Archive | May, 2014

12 longform BuzzFeed pieces you should read

18 May

BuzzFeed: it’s not just cat GIFs, jackass. That’s not our slogan, but sometimes I think it should be.

At this point, people who read BuzzFeed know that it’s not just a site for cute animal pictures and personality quizzes. I mean, it is those things, yes — but it’s also home to some of the best investigative reporting and longform writing on the internet. I’ve worked at BuzzFeed long enough to not be surprised when people don’t get it, and I no longer feel the need to get overly defensive about it. I’m proud of the work I do, and I’m proud of the work my colleagues do, and I feel like the work speaks for itself.

But given that it’s Sunday evening, and Sunday evening is the ideal time to read long articles you’ve been putting off all week, I’m going to share several of my favorite longform BuzzFeed pieces. This is not to discount the lists and quizzes that also populate the site — because believe it or not, those take a shit-ton of work to put together, too. (Seriously, I have spent so many hours perfecting quizzes. Unless you’ve done it, you have no idea.) But in the interest of celebrating the kind of work people still seem surprised to find on BuzzFeed, I’m focusing on essays, reported pieces, and other longform features.

Some of them are recent. Some are older. You’ve probably read a few already. And I’m leaving out dozens and dozens of pieces I love so as not to make this too overwhelming. With that in mind, I’ll probably end up doing another installment of this in the future. Anyway.

1. “The Secret History of Britney Spears’ Lost Album” by Hunter Schwarz. Hardcore Britney stans may have already known about Britney’s lost album Original Doll. I was not one of those people. Hunter did some impressive reporting on this piece, which not only covers Original Doll, but also offers insight into the psyche of one of the most confounding figures in pop music. On a personal note, it was exciting watching Hunter dig deep into a subject he doesn’t usually get to write about. The results were equally thrilling.
2. “How Smash Became TV’s Biggest Train Wreck” by Kate Aurthur. I loved Smash so, so much. I miss it more often than I’d like to admit. Kate didn’t set out to write a takedown of creator Theresa Rebeck — and that’s not what this piece is, regardless of how Rebeck may feel about it. It’s revelatory and occasionally damning, but it’s also very fair. You can tell there’s no agenda here past trying to understand where Smash went wrong, and for a fan of the show — and a fan of television in general — that’s incredibly important.
3. “The Summer I Tried to Save Memphis” by Saeed Jones. Saeed started at BuzzFeed shortly after I did, and I’ve had the pleasure of watching him expand the LGBT section, combining great reporting with some of the most stunning personal essays I’ve ever read. And Saeed, aside from his skills as an editor, is an exceptional writer. This piece is undeniably powerful, but what I really love about it is its specificity. He writes with such gorgeous detail about an intensely personal experience — with, yes, larger cultural implications.
4. “‘Something Terrible Has Happened Here’: The Crazy Story of How Clue Went From Forgotten Flop to Cult Triumph” by Adam B. Vary. We’re not huge fans of the term “oral history” at BuzzFeed, and with good reason. As a format, it’s a little played out, and very hit or miss. So while Adam could have done an oral history of Clue — which would have been great, too, I’m sure! — he turned his interviews into this excellent written-through feature instead. It’s just as fascinating, and even more fun to read.
5. “‘That Dead Girl’: A Family and a Town After a Cyberbullied 12-Year-Old’s Suicide” by Ryan Broderick. We hear awful stories on the internet all the time, and more often than not, we don’t follow up. Following up is what this heartbreaking piece does. It’s the perfect example of BuzzFeed going deeper — not simply reporting the surface story, but diving into the hard truths of a suicide and its aftermath. Ryan’s unique understanding of the internet also really helps here, adding valuable context to the story.
6. “How Melissa Leo Became an Overnight Sensation in Just 30 Years” by Doree Shafrir. I’ve been lucky enough to have Doree edit my work — she completely changed the way I felt about the editing process. But Doree does so much at BuzzFeed that she rarely gets to publish her own pieces. When she does, they’re always a treat. I love this interview feature on Melissa Leo, which, again, could have made an interesting enough Q&A. As a feature, though, it’s far more memorable. Worth noting that the photos are pretty wonderful, too.
7. “Why I Bought a House in Detroit for $500” by Drew Philp. In addition to having a staff of some incredibly talented writers, BuzzFeed also recruits great freelancers. This piece, which you’ve probably seen since it went mega-viral, is by a contributor. Plenty has been written about Detroit over the past few years, but this is a different story and perspective, which I think is why it shared so well. Again, it’s specificity that speaks to the larger issues at hand. Also, how cool is it that longform writing can go viral? (Very.)
8. “Jennifer Lawrence and the History of Cool Girls” by Anne Helen Petersen. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a lot of Jennifer Lawrence-centric content on BuzzFeed. People love her, clearly, and if you need more proof of that, note that this piece also went viral. Page views aside, it’s such a great essay, placing Jennifer Lawrence in a historical context that most of us probably hadn’t considered. Celebrity culture is easy to deride, but it’s so much more interesting to analyze, and this feature does that brilliantly.
9. “It Gets Better, Unless You’re Fat” by Louis Peitzman. Am I seriously including one of my own pieces on this list of articles you should read? I’m an asshole. But listen. When people ask me about writing I’m proud of, this is the piece that most often springs to mind. It took a lot out of me to write. And even though it’s not very long, I think it packs a punch. While I feel a little guilty self-promoting, I’m including it because I’m so grateful that BuzzFeed gave me the freedom and encouragement to share this little piece of my soul.
10. “My Father, All That Jazz, the 1980 Oscars — and Me” by Kate Aurthur. Yes, another article by Kate. I was reluctant to double up, but I just had to share this one. Kate’s personal essay was one of the first I read on BuzzFeed, and it was so exciting to know that this kind of writing was something we could do. It’s a moving, bittersweet piece that completely subverts expectations of a first-person account of attending the Oscars. And like so much of Kate’s work, both before and at BuzzFeed, it’s been a big influence on me.
11. “36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump” by McKay Coppins. The controversy this piece brought about — especially the glorious freak-out from professional troll Donald Trump — was fucking delightful to watch. But let’s not ignore the fact that the article itself is truly great. I’ll admit I don’t read much political reporting, though I certainly admire my coworkers who write it. This goes beyond simple reporting, however: It’s a completely riveting character study. And sorry, Donald, I believe every word of it.
12. “Why I Stay Closeted in Asia” by Connor Ke Muo. Before Coming Out Week at BuzzFeed, I felt about coming out essays the same way I feel about coming out films: enough already. But Saeed made a point to collect personal essays that weren’t like anything people had read before. This one, in particular, has stuck with me over the past seven months. It’s honest and it’s painful, the kind of piece I felt immediately compelled to share with gushing praise across all my social networks. If you haven’t read it yet, do yourself the favor.

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