Reporter Conor Friedersdorf got quite a bit of media play last month for his roundup of the best journalism stories he heard, watched or read in 2009. Really interesting list, but what none of write-ups mentioned is that Friedersdorf is an OC native, raised in Newport Beach (if I remember correctly) and that rare OC species: the conservative who isn't an asshole, a pedophile, a felon, closeted, or a combination of all four. I met him years ago, and we've corresponded over the years as he's gone on to better things (blogged for The Atlantic, among other great gigs) that makes fans of great local writers proud.
Anyhoo, in honor of Friedersdorf's fame, I present the 10 greatest journalism stories EVER, in no particular order:
- "Sing Now, Die Later: The Ballad of Chalino Sanchez." Sam Quinones, LA Weekly, 1998: Quinones is by far the greatest writer ever on the effects Mexican immigration have had on Mexico and the United States. This is the story of the singer who popularized the narcocorrido, and the cult that continues around him, a cult Quinones described with sparse prose that nevertheless mixed sociological analysis, history, and the crime reporting Quinones practiced while working for the Orange County Register. What's most remarkable about the story is that Quinones wrote it five years after Sanchez's murder, a span in which not a single daily newspaper ever bothered with the story. The link above is broken--big surprise! Get Quinones' book, instead, which includes the article and other great stories.
- The Flip-Flop King The All-Annoying Eye of Chuck Klosterman." Mark Ames, New York Press, 2003: Simply put, the most brutal critique I've ever read. Written by legendary gonzo journalist Ames, whose former partner in crime Matt Taibbi is now praised as a modern-day Hunter S. Thompson but who couldn't hope to match Ames' bile if you spotted him 10 extra gall bladders. Full disclosure: Klosterman and I share the same book editor, and I like Klosterman's writing. Still reading this makes you feel how Ames described Klosterman's face: "His tiny, red mouth is a sphincter twisting to a pained close 40 seconds after taking a brutal pounding from Peter North." Ouch.
- "Hope Springs Infernal: 100th birthday wishes for Bob Hope." Dave Wielenga, OC Weekly, 2003: Nearly as vicious as Ames' piece, and featuring perhaps the best line this rag has published in its 15 years: "Bob Hope is everything that was wrong with Bing Crosby. And that dude was fucked up."
- "In the Jungle." Rian Malan, Rolling Stone, 2000: Who knew that the backstory to the horrible K-Earth fave "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" was filled with so many twists and turns? Colonialism, apartheid, payola, poverty: this story has it all, with beautiful prose and a heartbreaking--yet bitterly uplifting--coda to boot.
- "The Silent Season of a Hero." Gay Talese, Esquire, 1966: Talese gets more fame for his Esquire profile of Frank Sinatra, "Frank Sinatra has a Cold," but this story on Joe DiMaggio is better, showing why the withdrawn Yankee Clipper remained a virtual recluse after his playing days were over. Every aspiring journalist should read this--I've read it about 30 times and am still aspiring!
- "The Top 10 Most Absurd Time Covers of The Past 40 Years." Radley Balko and Jeff Winkler, Reason.com, 2009: Genius use of new media to eviscerate old media and make clear something most people probably didn't realize but, once shown, agreed with wholeheartedly. Reason editor Matt Welch is a huge Angels fan and Long Beach native--pray for him on the former count...
- "Moby-Duck: Or, the synthetic wilderness of childhood." Donovan Hohn, Harper's Magazine, 2007: A friend described this magnificent magazine as such: "I love Harper's, but every time I read an article in it, I get depressed." This article is the epitome of that description: an article that takes a shipping accident that's made it into popular children's lore--the release of thousands of rubber duckies into the Pacific--and turns it into a foreboding tale of man's eventual doom due to our polluting, plastic-loving ways. Truly terrifying--but the duckies!
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- "Feeling the Hate with the National Religious Broadcasters." Chris Hedges, Harper's Magazine, 2005: Another Harper's gem, this one taking place in the Anaheim Convention Center and exposing militant Christianity years before the Prop. H8 wars. Hedges' description of Focus on the Family head James Dobson and his son playing in a ping-pong tournament remains a classic of allusion.
- "Barbecue Nations." Suzy Buchanan and David Holthouse, Phoenix New Times, 2004: The Waiting for Godot of skinhead journalism--an absolute riot! Deals with an Aryanfest gathering in Arizona, and the opening scene has a guy wearing a "White Power" T-shirt whose skin color, the reporters wryly noted, had "at least half a cup of Kahlúa." Both Buchanan and Holthouse went on to work for the Southern Poverty Law Center, where Holthouse remains.
- "O, America..." OC Weekly, 2004. Not so much the story as the cover, shown at the top. Reporting at its finest!
Gentle readers: What are YOUR choices?