyteller as Spartz is a content creator, refusing to hold back and expertly matching the tone of his work with the personality of his subject. Come for the sobering look at the industry, but stay for a well-written and thought-provoking piece of journalism.

The witness (September 2014, Texas Monthly): Posting this story, on my end, is somewhat cheating.

After all, it came out four months ago.

But the piece, about a spokeswoman for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice who witnessed nearly 300 executions, was resurrected last week when Texas Monthly promoted its most popular long-form stories of 2014.

And it is too good not to share.

Pamela Colloff’s article lasts roughly 9,000 words, but it might as well be a textbook, because the writer showcases everything one would want in a long-form piece of journalism. She presents an informative, emotional, compelling story that, despite its length, never lags.

This would likely have found its way to my Best Stories of 2014 post … if only I had read it in 2014.

Man drives $75 truck to work for 38 years (1/2/15, KARE-TV): Speaking of the best stories of 2014, I am not at all surprised that the reporter behind my favorite TV story of last year has already produced a knockout feature in 2015.

Boyd Huppert, with photographer Rob Collett, starts the year with a smile-worthy story about a Minnesota man who has kept the same $75 Chevrolet pick-up truck for nearly four decades.

Could you sell this story at a pitch meeting? Certainly, if you sell Huppert’s words as well. He has a tremendous way of writing beautiful turns of phrase that feel neither corny nor forced; they always fit the situation of the story, and they reflect the extra effort of a seasoned storyteller.

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

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