My last chunk of unearthed files I want to share, from a manila folder I had titled “EXCELLENT ARTICLES.” Is it the best journalism ever? Well, it is the stuff I decided to tear out and hold onto for a decade or more—high praise from someone so ruthless about culling files.
Poor Schools, Rich Targets, a 2004 Baltimore Sun series by Alec MacGillis, now at the Washington Post, on the education software industry targeting high-poverty schools, to great profit and often little effect.
Listening to Khakis, the 1997 New Yorker piece that sold me on Malcolm Gladwell. We worked on the national staff of the Washington Post at the same time, and he was good there, but this piece, about selling men’s pants, was the first time I realized I would have to read everything he wrote about culture, from then on. (Until a couple of years ago. I think I just had my fill.)
A Citizen in Full, a 2000 profile of Ralph Nader by Lewis Lapham of Harper’s Magazine. Generally, Lapham’s columns leave me empty and uncertain of my intellect. But in this piece, he managed to spend a day with Nader and paint an intensely vivid picture of a very, very odd man. It is easy to write a bad profile, and hard to pull off a good one.
Busted Flush, David Plotz’s 1999 Harper’s piece about the depressing ubiquity of video gambling in South Carolina culture and politics. David does an amazing job of creating a sense of place; read it and cough from the cigarette smoke you imagine surrounds you.
Bless This Food, one of Hank Stuever’s first great feature stories for the Washington Post, from 1999. I have been having trouble putting my finger on what exactly bores me about the Style section these days, and now I think I’ve got it: not enough pieces on guys who cook up roadkill for the needy.
Invisible Lives and Invisible Deaths, Katherine Boo’s 1999 and 2000 Washington Post investigations on the neglect and abuse endemic to the city’s group homes for the mentally retarded. Boo’s New Yorker pieces are amazing, but none changed the world for an entire group of people the way this project did. Did I say above that all this might not be the best journalism ever? This is.