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The 2014 Jealousy List

The 44 Best Stories We Didn’t Write

The staff of Bloomberg Businessweek produced 49 print issues in 2014, each containing about 50,000 words. On Businessweek.com you could safely triple that output. That’s 7.5 million words—too much! So it’s time to give some of our colleagues at other news organizations a little recognition. Here’s our second annual Jealousy List, composed entirely of the pieces we wish we’d written but were glad to have read. — Josh Tyrangiel

For a Liberian Family, Ebola Turns Loving Care Into Deadly Risk

The cruelest aspect of Ebola has been the way the disease seems to punish people for their compassion. For the New York Times, reporter Norimitsu Onishi and photographer Daniel Berehulak traced the path of the disease as it tore apart a family in Liberia. Just amazing reporting, writing, and photography that bears witness to a catastrophe. It was hard to read, harder to stop reading, and impossible to forget. Jim Aley


The Disappeared

You are prompted to create an account on Foreign Policy’s site before you may read 6,400 words about Syria’s death-wish reporters. A despicable requirement, but you should bite the bullet. If you don’t, you won’t get to read about the 20-year-old local stringer executed by ISIS for wearing a Metallica shirt and the ridiculously steely Brazilian woman who moves alone through ruined cities. James Traub wrote something tense, sad, and timely that also has the distinction of being the first metajournalism piece that hasn’t bored me to tears. Evan Applegate


Lobbyists, Bearing Gifts, Pursue Attorneys General

This New York Times investigation of corporate infiltration of state attorneys general offices illuminated another little-known facet of the economy of influence. Eric Lipton continued his expose through the fall, with Link Shows How Lobby Firm Cultivates Influence in November and, a month later, Energy Firms in Secretive Alliance With Attorneys General. I wish I had done these stories. Paul M. Barrett


Let’s Be Real

One of the best things written about Ferguson, Mo., was actually a review of the worst movies of the year, Let’s Be Cops, a moronic buddy movie about two friends, one white and one black, who get mistaken for police officers. Writing for Grantland, Wesley Morris shows how even movies with no ambition beyond cheap laughs can’t help but be a mirror for public attitudes about black men, police, and violence. Drake Bennett



“One. Hundred. Million. Dollars?” That was how, in 2010, Oprah Winfrey announced the plan by Mark Zuckerberg, Cory Booker, and Chris Christie to reform Newark’s dismal public schools. After that, unless you live in New Jersey, you probably didn’t think much about the $100 million. I didn’t. Dale Russakoff did, and her wonderfully detailed investigative story in the New Yorker is one of my favorites this year. In short, she followed the money. Classrooms got far too little; consultants got way too much. It could have been a dispiriting story, but Russakoff notes that Newark’s expensive failure could change how “venture philanthropists” think about education reform.  Susan Berfield


The Man Without a Mask

It feels obvious to pick a New Yorker story, but every paragraph of William Finnegan’s profile of Saúl Armendáriz—better known as Cassandro, Mexican wrestling's drag-queen luchador—is an education and a delight. There are so many highly shareable lines, pulling any one out seems wrong. They demand to be part of the marvelous whole. I only hesitate to put it on the Jealousy List because I never could have done it. Ira Boudway


One Startup’s Struggle to Survive the Silicon Valley Gold Rush

Silicon Valley can’t really be “the place where everybody is killing it all the time.” But knowing that most startups fail is a lot different from understanding what that path to failure feels like. That’s what you take away from Gideon Lewis-Kraus’s grueling account of two guys who thought they had a great idea for a social discovery engine for Internet video, then realize how unlikely it is to turn an idea like that into a billion dollars. Joshua Brustein [+1 from Nick Summers: “The most damning thing I've read about venture capital. Lewis-Kraus must have spent eons of time and effort reporting the story, but his writing has no trace of self-seriousness—the piece reads like a novel, or better yet, a letter to a friend.”]


