3 GREAT STORIES: Starring Upworthy, ageism, & post-Olympics Sochi

More and more, I see long-form writing being spread on short-form media.

I found two of this week’s 3 Great Stories through links on friends’ Twitter feeds, which struck me as ironic both then and now. Here is a social media service, designed for lightning-quick communication, often derided for the lack of depth it encourages through its 140-character Tweet limit. And yet, it has become — on some small level — a conduit to explore much larger works of writing.

My vantage point on Twitter is, I believe, not unique. When I use it, I typically want a quick scroll of headlines, quips, and commentary to keep me abreast of the latest news and conversation topics. But I also find myself turning to Twitter during pockets of down time, and in those moments, I find myself susceptible to being lured into a long-form read.

Here is what lured me in this past week:

Watching Team Upworthy work is enough to make you a cynic. Or lose your cynicism. Or both. Or neither (3/23/14, New York Magazine): Speaking of something that seemingly succeeds by functioning against conventional wisdom, enter Upworthy.

The web site known for its bluntly emotional headlines and sincere content is also notorious for its astounding ubiquity online. It is much-loved and much-hated — and the envy of virtually every web developer eager to duplicate Upworthy’s rags-to-Internet-riches success.

Give credit, then, to writer Nitsuh Abebe for penning a fascinating article that goes behind the scenes with Upworthy’s 40-person staff. Abebe covers all angles of the Upworthy saga, from its founders’ mission to its detractors’ skepticism.

More than that, Abebe, normally the music critic at New York Magazine, performs the deft trick of revealing various details of the Upworthy creative process while still acknowledging the seeming mystery of the site’s monstrous performance. He maneuvers around that tension throughout the piece, which remains absorbing throughout.

The brutal ageism of tech (3/23/14, The New Republic): Most people who have encountered Upworthy have probably wondered how it has become so successful so quickly.

In this article, Noam Scheiber looks at a question many likely have not thought to ask.

The New Republic writer provides a brutal, thorough takedown of the Silicon Valley tech sector for its seemingly ageist culture. He opens the piece with a powerful vignette: a San Francisco plastic surgeon talks of how many of his newer clients are younger, saying he “routinely turns away tech workers in their twenties.” From there, Scheiber springboards into story after story about how such an innovative industry disregards the old.

In this case, by the way, “old” means “over 40”.

Scheiber piqued my interest from the get-go, but he hooked me with the final paragraph of his section about the plastic surgeon. This sets the stage for everything to come:

The darkness of this irony is not hard to see. In the one corner of the American economy defined by its relentless optimism, where the spirit of invention and reinvention reigns supreme, we now have a large and growing class of highly trained, objectively talented, surpassingly ambitious workers who are shunted to the margins, doomed to haunt corporate parking lots and medical waiting rooms, for reasons no one can rationally explain. The consequences are downright depressing.

Dead city (3/25/14, BlogSochi.ru): This final recommendation is not long-form in terms of words — just pictures.

Alexander Shafts of BlogSochi in Russia provides the first major viral story on what I suspect will be a recurring topic for years to come: the aftermath of the 2014 Winter Olympics for the city that hosted it.

During my time in Sochi, I constantly wondered how the area could possibly sustain itself when its Olympic visitors had left. In this piece, Shafts provides 41 photos as evidence that Sochi has quickly become a ghost town, with abandoned construction and development and nary a person on the street.

This photo gallery is a reminder of the value of access. Shafts’ photos are not technically strong, and he writes for a Russian web site, so any English-speaking reader will have to translate the page to read his captions. But he makes up for it by providing an important vantage point — one few American journalists will likely see again.

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

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