LongForum
SI’s Art of the Tell-All; Ex- Agent Confesses to Payoffs

In sports writing clichés run rampant. See: ‘run rampant.’ I deployed a cliché because I don’t really know what the heck I’m talking about. Truth is, I haven’t read the sports pages, with any regularity, since Pop Warner football, nearly 20 years anon.

“If you see a sports story that has ‘ghosts,’ ‘dreams,’ or ‘shadows’ in the lead,” Pulitzer-winning Sports Illustrated writer George Dohrmann tells LongForum, “those are alarm bells that what you’re about to read is overwritten and probably clichéd. At SI we put a stamp of importance on stories that are shown rather than told.”

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Gay Talese Strikes Again; Gaga for Tony Bennett’s 85th

Every once in a rare while you get a perfect pairing. Like when Steve Martin sits down with David Letterman. We feel we’re watching old friends luxuriate in rich memories and inside jokes, a bemused volley between wizened raconteurs with nothing left to prove.

The journalistic version might be Gay Talese, the 79 year-old granddaddy of narrative nonfiction, chronicling a landmark recording session by the 85 year-old Tony Bennett, whom Elton John recently pronounced “the single most important figure in music history.” MORE»

Bryan Burrough: “In the post-Barbarians period I had to make a deal with myself. I didn’t need to be John Grisham.”

Starting out in the trade, rookie business reporters are often, as I was, given two books to read to learn about the so-called culture of Wall Street, its idiom and its preoccupations, as well as how a writer might go about animating a world that is seemingly devoid of action, a world whose drama unfolds in the clashing of egos, the slamming of phones, and the movement of money from one rich person to another rich person, the boardroom powwows and brow-furrowing punctuated by steak dinners and chauffeured car rides back to Westchester. Do this deal NOW or there’s no economy on Monday!!

Both books were published between 1989 and 1990, and both were authored by very young writers who would both go on to write many more books, as well as many magazine stories for Vanity Fair. MORE»

Grigoriadis Goes South, Does Tex-Mex Drug Lord La Barbie

It’s been said often — and was said again by Bill Keller in Sunday’s NYT Book Review — that Christopher Hitchens, the literary provocateur, writes faster than many people read. Hitchens’ output is indeed baffling. There are rumors afoot that Hitchens, while hosting dinner parties, will leave the room periodically to write, allowing, one imagines, the booze and cigarettes to dissipate until more refreshments are called for. Then again Hitchens is not exactly what you’d call a pure reporter, at least not a shoe-leather reporter in the classic sense. He travels and talks to people, sure, but much of his reporting comes from within books. In Keller’s fawning review of Hitchens’ recent essay collection, he questions how much of Hitchens’ writing is based on non-book knowledge. “Hitchens finds much to love about America, ” Keller writes by way of example, “but on the evidence of this collection, he seems to find it mostly in books.” Hitchens’ heroism, what we admire about him, is the confidence we imagine it takes in order to see one’s self as the ultimate source. He is the kind of journalist who might chronicle his own death.

Vanessa Grigoriadis — contributing ed. at RS, VF, and NY — likes books too. In fact, in the same NYTBR she reviewed some Jane Fonda memoirs. But one senses that these exercises in commentary are for her the exception, a slice of chocolate cake she permits herself in between vigorous journalistic workouts. “There’s no percentage in opinion journalism,” she told LongForum last year. MORE»

Novel Tales: The Publishing Story of “The Art of Fielding”

I could be missing something, but in my recollection it’s been rare — and this is strange, given the media’s propensity to cover itself — that long-form journalists chronicle the publishing industry.

Is the fiction business so opaque or uninteresting? We see daily reports about the e-reader and the death of print, etc., but nothing about the guts of the book biz, how it works, no profiles of the modern-day Maxwell Perkins — who is the modern-day Perkins? — or adventure tales of swashbuckling authors treating their pasty editors to fishing trips in the keys, no deep-dives into the particulars of those whiskey-fueled, all-night cutting  sessions that shaped The Novel That Would Change the Face of Literature. MORE»

Dohrmann, SI’s Top Gun, Gets His Due in Harper’s

LongForum was established with the goal of aggregating great long-form magazine stories, talking to the journalists — and hopefully, in the process, bringing the work of non-fiction writers to a larger audience.

When LongForum did its first interview, last October, with Sports Illustrated investigative reporter George Dohrmann, it was because Dohrmann, then 37, had written an SI cover story, “Confessions of an Agent,” in which Josh Luchs, a former football agent, confesses to having paid more than 30 college football players, many of whom are now in the NFL. In the course of researching Dorhmann we learned that the sports-scandal genre is his bread and butter: in the late 90’s, as a young reporter at the St. Paul Pioneer Press, Dohrmann broke big stories about academic fraud on the University of Minnesota basketball team — a series for which he won the Pulitzer. MORE»

For GQ, Slater Digs Up Story of Computer Dating’s Birth

LongForum grew, in part, out of a desire to understand how the magazine stories we like come to life.