A Journey to the Edge of Europe

Swedish chef Magnus Nilsson’s restaurant Faviken—one of the best in the world—is one of the most difficult to travel to as well. And so, his journey to the tiny isolated island of Stóra Dímun in the already faraway Faroe Islands was bound to be fascinating. And his appreciation of the island’s specialty—skerpikjøt, or rotten mutton—is both gustatory and disgusting. A great cook meditating on the meaning of flavors and taste and food. - Howard Chua-Eoan


Why Every Newborn You See on Facebook Is Wrapped in the Same Baby Blanket

If you’re a new parent, or have friends who are new parents, you can probably picture the blankets that inspired this Quartz post. They’re white, with blue and red stripes, and hospitals give them to you when you’re feeling clueless, unprepared, and in desperate need of someone to give you something. I hate Lisa Selin Davis for tracking down the medical supply company that sells 1.5 million of the candy-striped blankets a year, because I had spent parts of the previous 15 months wondering why my friends in far-flung parts of the country were swaddling their children in the same blankets my wife and I were using to swaddle ours. Patrick Clark


You’re Wrong, You’re Wrong, You’re Definitely Wrong, and I’m Probably Wrong, Too

The mass resignations at the New Republic days after the magazine celebrated its 100th birthday add poignancy to this article by Hendrik Hertzberg, who ran the magazine from 1981 to 1985 and again from 1989 to 1991. Under the subtitle, “What it was like to edit the New Republic at its most contentious,” Hertzberg describes “endless trench warfare” at the magazine during his years there. Having one’s fiercest critics in-house “prodded contributors to make their arguments tighter, their points more carefully honed.” Sounds invigorating–and exhausting. – Peter Coy


Get Out Of Jail, Inc.

For-profit companies pitch “alternatives to incarceration” services, like probation programs, halfway houses, and work-release oversight, as humane options for governments looking to cut down on the social and economic costs of incarceration. In this moving and damning exposé, Sarah Stillman paints a different picture: sexual coercion, predatory debt, and rampant conflicts of interest. “All services are provided at no charge to the courts that we serve,” one company advertises. “All programs are offender funded.” That comes with a catch, she writes in the New Yorker: “In a wide-range of cases, offender-funded justice may not result in justice at all.” Her story is a masterfully reported and written look at the downsides of entrusting the private sector to deliver rehabilitation on the cheap. Josh Eidelson


Students Push for Action in Hong Kong Democracy Battle

As the debate over universal suffrage in Hong Kong heated up in early 2014, most of the media focused on University of Hong Kong professor Benny Tai and other prominent figures in local politics. But Agence France Presse took time to talk to a skinny 17-year-old named Joshua Wong, and the resulting story offered a prescient preview of the Umbrella Movement. “The government is not going to feel the heat if everyone goes home after the protest,” Wong told AFP. “We need escalated actions.” The students got the movement started, forcing the adults to play catch-up. Eventually, the students’ actions culminated in a mass 75-day occupation in front of the government’s headquarters. Grown-ups like Tai may have made the Chinese government nervous before the protests, but once the Umbrella Movement began, it was the students who mattered most. – Bruce Einhorn


The $9 Billion Witness: Meet JPMorgan Chase’s Worst Nightmare

Matt Taibbi’s profile of a JPMorgan insider shows the truly corrupt nature of Wall Street’s mortgage machine. In distressing detail, he chronicles the forces that worked together to turn bad mortgages into toxic mortgage securities and pass them on to unsuspecting investors. It's another rebuttal, if any were needed, to those who blame government lending guidelines for starting the financial crisis. – Eric Gelman


Finding a Video Poker Bug Made These Guys Rich—Then Vegas Made Them Pay

Kevin Poulsen masterfully combines two of my favorite topics—the video gambling industry and Las Vegas get-rich-quick schemes—into an outlandish tale for Wired about a virtuoso piano player who stumbles upon a programming glitch in one of Vegas’ most ubiquitous video poker machines. He and his down-and-out gambling buddy go hog-wild in Vegas, racking up hundreds of thousands of dollars in rigged jackpots from various Game Kings in casinos around town. It’s a tourist’s Vegas fantasy come true, until the gaming authorities step in. – Felix Gillette



