by Brett Essler
Despite shrinking ad revenue and declining readership, there was some good news in the world of journalism in 2012. Thirty-three percent of American’s now own a tablet or e-reader, which has led to a bit of a renaissance for “longform” or narrative journalism — well-reported, character-driven pieces that read like novellas. It’s not a new form, but the ways readers are consuming this journalism — which is often peppered with multimedia and interactive features — is spawning websites and apps that connect readers with content and potentially create revenue streams for struggling publications.
Below are 10 stories I enjoyed in 2012, in no particular order.
An Innocent Man by Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly
If you had preconceived notions about the inherent unfairness of “Texas justice” this incredible story (in two parts) will confirm them. Paging Errol Morris...
Snow Fall: The Avalanche at
Tunnel Creek by John Branch,
New York Times
When this story was published just before Christmas, most of the attention was focused on the Times’ gorgeous and innovative web presentation. It wasn’t until a week later that I dug into the text and was absolutely riveted.
Grace in Broken Arrow by Kiera Feldman, This Land Press
A story of sexual predators and institutional cover ups at an Oklahoma Christian school that rivals the Penn State tragedy in its scope. This Land is a pioneer in the new longform narrative landscape and Feldman is a young journalist we’ll be hearing a lot from.
Diary of a Mad Fact-Checker by James Pogue, Oxford
It was a big year for “fact checking” as the campaigns and political press tossed the term around liberally. In political advertising fact checking means catching your opponent in a lie. But the quotidian drudgery of a magazine fact checker is focused on the small details the reader should never notice.
The Glorious Plight of the Buffalo Bills by Ben Austen,
What made this portrait of the woeful Bills stand out was the reporter’s deep dive into Buffalo’s African-American community. A rare look into the socio-economic costs of an NFL franchise in a crumbling rust belt city. Don’t let that scare you, it’s also a ton a fun.
We are Alive: Springsteen at 62 by David Remnick, New
Even if you don’t like the Boss, Remnick’s profile will impress you as an epic narrative that parallels the arc of long, sweaty Springsteen show.
Obama’s Way by Michael Lewis, Vanity
Not the most analytical or academic Obama story in this crucial election year (see Ryan Lizza or Ta-Hehesi Coates for those), but, come on, it’s Michael Lewis! He has access and, despite the kerfuffle over “quote approval,” there are still quite a few interesting details here you won’t read in any other Obama profile.
Where's _why?: The Disappearance of One of the World’s
Most Beloved Computer Programmers by Annie Lowrey, Slate
You don’t have to be a computer programmer to hang on every word of this intriguing piece about the mysterious disappearance of _why?, the popular coder behind the Ruby programming language.
The Truck Stop Killer by Vanessa
In the 1980s, dozens of women — mostly young runaways — were picked up at truck stops and never seen again. Those who escaped told of kidnapping, torture, and sexual sadism at the hands of a psychopathic long haul trucker. Veselka's experience as a young hitchhiker gives her great insight into the minds of both the young victims and their killer.
More longform best of lists:
 Full disclosure: I’m a luddite. I read each of the stories above in print, so I cannot vouch for the reader experience on a device.