A year ago, LongForum editor Dan Slater discovered that his parents met through one of the first ever computer-dating services in 1965. The service, called Contact Incorporated, was founded by a Harvard business student, and it competed with another Harvard student-enterprise called Operation Match. MORE»

In 3-Story Package, NY Does Deep Dive on Porn Industry

It’s the kind of industry deep-dive story that might have once appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Benjamin Wallace’s New York magazine story, “The Geek-Kings of Smut,” takes a popular notion – that information markets are “going to zero” and that therefore Free will inevitably cannibalize Paid – and explores its relevancy in the context of the porn business. The story appears in a very strong issue of New York and is part of a porn package that also includes two more highly-angled and well-reasoned pieces.

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Outside Editor Chris Keyes: ‘It’s rare nowadays to trust a writer to just go somewhere and tell us what you think’

For over thirty years it’s been the home of adventure reporting and a bible of  the world’s bad-asses. Outside is also one of the last magazines willing to treat the writer’s experience as a valid subject of storytelling, whether the person is running around Burma before a cyclone hits, or just separating himself from his fucking hand.

“I think our writing tends to be more from the writer’s perspective, more experiential than structured around hard reporting,” Outside editor-in-chief Chris Keyes tells LongForum. “Like when Patrick Symmes went to Burma. He traveled around, wrote what he saw. MORE»

NYT Ed. Keller Goes Behind-the-Scenes in WikiLeaks Saga

There’s no story that fixates the media so much as one featuring itself. Given the glut of media reporters and columnists — journalists writing about journalism (guilty as charged) — who hasn’t wondered if Rupert Murdoch is onto something when he indicts the “liberal press” for the crime of excessive self-love?

But the story of WikiLeaks and the saga of its founder Julian Assange is a legitimate barn burner of a media story, with myriad twists and sub-plots. Assange’s conspiracy theories. His empty threats of reprisal against the press for allegedly crossing him. The rape allegations. The questions of national interest and security. And of course the mainstay of every good leak story: the  behind-the-scenes decisions over whether and what to publish.

But how about the knotty definitional question of Assange’s press credentials? Is he a journalist or isn’t he? Writing two months ago in the Atlantic, David Samuels — a journalist’s journalist if there ever was one — put forth a fiery defense of Assange. Samuels takes it for granted that Assange is a journalist: “Not since President Richard Nixon directed his minions to go after Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan….has a working journalist…been subjected to the kind of official intimidation and threats that have been directed at Assange…”

Positioning Assange thusly, Samuels takes aim at the media’s betrayal of him: “…the fact that so many prominent old school journalists are attacking [Assange] with such unbridled force is a symptom of the failure of traditional reporting methods to penetrate a culture of official secrecy that has grown by leaps and bounds since 9/11, and threatens the functioning of a free press as a cornerstone of democracy.”

Now consider a contrary view. In the most recent issue of the New York Times Magazine, NYT executive editor Bill Keller disagrees. “…I do not regard Assange as a partner,” Keller writes, “and I would hesitate to describe what WikiLeaks does as journalism…” In a long story entitled “The Boy Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest,” Keller narrates the Times’ dealings with Assange, its process for sifting through the documents,  and its cooperative partnering with the Guardian and Der Spiegel, the other two papers that Assange selected.

The piece defends the Times’ conduct and iterates the societal importance of so-called traditional journalism. As for the leaked documents themselves, Keller writes:

I’m a little puzzled by the complaint that most of the embassy traffic we disclosed did not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. Ninety-nine percent of what we read or hear on the news does not profoundly change our understanding of how the world works. News mostly advances by inches and feet, not in great leaps. The value of these documents — and I believe they have immense value — is not that they expose some deep, unsuspected perfidy in high places or that they upend your whole view of the world. For those who pay close attention to foreign policy, these documents provide texture, nuance and drama. They deepen and correct your understanding of how things unfold; they raise or lower your estimation of world leaders. For those who do not follow these subjects as closely, the stories are an opportunity to learn more. If a project like this makes readers pay attention, think harder, understand more clearly what is being done in their name, then we have performed a public service. And that does not count the impact of these revelations on the people most touched by them. WikiLeaks cables in which American diplomats recount the extravagant corruption of Tunisia’s rulers helped fuel a popular uprising that has overthrown the government.

Sounds an awful lot like journalism.

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Selecting today's best long-form journalism, and asking the writers how they do it.