I’m jealous of Serial. I’ve never expected a tidy conclusion because it’s not a drama—it’s a journalist exploring a case. Just like something you’d read, except you’re binge-listening to a podcast, sometimes re-listening to an episode just to make sure you didn’t miss the nuance in someone’s voice. Every episode peels back another layer, asks more questions, double-checks more answers. And the supporting graphics on the website—timelines, call logs,"people maps"—are at once detailed, aggressively plain, and thoroughly absorbing. – Cindy Hoffman


Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

It’s as simple as this: Negotiating care for aging parents—with them, with others, with ourselves—and then facing the inevitable, it all sucks. Whatever upside there is, it’s bound to be drowned out and pushed aside, quickly forgotten. But avoiding and denying the bad stuff only sets us up for something worse. Roz Chast, in her own fantastic and hilariously honest way, strips us of the fantasy and eases us from the burden of our fears. – Dimitra Kessenides


Companies That Offer Help With Student Loans Are Often Predatory, Officials Say

Rachel Abrams and Jessica Silver-Greenberg chronicle the rise of debt-relief companies that see students who are unable to pay off their debts as “a tantalizing gold mine of new customers.” The story is masterful: It describes in detail the deception behind a cottage industry that promises to secure better rates for borrowers—for a “hefty fee”—but often ends up saddling the graduates with even larger debts. In the wake of Abrams’ and Silver-Greenberg’s reporting, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau took legal action against two debt relief companies that it said operated such scams. – Natalie Kitroeff


The Trans-Everything CEO

How better to understand the different ways in which men and women have progressed in American business than by looking at a CEO who has lived as both? “I can’t claim that what I have achieved is equivalent to what a woman has achieved. For the first half of my life, I was male,” said Martine Rothblatt, founder of United Therapeutics and the highest-paid female CEO in America last year. “It’s like winning the lottery.” The idea was obvious in a way–Rothblatt has been vocal about her transformation, and sat in a significant spot on highest-paid-chief-executives lists, but Lisa Miller put it all together in a finely written, in-depth profile that raised all sorts of interesting questions, which is exactly what a piece like this should do. – Sheelah Kolhatkar


China Experiences a Booming Underground Market in Surrogate Motherhood

Last spring a friend in Beijing told me that he and his wife had gone to western Gansu province to retrieve their infant daughter, born through surrogacy; their fixer told them to carry a handgun in case the exchange got rough or there was a fight over money. Surrogacy is illegal in China, though of course enough money can make anything happen there. It was so obviously a good story, but the maddeningly prolific Ian Johnson got to it first. His article, with Cao Li, explained how China’s underground surrogacy market works, including the recruitment of foreign women and the practice of sending surrogates outside China for embryo implantation. – Christina Larson


Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder

Nick Paumgarten, a former colleague of mine from the New York Observer, wrote a delectable profile of Billy Joel. Like Madison Square Garden’s artist-in-residence and poet of Long Island, Paumgarten has spent considerable time on the peninsula east of Queens known for its highways, shopping malls, and beaches. I had been thinking before reading “Thirty-Three-Hit Wonder” that Joel would make a good story, but I couldn’t have rendered the singer and his natural habitat with the same authority and elegant humor.  – Devin Leonard


Is Fun-Sized Candy Really More Fun? A Comprehensive Investigation

My colleagues may select works of serious journalism for this list, but I think the ability to commit completely to an absurd premise, then execute it flawlessly, is its own kind of editorial accomplishment. For its brazen use of Halloween as a news peg and its odd combination of deadpan humor and obsessive specificity, I’ve highlighted Caity Weaver’s choice to spend nearly 2,700 words comparing “fun-sized” candies to their regular-sized counterparts. Somehow, it’s an excellent read. – Francesca Levy


In Florida Tomato Fields, a Penny Buys Progress

My favorite story of the year, by Steven Greenhouse of the New York Times, showed how an initiative backed by Walmart, Chipotle, Trader Joe’s, and several other U.S. retailers and fast-food chains has vastly improved pay and working conditions for 30,000 mostly immigrant tomato pickers in Florida. It was a great example of how market forces can be used to make an industry clean up its act—all for a penny a pound. – Cristina Lindblad


