Let me first say that I get the creeps whenever I encounter the new journalism buzz-phrase “long-form journalism.”
Long-form -- rhymes with chloroform.
Why not just say “long,” since that seems to be what is being advertised.
To be effective, the writer needs to blend facts, details, descriptions, observations, quotes, opinions, in an interesting manner. That is, the writer needs to be able to write, and the editors need to be able to edit.
That’s long enough, right there. However, some long pieces are glorious, worth reading slowly, carefully, from beginning to end. I just read three over the weekend.
The Passion of Roger Angell. By Tom Verducci. Sports Illustrated, July 21, 2014.
Roger Angell has graced the New Yorker and his own books for the past half century with his writing about baseball (along with other elegant pieces.) On July 26, Angell will be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., with the annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers of America. (Angell has never held a BBWA card since the New Yorker does not cover baseball on a daily basis.)
Tom Verducci, a Sports Illustrated writer and television commentator, has proven worthy of his subject, accompanying Angell to the cottages and docks and sailboats of his beloved Maine, and even to the cemetery, containing the headstones for Angell’s mother, Katharine Angell White, his step-father, E.B. White, his brother, Joe, his daughter, Callie, and Angell’s wife, Carol, whom he misses badly, and for Angell himself, the stone (1920-) lacking only a final date.
To his immense credit, Verducci captures the bittersweet outlook of a man who is 93 and has much left to say about baseball, about life, about writing:
“I used to have a terribly hard time starting, because when I wrote I didn’t do first drafts. I wrote the whole piece on typewriters and would x out and use Scotch tape. I think I began to realize that leads weren’t a big problem. You can start anywhere.”
For many decades, the best baseball writing of the year would arrive in the mail at the end of spring training -- Roger Angell’s report on spring training, often from the baseball hangout, the Pink Pony in Scottsdale, Ariz., now defunct. The first Angell of spring was a sure sign we would outlive winter, real life was resuming. His pieces could have gone on forever, as far as this reader was concerned. Amazingly, long-form journalism had not yet been invented.
Wrong Answer: In an era of high-stakes testing, a struggling school made a shocking choice. By Rachel Aviv. The New Yorker. July 21, 2014.
Speaking of trends, the current infatuation with testing scores led the Atlanta school system to encourage cheating. Rachel Aviv followed one idealistic educator, feeling forced to abandon actual teaching and caring for the young, down the path to Watergate-style chicanery. Great reporting provides a guide to this tragedy.
The Trials of Graham Spanier, Penn State’s Ousted President. By Michael Sokolove. The New York Times Magazine. July 20, 2014.
The former president of Penn State allowed a seasoned magazine writer to visit him in the wreckage of the child-abuse case involving Jerry Sandusky, a former defensive coordinator with the football team. The article says Spanier was brutalized by his own father; I never knew that. Now Spanier faces legal charges that he failed to investigate the possibility that Sandusky was sexually abusing young boys within the football “program.”
There is no doubt Spanier and Joe Paterno were clueless in coping with developing hints and charges about Sandusky. (I listened in on a Paterno press conference in 2008; in retrospect, this was not the same man I had followed for decades, but Spanier could not get him to retire.)
Sokolove makes the case that the institution of Penn State was willing to chuck Spanier and Paterno into history and pay $60-million to the loan-shark-minded N.C.A.A. for the privilege of being able to make more money as a football “program.”
Note: I just discovered a piece by James Bennet in the Atlantic last December, decrying the spawn of longform-journalism. It’s really good. And not that long.
Measuring Covid Deaths, by David Leonhardt. July 17, 2023. NYT online.
The United States has reached a milestone in the long struggle against Covid: The total number of Americans dying each day — from any cause — is no longer historically abnormal….
After three horrific years, in which Covid has killed more than one million Americans and transformed parts of daily life, the virus has turned into an ordinary illness.
The progress stems mostly from three factors:
First, about three-quarters of U.S. adults have received at least one vaccine shot.
Second, more than three-quarters of Americans have been infected with Covid, providing natural immunity from future symptoms. (About 97 percent of adults fall into at least one of those first two categories.)
Third, post-infection treatments like Paxlovid, which can reduce the severity of symptoms, became widely available last year.
“Nearly every death is preventable,” Dr. Ashish Jha, who was until recently President Biden’s top Covid adviser, told me. “We are at a point where almost everybody who’s up to date on their vaccines and gets treated if they have Covid, they rarely end up in the hospital, they almost never die.”
That is also true for most high-risk people, Jha pointed out, including older adults — like his parents, who are in their 80s — and people whose immune systems are compromised. “Even for most — not all but most —immuno-compromised people, vaccines are actually still quite effective at preventing against serious illness,” he said. “There has been a lot of bad information out there that somehow if you’re immuno-compromised that vaccines don’t work.”
That excess deaths have fallen close to zero helps make this point: If Covid were still a dire threat to large numbers of people, that would show up in the data.
One point of confusion, I think, has been the way that many Americans — including we in the media — have talked about the immuno-compromised. They are a more diverse group than casual discussion often imagines.
Most immuno-compromised people are at little additional risk from Covid — even people with serious conditions, such as multiple sclerosis or a history of many cancers. A much smaller group, such as people who have received kidney transplants or are undergoing active chemotherapy, face higher risks.
Covid’s toll, to be clear, has not fallen to zero. The C.D.C.’s main Covid webpage estimates that about 80 people per day have been dying from the virus in recent weeks, which is equal to about 1 percent of overall daily deaths.
The official number is probably an exaggeration because it includes some people who had virus when they died even though it was not the underlying cause of death. Other C.D.C. data suggests that almost one-third of official recent Covid deaths have fallen into this category. A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases came to similar conclusions.
Dr. Shira Doron, the chief infection control officer at Tufts Medicine in Massachusetts, told me that “age is clearly the most substantial risk factor.” Covid’s victims are both older and disproportionately unvaccinated. Given the politics of vaccination, the recent victims are also disproportionately
Republican and white.
Each of these deaths is a tragedy. The deaths that were preventable — because somebody had not received available vaccines and treatments — seem particularly tragic. (Here’s a Times guide to help you think about when to get your next booster shot.)
From the great Maureen Dowd:
As I write this, I’m in a deserted newsroom in The Times’s D.C. office. After working at home for two years during Covid, I was elated to get back, so I could wander around and pick up the latest scoop.
But in the last year, there has been only a smattering of people whenever I’m here, with row upon row of empty desks. Sometimes a larger group gets lured in for a meeting with a platter of bagels."
--- Dowd writes about the lost world of journalists clustered in newsrooms at all hours, smoking, drinking, gossipping, making phone calls, typing, editing.
"Putting out the paper," we called it.
Much more than nostalgia.