As we approach the end of the year, it’s customary for media outlets to do a round-up of their highlights. While this is all well and good (and a little self-congratulatory), I thought I’d do something slightly different and compile my favourite features and opinion pieces of 2013 written by other journalists. These stories range from the sensational to the silly; the horrifying to the hilarious, but all cover their subject deftly, sensitively and powerfully. So here’s to the year in features journalism: it’s been a bloody good one.
Picking a favourite is never easy, but Francesca Borri’s piece on working as a freelancer in Syria is probably my must-read of the year:
The truth is, we are failures. Two years on, our readers barely remember where Damascus is, and the world instinctively describes what’s happening in Syria as “that mayhem,” because nobody understands anything about Syria—only blood, blood, blood.
Woman’s work, Columbia Journalism Review, July ’13.
The best kinds of articles are often the ones you can’t get out of your head, and Ariel Levy’s account of miscarrying at the edge of the earth falls into that category.
Thanksgiving in Mongolia, The New Yorker, November ’13.
Another mark of a great feature is one that perfectly encapsulates a specific industry, and Tim Kreider’s assessment of being asked to work for free does just that:
Not getting paid for things in your 20s is glumly expected, even sort of cool; not getting paid in your 40s, when your back is starting to hurt and you are still sleeping on a futon, considerably less so. Let’s call the first 20 years of my career a gift. Now I am 46, and would like a bed.
Slaves of the internet, unite!, The New York Times, October ’13.
Some of the in-depth reports produced this year have been absolutely astounding, and uncovered unpleasant truths that we would otherwise know nothing about.
Jean Friedman-Rudovsky’s investigation into Bolivia’s ghost rapes is one of the most shocking I have ever read.
The ghost rapes of Bolivia, VICE, August ’13.
Another horrifying feature came in the shape of Hanna Rosin’s report on a shocking series of Craigslist murders.
Murder by Craigslist, The Atlantic, August ’13.
Following the factory collapse in Dhaka earlier this year, Raveena Aulakh got hired at a Bangladeshi sweatshop to uncover what the conditions there were really like:
“When I become a sewing operator, I will make very good shirts,” Meem (9) promised. “No one will yell at me.”
I got hired at a Bangladesh sweatshop. Meet my 9-year-old boss, Toronto Star, October ’13.
Jason Burke’s report on how Delhi’s brutal gang rape highlighted the routine abuse of Indian women made for essential, albeit painful, reading.
Delhi rape: how India’s other half lives, The Guardian, September ’13.
James Oliphant’s interview with ‘death’s accountant’ – the man tasked with compensating victims of tragedy – is a rare insight into what happens once a news story turns into someone’s reality.
“You’ll never make these people whole,” Feinberg says, sitting in his Washington law office as the city below baked in the summer’s heat. Befitting a career lived under klieg lights, one wall is dedicated to press clippings. But here, dread and devastation run through the framed articles, a sorrowful wall of fame.
How much is a life worth?, National Journal, August ’13.
In my opinion
There are so many opinion writers whose columns make for consistently brilliant reading, but here is a small selection of those who made their points with great conviction:
Racial profiling is endemic around the world, but Brian Beutler’s piece on why getting shot by black men wouldn’t change his attitudes to stop and frisk searches is incredibly honest.
What I learned from getting shot, Salon, August ’13.
In the wake of the Boston Bombings, Nina Burleigh asked why male violence is still so deeply entrenched in every society:
From Boston to Baghdad, from Kabul to Korea, from Aurora to Newtown, the world is imperiled by angry men feeling disrespected, their tender sensibilities hurting so bad that their fingers are twitching on gun triggers and bomb timers.
Diss diss bang bang: welcome to the golden age of male rage, New York Observer, April ’13.
John Dickerson wrote an incredibly thoughtful piece on whether we can both live in the moment and capture it on social media.
Note to selfie, Slate, December ’13.