Ghostbusters: An Oral History

There were a lot of retrospectives written for the 30th anniversary of the unlicensed nuclear backpack, but Jeff Labrecque’s straightforward quotefest for Entertainment Weekly was the best. Even the familiar stories included some new details and added context—a function of the blockquote format, strong research, and deft editing. Labrecque didn’t put anybody in jail with this piece (to my knowledge), but I’m awfully jealous that he got to talk to all these people about my favorite movie. – Jeff Muskus


60 Words and a War Without End: The Untold Story of the Most Dangerous Sentence in U.S. History

Gregory Johnsen’s report for BuzzFeed tells the largely forgotten story of the Authorization for the Use of Military Force, the piece of legislation born out of the Sept. 11 attacks that’s justified U.S. counterterrorism efforts everywhere from Afghanistan to Libya to Somalia over the past decade. It’s a somber reminder of how powerful words—even just 60 of them—can be, and a jealousy-stirring piece of long-form reporting. – Akane Otani


How Burrowing Owls Lead to Vomiting Anarchists (Or San Francisco’s Housing Crisis Explained)

To most of the rest of the country, the class warfare that gripped the Bay Area earlier this year looked like an extreme variation on the same old theme of gentrification. In an ambitious 13,000-word piece for TechCrunch, Kim-Mai Cutler explored the particular nuances at play in San Francisco and made everyone else’s coverage look simple in the process. Everyone in her story received sympathy and skepticism in equal measure; without overdramatizing, she makes clear the stakes for a city she obviously loves deeply. Could it have been shorter? Sure. But I’m glad it wasn’t. – Janet Paskin


Oil Trains Hide in Plain Sight

It was only a matter of time before someone used state open records laws to reveal the secret routes of oil trains across the U.S. Russell Gold and his colleagues at the Wall Street Journal sent requests to all 48 contiguous states and the District of Columbia and received at least some information from all but 14. Using county data, they pieced together one of the first interactive national maps of oil trains. It shows us what we thought it would: Every day, millions of barrels of potentially combustible oil roll out of North Dakota and flow east, west, and south, often through towns and cities, without citizens or sometimes even local government officials knowing it’s there. – Matthew Philips


My Vassar College Faculty ID Makes Everything OK

“I didn’t expect to taste my own tears when watching three black women seniors tell two heads of security and the Dean of the College that they, and another Asian American woman, deserve to not have security called on them for being black women simply doing their laundry and reading books on a Sunday afternoon.” That quote from this essay by Vassar College professor Kiese Laymon says everything about why this is a powerful, compelling piece. – Ellen Pollock


In Conversation: Chris Rock

Rock’s insights on class, politics, and race make this one of the best interviews of the year. It’s not often that you wish a Q&A had run longer, but Frank Rich gave this exchange the room to roam. Must read. – Kristin Powers


The Empire of Edge

In “The Empire of Edge,” the New Yorker‘s Patrick Radden Keefe reconstructs the trial of Mathew Martoma, the former SAC Capital employee convicted in February of insider trading. Beautifully observed, expertly paced, the piece provides a glimpse inside one of the world’s most powerful hedge funds—while also exploring the nature of the immigrant experience in America, the pitfalls of ambition, and the price of loyalty.  – Romesh Ratnesar


Where We Came From and Where We Went, State by State

A mapless love letter to map obsession, this New York Times interactive packs a century’s worth of U.S. Census migration data into a cornucopia of neat charts. Gregor Aisch, Robert Gebeloff, and Kevin Quealy highlight migration patterns familiar (New Yorkers in Florida) and less so (North Dakota had the highest proportion of foreign-born residents of any state in 1900). The squiggly, rule-bending design conjures images of bygone Americans wending cross-country in search of better lives. Reserve two hours. – Jonathan Rodkin


Difference Maker

Meghan Daum is a master essayist—her writing is emotional without being treacly, sophisticated yet approachable, and often devastating. And devastating is the word for this Personal History from the New Yorker. In it, Daum details her time as a foster care advocate, a role she takes on while confronting her own ambivalence about having children. The piece honestly and painfully explores what childlessness does to Daum’s relationship with her husband: “It was the Central Sadness,” she writes. “It collected around our marriage like soft, stinky moss.” She wrestles with privilege and love and guilt without coming to any easy conclusions. It’s so good and well written, and it made me cry. – Emma Rosenblum


