Katrina, Revisited

Let’s post the best of the best. This one is worth reading again. Dan Barry: NEW ORLEANS, Sept. 7 – In the downtown business district here, on a dry stretch of Union Street, past the Omni Bank automated teller machine, across from a parking garage offering “early bird” rates: a corpse. Its feet jut from a damp blue tarp. Its knees rise in rigor mortis.

Baby Fat, And Balls

Blake Hall (thanks, Hank): I met Roy in early 2007. I was the leader of a reconnaissance platoon of scouts and snipers in Iraq and was just back from a two-week leave in the United States. Roy was our new interpreter.

That night, my platoon was sent out on a raid. Our target was an al-Qaeda suicide-attack coordinator. Scanning the intelligence report, I learned that previous attempts to capture him had ended with his bodyguards detonating suicide vests and killing 16 Iraqi police officers. An image of my lead scout team entering a house in southern Baghdad and vanishing in a ball of fire flashed through my mind.

I gave my platoon a 30-second rundown of the situation and the mission, and we scattered to our vehicles. As I pulled on my night-vision goggles and the pitch blackness turned a glowing green, it hit me that less than 24 hours before, I was eating lunch at a Panera in Atlanta’s Hartsfield Airport. Life is full of surprises.

But that night, at least, the surprises went our way. We raided the target’s home without incident, capturing him while he slept in his bed. Later, as I watched two of my snipers lead the shuffling insurgent toward a U.S. prison in Baghdad, I saw what looked like a little kid in camouflage get out of the armored vehicle two down from mine.

I glanced at one of my scout team leaders. “Who let the 12-year-old out with us?”

Little Slugger

TLake in SI: The New York Yankees’ top prekindergarten prospect lives in Jersey City and plays baseball with his three brothers in the dusty courtyard behind their apartment. They made me umpire. You’re the empire, they said. I was a bad empire, studying my notebook as plays unfolded, but I was watching when Ariel Antigua lined a home run onto the roof and stumbled on his way to third and lay in the dirt, crying, while his brothers retrieved the Wiffle ball by using a shovel to pull down the ladder of the fire escape. After the game, when Ariel had cheered up, he cracked open a can of Coors Light.

“Want some?” he asked me, smiling wide enough to reveal his sharp white baby teeth.


Here’s To The Can

That picture! I haven’t had a Schlitz tall boy since the 6th grade. Here’s Dan Zak: The march of Western civilization and the prosperity of the United States have partly hinged on the quiet little object behind those boxes of pricey whole-grain rotini pasta on the third shelf of your cupboard. The object is cylindrical and silver and wrapped in a paper label. It is dusty. Its expiration date has passed.

“You think it’s still good?”

“I dunno. Open it. No, wait. Don’t.”

Or do. Several years ago, on the 50th anniversary of his marriage, an Englishman in Denton ate a can of cooked chicken he received as a wedding present. His only complaint? It was “a little bit salty.”

Such is the power, the longevity, the simplicity, the overwhelming ordinariness of the can. Until food can be bought, cooked and consumed via iPhone, we will remain a container society, a canned civilization, preserved, pickled, hermetically sealed against the ravages of time, a people whose food and drink shall not perish from the Earth.

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The New No-Style?

(h/t HS) Is the way Tao Lin writes a harbinger of a new no-style (concrete/literal) favored by the all-web generation?

Tao Lin profile from The Observer: The Observer was sitting at his desk. It was Friday at 1:03 p.m. His Gmail was open, and the inbox showed a new message from Tao Lin. The subject of the message was “just confirming, 630pm five leaves.”

The Observer replied, “Yes, and the assignment is fully confirmed. The profile of you will run in the Observer issue of August 18.”

Tao Lin replied, “Sweet. Thank you.”

A few minutes later, The Observer decided to write his profile of Tao Lin in Tao Lin’s style. An editor came up to The Observer’s desk to check on his work. The Observer told him there was no problem with his work. The editor seemed relieved.

The Observer said, “Tonight I am having dinner with Tao Lin, and I am going to write a profile of him in his style. He writes in a flat style. One thing just happens after another. There is no figurative language, and every time a character thinks something he uses the verb ‘think.'”

Journalism 4308

Taught by SPT Enterprise Editor Kelley Benham. Here, with her permission, is the About This Course:

In this class, you’ll tell stories. A story is not an article. You’ll learn the difference.

You’ll turn on your old friend, Inverted Pyramid, and embrace new story structures and new tools for storytelling. You’ll learn a new kind of reporting. You’ll learn to listen. To see and to think. To be still.

You’ll learn to gain altitude, to zoom in on the smallest details, to love precision, to accept freedom, to take control.

You’ll read some of the best journalism that has ever been done, stories that make you want to give up now, while there’s still time for law school, because you’ll realize how hard this is to do well.

You’ll learn, fairly quickly, how bad you want it.


The conversation here in the enterprise pod this morning was centered on the St. Pete Times’ new branding slogan: One Bay. One Buy.