This article by Owen Jones on the hierarchy of death highlights the uncomfortable issue of why we prioritise certain lives over others:
Placing human suffering into hierarchies allows injustices to continue without scrutiny or challenge; and it distorts our understanding of the reality of conflicts. It undermines a universal, shared sense of humanity. It is, ultimately, a manifestation of prejudice.
Our shameful hierarchy – some deaths matter more than others, The Independent, April ’13.
Melanie Reid’s column about how the men in her life helped her cope with becoming tetraplegic is beautiful.
Spinal column: the men in my life, The Times, November ’13.
Following his conviction for accessing child pornography, former journalist David Goldberg asks whether prison is the most effective form of punishment for paedophiles:
The main query that I am convinced will always be without an answer is why I am a pedophile. It is the equivalent of trying to determine why someone is heterosexual or gay. We don’t choose our sexual orientations. If we could, believe me, no one would choose mine.
I, pedophile, The Atlantic, August ’13.
Polly Toynbee’s piece on ageism for women in public facing jobs asks important questions about why they are deemed unfit for viewing:
Young women are treated as ditsy decoration, mothers too distracted to be reliable and finally after 50, they’re past it – so when exactly is their moment?
No women over 50 allowed (unless it’s Helen Mirren), The Guardian, July ’13.
It’s by no means only journalists who write most powerfully, as these op-eds show.
The abysmal pay afforded to fast food workers in the US has been making the headlines in late 2013, and Willietta Dukes’ account perfectly delineates the problem:
I’ve worked in fast-food for 15 years, and I can’t even afford my own rent payments. We just want fairness and to be able to provide for our families. No one who works every day should be forced to be homeless.
Why I’m on strike today, The Guardian, August ’13.
Joan Marans Dim’s look back at coping with 10 years of her husband’s degenerative illness is both sad and hopeful in equal measure.
A decade of goodbye, The New York Times, September ’13.
The debate surrounding wearing a poppy rages each year, but veteran Harry Leslie Smith’s piece contributed some much-needed perspective:
Come 2014 when the government marks the beginning of the first world war with quotes from Rupert Brooke, Rudyard Kipling and other great jingoists from our past empire, I will declare myself a conscientious objector.
This year, I will wear a poppy for the last time, The Guardian, November ’13.
Jim Sollisch wrote a great op-ed on why traditional ways of marking success just don’t work:
Maybe we should have an expression that captures the level of success you’ve achieved when you do exactly what you love every day.
I want to be a millennial when I retire, The New York Times, November ’13.
In this convocation speech to Syracuse University, George Saunders communicates some lovely thoughts about kindness.
George Saunders’s advice to graduates, printed in The New York Times, July ’13.
Fun and games
Given the internet these days is approx 90% cat gifs, here are a few of my favourite articles from the internet’s lighter side in 2013.
Rose Surnow reported back from her first ever sexual fitness class:
I am going to do things to a bouncy ball that would have me arrested in most states (definitely Texas). The point of the class is to use your lower abdominals to awaken sexual energyand strengthen orgasms. It’s Pilates Gone Wild.
Getting Your Vagina on the Ball: Inside My First Sexual Fitness Class, Cosmopolitan, May ’13.
Vinay Menon wrote a great account of meeting Selena Gomez and listening to her new album – on which he could only make ‘mental notes.’
Meeting Selena Gomez rule no. 1: do not mention Justin Bieber, Toronto Star, July ’13.
A plethora of hilarity/awfulness abounds after Jeremy Feist is forced to take on his boyfriend’s cat:
I could learn to love the cat. And in turn, the cat would learn to wage psychological warfare on me.
Cats are evil and I hate them, xoJane, January ’13.
And finally, Michael Deacon bares all in his mini-memoir of working at a lads magazine.
Sex! Girls! Meltdown! Confessions of a baffled lads’ mag editor, The Daily Telegraph, October ’13.
Have I missed something brilliant off this list? Let me know in the comments