Don Van Natta Jr.: 5 longreads that editors and writers might enjoy

October 16, 2018

In this crazy time, longreads can transport a reader, bring perspective and combat that every-15-seconds beep from Twitter, Slack or some news alert.

I asked ESPN's Don Van Natta Jr., co-founder of The Sunday Long Read, if he had five favorite stories from recent months that could help overburdened journalists, editors, academics, Wikipedians, librarians and news junkies.

In gulps, he delivers, bringing us joy and dashed expectations; the ragged edges in even the best reporting; the undead, vampirish nature of Rupert Murdoch; and a quintessential grifter in an era dominated by fast talkers. He rounds out the list with a jeremiad of sorts about social media.

If you read a few of these, you may discover a quality delineated by Heidi N. Moore, guest editor of this past Sunday's Long Read newsletter. "This time in history," Moore writes, "has turned longreads — with their extensive reporting, interviews and analysis — into not just reporting, but into a very useful kind of moral philosophy." 

That said, here, in no particular order, are Van Natta's picks, along with links and his reasons for including each one:

1. For Me, With Love and Squalor, Lauren Markham, Longreads

I recognize so much in Lauren Markham’s wise essay about being a first-time author. Yes, it isn’t easy to write and publish a book. And when you first hold your hardcover in your hands, the thrill is real. For most of us, the joy is quickly chased away by disappointment, sorrow, confusion and heartbreak.

2. Looking for Calley, Seymour Hersh, Harper’s

In an excerpt from his memoir, "Reporter," Seymour Hersh tells how he turned a cryptic tip from a young D.C. lawyer into his history-altering report about the My Lai massacre. The legendary investigative reporter also describes the many ways that members of the press, including himself, have sins to account for.

3. The Endless Reign of Rupert Murdoch, Richard Cooke, The Monthly

This is the smartest, most perceptive piece that I’ve read about Rupert Murdoch and his multi-headed legacy — or, as Richard Cooke explains, “Murdoch is a legacy unto himself, at least in the sense of something left over from a previous era, but still in active existence.”

4. Maybe She Just Had So Much Money She Lost Track of It, Jessica Pressler, The Cut/NY Magazine

Jessica Pressler’s luminous story about a Manhattan grifter has stayed with me. Try to make time to discover how Anna Delvey fooled everyone in New York — and marvel at how seemingly effortlessly Pressler gathers and tells a story.

5. The Deliberate Awfulness of Social Media, Mark O’Connell, the New Yorker

“Twitter, as everyone knows, is Hell,” writes Mark O’Connell. But as all journalists know all too well, we must live on Twitter because it’s the most indispensable way to keep us hard-wired to … Hell?

Readers, add to the list in the comments below. What long reads of 2018 would you put on such a list? Also, here are links if you're interested in Van Natta's weekly Long Read, his new membership effort and the podcast. Read my take on Van Natta's expanded role at ESPN, which capitalizes on his curation skills.