We Were Right

Interesting findings in this new study by Tim Rosenstiel for the Brookings Institute, who says the path toward sustainable journalism is being undermined by terrible data (thanks, John):

Major enterprise pays – The single biggest change publishers can make is to produce more major enterprise journalism. Major enterprise stories scored 48 percent better than others in a measure of overall engagement. However, just one percent of all content produced is classified as such.

People like long stories – The conventional wisdom that writing for the web needs to be short and fast simply is not true. “Long form” stories, those averaging 1,200 words, drove 23 percent more engagement and lifted other metrics such as page views (up 11 percent), sharing (by 45 percent), and reading time (by 36 percent).

The power of photos, audio, and video – Stories presented with a photo scored 19 percent higher in engagement than stories without photos. Stories with multiple photos scored 43 percent higher.

Crime as a staple of local reporting – Across the data set, crime ranked with food and dining as the topics audiences engaged with most. But in a digital world, what works best is somewhat different than it may have been previously. For instance, crime briefs—the classic police blotter of small incidents—do not perform well online.


The Enigmatic Life Of Anthony Monaco

John Ferro (thanks, Oliver): HIGHLAND – The small, frail man with an Italian passport would arrive unannounced, trundling a small suitcase behind him.

Like a wispy Willy Loman, but with nothing to sell, Anthony Monaco would appear from time to time at one of the motels along Route 299 in New Paltz or Route 9W in Highland.

He had no family there. No desire to go sightseeing. He talked at length with almost no one.

But he was known to local police, mostly because of his erratic behavior — eruptions of rage that would get him tossed from one motel to another, but almost never charged with a crime.

When his suitcase was found along the shoulder of Route 9W, Town of Lloyd police issued a missing persons report. They found his body days later, on Sept. 30, 2015, washed up in the Twaalfskill Creek.


Dan Barry: YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio — Numbered balls of chance rattle and rise two nights a week down at the cavernous community hall of Sts. Peter and Paul Ukrainian Orthodox Church. It’s called a good bingo when your number comes up.

But that last Saturday before Christmas offered no good bingos. The night was reserved for a boxing event billed as Season’s Beatings, which had prompted a newspaper deliveryman named Anthony Taylor to pull up in his clattering Dodge Caravan. Twenty-four years old, 5 feet tall, 115 pounds, about to turn pro.

A fist of nerves, he walked down the glazed-tile stairwell to the finished basement, a space used for church dances and wedding banquets, but now an open locker room. Chandeliers glittered above the fighters trying to warm up and calm down, while the crowds upstairs cheered on the amateurs, including a sleepy-eyed 11-year-old who would knock out his grade-school opponent.

Busting Cactus Thieves

Weston Phippen: Yevgeny Safronov and the four tourists landed in Los Angeles on a 70-degree dream of a day last May. They were Czechs, Slovaks, and Russians, here on vacation. It was a holiday, so the banks and much of government had closed, but not all of it. For at least six months investigators in federal agencies that watch the nation’s wild lands, its fauna and flora, had also kept eyes on these five foreigners, who would soon drive into the desert, where undercover agents would be waiting. The flight from Moscow had lasted 12 hours. Safronov and the others left their seats, then applied for entry into the U.S.

The investigation began when an agent in Denver found a European website advertising a trip. Written in Slovak, the blog post read: “Already this summer, I began to have ‘cold turkey’––I have not been in the U.S. since last June.” The post was written by the trip’s organizer and the site’s host, Igor Drab, who had planned a camping tour of state and national parks across the American Southwest, starting and ending in Los Angeles. “If anyone among you is interested to join,” Drab wrote, “you must do so as soon as possible.” The investigator alerted Fish & Wildlife Service in El Paso, Texas, and from there the Bureau of Land Management, Customs and Border Protection, even the crisp-brimmed rangers of the National Park Service.

In The Land Of Missing Persons

Alex Tizon: They found what was left of him in the spring of 2014. Firefighters battling a huge blaze on Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula first spotted a boot in the dirt. Then they noticed some bones scattered across a wide grassy area. Fire crews in Alaska are used to seeing the bones of moose, caribou, bears, and other large creatures that live and die in these woods. So it wasn’t until crew members found a human skull that they stopped to consider that the pieces might go together. The skull was resting on its side, the face angled toward the ground. A few blackened molars clung to the upper jaw. The lower jaw was missing.

