Things we like: June 2014

Our regular round-up of stories and films that have stood out for us in some way. This month, we were particularly thinking about interviews and how to represent interviewees in features.

Buzzfeed’s Jonah Peretti Goes Long (Matter)

Medium, the platform on which this Q&A with the founder of Buzzfeed is published, says it takes 91 minutes to read. It’s a bit of an insider’s piece – interviewer and interviewee are well known to each other and there is a lot of assumed knowledge about Peretti and his ventures – but it certainly made us think about how we read online. We all found that we skipped or skimmed through some sections: does that mean it could have been shorter? Or just that we were given the chance to pick and choose what we were most interested in?

‘So that represented my own little rebellion’ (Harvard Gazette)

Another Q&A, much shorter and more focused on giving a sense of the character of the interviewee, Stephen Greenblatt, a Harvard academic. It shows how a conversational approach can let the subject reveal personal insights about their motivations and inspirations.

The Defeated (Granta, £)

A compelling story of racial tension in South Africa. What makes this piece stand out is that the writer was thorough not only in his original reporting of a murder 15 years ago, but also, looking back, in his description of his reporting process at the time. He has stayed in touch with the people involved and gives the reader a sense of changing perspectives in the affected communities over that time.

Letters From an Arsonist (Washington City Paper)

A detailed account of the life and fires of a pyromaniac. Arsonist Thomas Sweatt is serving two life sentences plus 136 years for his crimes, which meant this article had to be based on a year or more of regular written correspondence between him and the reporter. Including excerpts from Sweatt’s letters puts his voice in the piece in a relatively unmediated way. The prolonged focus on the arsonist contrasts with the experience of the victims’ relatives whom we meet at the end of the piece.

Roger Graef’s Manifesto (Sheffield Doc/Fest)

Roger Graef has 50 years’ experience of making documentaries, so we take his advice seriously. This ‘manifesto’, written to mark his lifetime achievement award at this year’s Sheffield Doc/Fest, reminds us to think hard about what we create and why. Most of what he says is as relative to written features as it is to films.

The Perfect Stride (New Yorker)

There are quite a few runners in our team, so this feature about Alberto Salazar – long-distance runner and trainer – appealed to them in particular. A relatively simple structure reveals Salazar’s backstory in the context of another runner he is now training. The story called for a fair amount of scientific information about biomechanics, which we thought was incorporated smoothly and effectively.

(If you’re looking for more running stories, try ours)

My Travels with the Curse of Maracanã (New York Times)

This interactive animation / comic strip is about an infamous defeat that still looms over Brazilian football 64 years later. Not particularly in-depth, perhaps, but it merits spending some time on it. It’s all wrapped up in a narrative about going to Brazil looking for the soul of soccer, which is certainly topical but seemed a little bit forced. However, the style of the images (especially with the sound on!) more than made up for it.

How mistakes can save lives (New Statesman)

A really impressive piece of writing that follows the quest of an airline pilot to bring lessons from aviation safety to medical practices. His mission is motivated by a tragic personal story which unfolds as we discover that mistakes are common to all careers, but attitudes and responses to them can be very different. A great example of a story that follows a central character while making a much broader point about life.

What stories have caught your eye recently? Do share in the comments.