Which makes complete sense in this two-paper region on Tampa Bay, I guess, and is (way?) better, I guess, than the previous campaign: In The Know. In The Times.

But it still falls short.

I remember the ridiculous branding campaign and jingle developed by a marketing company for the Times Herald-Record a few years ago: Because We All Live Here. (Get in all the the Tiiiiimes Herald-Record/Get in all in the Tiiiiimes Herald-Record/Get it all in the Tiiiiimes Herald-Record/Because we all live here!)

Why can’t we do this right? Like this:

This is pretty good, too, from the LA Times:

We fail, I’ve decided, because these marketing decisions are made outside the newsroom. So these come free of charge:

Don’t Be Stupid.

We still have a Metro section.

The other paper feels like the skin of a 100-year-old man.

You don’t have to be a crack head to like Old English.

Branding horror stories? Ideas? Let’s hear them.

Stories That Should Never Go Away

In 1994, Tom Junod wrote a story for GQ called “The Abortionist.” The piece won him the National Magazine Award for Feature Writing in 1995, and would eventually be cited as one of the top 100 works of journalism in the 20th century. Many people read this story when it appeared in print, but not me—I read it years later. I sought it out in early 2003, when I was living in New York City after I had graduated college, after I had read all of Junod’s work at Esquire and was looking to read the stuff he’d done at GQ. One day I went to GQ and made a copy of “The Abortionist”, along with a dozen other stories written by all the famous writers during the magazine’s breathtaking run under Art Cooper and David Granger the mid-90s, stories that have become legendary to nerds like me, but stories that have also never been resurrected by the internet, stories that more people should know about. While I was searching the bound issues (thank you, Chris Raymond), I was particularly interested in a story Tom wrote the very next year, in 1995—a story even darker than “The Abortionist”, but a story less famous, for whatever reason. A story completely unavailable to read unless you had access to those bound copies, or unless you bought that issue of GQ on eBay. The story is called “The Rapist Says He’s Sorry”, and when Tom wrote it, he was 37 years old; he had not only become one of the most prolific magazine writers but also, in my opinion, the best. He says that “The Rapist…” changed him—the process of writing it changed his writing, and the story itself changed his life. The piece won the National Magazine Award in 1996, making him the first and only person to ever win two bronze elephant statues in a row. Now, I don’t think you should have to do what I did in order to read the story—go digging through a dusty magazine shelf in Manhattan. So here it is, for the first time, online—“The Rapist Says He’s Sorry.” A story that should never go away.

— Justin Heckert

This is Mitchell Gaff. Mitch lives in a special place. A facility the state of Washington created for sexual predators. Mitch’s therapists think there’s a chance that Mitch won’t go raping again next time he has the opportunity. Which is a good thing. Because, soon, Mitch and the thirty men who live with him are getting out.

The Rapist Says He’s Sorry

By Tom Junod
December 1995

The first thing that strikes you about Mitch Gaff is his voice. The voice is not merely soft, not merely sincere, not merely considerate, not merely kind—it is the essence of softness, sincerity, consideration and kindness. It is the kind of voice that seems incapable of telling a lie, mustering aggression or even allowing itself the freedom of an insult. It is the kind of voice that begs you to trust it, that pleads with you to trust it, and if you heard it on the street, or in a bar, you would trust it, immediately. It is the voice of the nicest guy you’ve ever met. It is a voice Mitch Gaff has put together—has devised and constructed—with great care, great courage, great effort, and at the cost of great pain, and that is why he is horrified and heartbroken when he opens his thoughtful mouth, starts speaking in his thoughtful syllables and scares the living hell out of people.

Here’s the rest of the story, and a Gangrey-exclusive note from Junod.

Going Monthly

In the last seven years, Atlanta magazine has employed six different writers who did at least one of the following things:

1. Became a finalist for the City and Regional Magazine Association’s Writer of the Year award. (Fennessy, S.; and Lake, T.)

2. Won the CRMA Writer of the Year award. (Dittrich, L.; and Heckert, J.)

3. Became a finalist for a National Magazine Award. (Burns, R.)

4. Won a National Magazine Award. (Williams, P.)

(This list does not include Tom Junod, the most-nominated writer in the history of the National Magazine Awards, who started here in the late 1980s.)

Anyway, there’s about to be an opening here, and Steve Fennessy, the top editor, would like to fill it in early 2011.

Want a shot? Steve’s e-mail address is sfennessy@atlantamag.emmis.com, and he’s expecting to hear from you. He likes reporters who can dig.

The “Frank Sinatra Has A Cold” Question

Liam Dillon from voiceofsandiego.org writes in with a good question: I’m the City Hall reporter here and am working on a profile of the mayor’s chief of staff, a woman who’s rarely heard of in public despite the importance of her position. I am expecting her not to participate in the profile and I’m wondering if a) anyone has tips for writing a profile where the subject doesn’t participate or b) anyone can link to examples of good profiles where that’s happened. Thanks very much for your help and time.