The Alaska State Troopers arrived by helicopter and salvaged what they could. “The bones were close to being ash,” Lieutenant Kat Shuey later recalled. “They weren’t quite to the point where if you touched them they would disintegrate, but close.”

The remains were spread across an area about 60 yards in diameter, presumably the work of scavenging animals. Also found at the site were three hunting knives, two quarters, two metal buttons, a zipper, and part of a Samsung mobile phone. All of the items were charred to varying degrees, like most everything else in the path of the Funny River Fire, which burned nearly 200,000 acres in the western lowlands of the Kenai Peninsula, a remote corner of this remote part of the world, a place one local described as “the middle of the middle of nowhere.”

Goodbye, 600

Tommy T (thanks, Oliver): The business I love has put a lot of good people on the street and left behind a lot of empty buildings. I love it anyway, and so do the people who came by the paper Thursday, not so much to say goodbye to the old building but to say hello again to one another. I did most of the best work of my life with those people, and had most of the good times I’ll ever have, and met the woman I married. Newspapers can break your heart. But I’ll let it be broken every time for what I got out of the deal.

Everyone Leaves Behind A Name

We’ve been talking about Michael Brick’s craftsmanship here for years. Here’s your chance to own a remarkable collection of his stories in book form, including several I guarantee you’ve never read. This anthology, which debuted at number 1 in essays on Amazon, also features essays on craft from Dan Barry, Andy Newman, Michael Kruse, Thomas Lake, Tony Rehagen, Wright Thompson, Justin Heckert, Chris Jones, Erin Sullivan, Mike Wilson, Michael Wilson, Charles McNair, Tommy Tomlinson, Amy Wallace, Michael J. Mooney, Joe Sexton, Michael Paterniti, Charles P. Pierce, Kurt Eichenwald, Tom Junod, John Schwartz, Lena Price and me. Proceeds go to Brick’s wife and children.


His Faithful Servant

Randy R. Potts: I waited in my car for 20 minutes. No last name, precise instructions: “Meet me at the truck stop at the corner of 259 and 144 and I’ll take you on from there. You should write it down because you won’t have cell service.” I found a truck stop but there wasn’t a sign for Highway 144; a man pulled up in a black pickup with a Pomeranian in his lap; you could see the Choctaw in the man’s kind face. I climbed into his passenger seat and he drove the rest of the way, talking, laughing like a school kid, like a 53-year-old man, like a grown man who’d never told any of these adult stories to anyone. “Few years ago, well, I was blowin’ this guy and I felt like I’d been kicked in the back of the head. Well, I had to stop, of course, and I looked at the feller and I said, ‘Something’s wrong, I dunno what, but you’ve got to take me to the hospital.’ So we go to the emergency room and finally I go up to the counter and I say ‘Ma’am, I need somebody to see me quick, I think I had a stroke.’ Well, they jumped up and they was lookin’ at me soon after, said there was a blood clot ’cause I’d had an aneurysm. So that was what happened the first time I ever give head.”

Is 90% of longform crap?

Here is the dirty secret of longform: most people, even those who urge its consumption, don’t actually read it. Longform may win awards and it may bring prestige, but it remains at least as subject to Sturgeon’s law—90 percent of everything is crap—as any other format. (Guest post by Raja)

Two Lives, One Night

Naomi Martin and Dave Tarrant: Had they met under different circumstances, the two 20-year-olds could have easily been friends.

Sara Mutschlechner loved Quentin Tarantino films and Japanese anime. She played the drums, earned a black belt in karate and cried at Disney movies. She wrote scripts, made funny videos of her cat and dreamed of directing movies.

Eric Johnson was artistic, too. He was passionate about photography, painting and wrote his own hip-hop songs under a persona that was wilder, more rebellious than his current life as a Marine corporal. He sewed his own clothes and dreamed of becoming a fashion designer. He was into Japanese video games.

On New Year’s Eve, Sara and Eric showed up at the same house party in Denton but didn’t meet.

After leaving the party, they pulled up next to each other at a stoplight a few blocks from the University of North Texas, each of their cars full of friends.

Some of the men in Eric’s SUV hollered at Sara and her friends, asking where they were going. They pivoted quickly to yelling that they wanted to have sex with the women. A man in the back seat of Sara’s car shouted back.

As the confrontation escalated, the light changed. The drivers sped forward, with Eric allegedly reaching for his gun.