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2Jan 2014

One last list: Best long features of 2013.

Tracker Charlie Petit has done an excellent job of rounding up the best--and some of the worst--stories of 2013, in his List of lists and his parsing of all of them into what he offers as a consensus view.

I wanted to add mention of a few examples of what are now fashionably known as longreads or longform journalism, but which were known before 2005 or so as feature stories. Or--in newspaper jargon--takeouts.

As I've said here before, longform ≠ good. Long stories can be awful. Or transcendent. I'm not the only one who thinks we should do away with the term "longform." The important distinction is not between long stories and short, but between good stories and bad.

With that grouchiness out of the way, allow me to supplant Charlie's lists with a few addressing mostly feature stories and takeouts. 

Matter, in a list of favorite 2013 science and technology stories, points to a few good pieces you might have missed, including Rebecca Solnit's slightly strange but fascinating disquisition on the Google bus that ferries tech workers, like miners, from San Francisco to Silicon Valley. Matter also liked Jeff Goodell's story in Rolling Stone about Miami's utter lack of concern about its imminent slide into the ocean; Kathleen Raven's (much shorter) post on sexual harassment; Laurie Garrett's piece in Foreign Policy about the flu in China; and Mac McClelland's Mother Jones story, "Schizophrenic. Killer. My Cousin." Among others.

Longform.org's Top Ten list included Luke Mogelson's New York Times story recounting his risky trip with a boatload of refugees seeking asylum, Andrea Elliott's New York Times opus--a very long feature--on one of New York City's 22,000 homeless children, a story almost certain to win a Pulitzer. And more.

Nieman Storyboard released its list of the Best of Narrative, 2013, which pointed to, among others, the radio piece "The Hospital Always Wins," for which the producer, Laura Starecheski, spent almost a decade following a hospitalized psychiatric patient's efforts to be released. Nieman also liked "Jahar's World," the Rolling Stone profile by Janet Reitman of the suspected Boston Marathon bomber, a story many of us missed in the furor over the magazine's sympathetic cover image; Jonathan Franzen's piece in National Geographic on migrating birds; and the multimedia piece at the Wall Street Journal by Amy Dockser Marcus about the search for help for a child with a rare disease.

What these lists will not tell you is where to find time to read and listen to all these fine stories. But the lists do tell us that concern about the disappearance of long features in the digital age was misplaced. Journalists are still finding a way to get these stories done.

-Paul Raeburn

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