Doctor’s War on a Common Surgery

Journalism can sometimes stop cancer and defeat death. That’s what happened this year thanks to Jennifer Levitz’s story, which kicked off a vitally important series published in the Wall Street Journal and collected in a short, free e-book. Thousands of women over many years have undergone a surgical procedure that has the perverse consequence of spreading undetected cancer inside their bodies and dramatically increasing their risk of death. The stunning, life-saving investigation balances the unavoidable medical vocabulary—morcellation, fibroids—with brave and brutally sad stories of people upended by bad medicine. – Aaron Rutkoff


The Outcast

New Yorker staff writer Rachel Aviv wrote this fascinating story about the experience of an Hasidic man who tried to expose child abuse in his Brooklyn community, but instead found himself an outcast and under criminal investigation. You have to marvel at the reporting and Aviv’s ability to illuminate both the cultural and political machinations at work. – Ira Sager


What It’s Like to Date a Horse

The best stories In New York magazine’s “Science of Us” vertical have fallen under the rubric of “What It’s Like.” In these very long Q&As, Alexa Tsoulis-Reay interviews people—in painstakingly personal detail—about their fringe conditions: being a 58-year-old virgin, say, or feeling intensely afraid of throwing up, or having Trimethylaminuria, which gives you body odor that smells like fish. She manages to ask strange, embarrassing questions without being exploitative, and nothing gets at humanity better than hearing from these folks in their own, barely edited words. Also, I’ve never read something more insane than What It’s Like to Date a Horse, which—depending on your office culture—may or may not be safe for work. – Kurt Soller


You See Sneakers, These Guys See Hundreds of Millions in Resale Profit

A deep dive into the secondary market for limited-edition sneakers, FiveThirtyEight’s Lisa Chow details a fascinating little economic cycle in which $250 shoes are traded for as much as $8,000 once they leave a retail store. It’s a long game of corporate strategy; Nike could raise prices, but it burnishes its brand by leaving some money on the table for its biggest fans. – Kyle Stock


The Inside Story of Mt. Gox, Bitcoin’s $460 Million Disaster

The collapse of the Mt. Gox exchange last spring revealed the air leaking from the Bitcoin bubble. The Wired feature on this Tokyo-based company has it all: shady financial dealings, startup hubris, and some great detail, including the founder’s distracting obsession with opening a cafe in his building’s lobby. – Brad Stone


The Strange & Curious Tale of the Last True Hermit

You’ll start reading this story because it’s weird. It’s about a guy who lived by himself in a tent in the woods of Maine for about 27 years. He’d been gone so long that when authorities asked him how many years he’d been in the woods, he responded by asking how long it’d been since the Chernobyl disaster. But then you keep reading. And you realize that this guy, this North Pond Hermit, isn’t just an eccentric recluse. He’s a bright, resourceful man who found the bone-chilling conditions of Maine’s winters less painful, less frightening, than the idea of living among the rest of us. “It’s too loud. Too colorful,” Knight says of our world. “The inanities. The trivia.” It’s hard to argue with him there. – Claire Suddath


The Red Cross’ Secret Disaster

This joint investigation by ProPublica and National Public Radio showed how the Red Cross failed as an institution after hurricanes Sandy and Isaac. Using documents and interviews, the reporters uncovered mismanagement that led to empty Red Cross trucks driving around for photo ops while desperate people waited for relief. The story demands accountability and forces us as readers to consider what will happen in the next disaster if broken systems aren’t fixed. – John Tozzi


Weather Reviews

Having lived here one year, it’s a daily pleasure and comfort to share the common sensory experience that Tom Scocca journals in his New York City weather reviews for The Awl. It is a subtle and empathetic ritual, and ultimately conveys a better notion of what’s important than the big guys’ big headlines. – Toph Tucker


The Case for Reparations

I don’t agree with all of the arguments in Ta-Nehisi Coates’ essay on the need for race reparations, but six months after reading it I’m still thinking about this magnificent polemic. His magnificent prose and the force of his ideas does that rare thing: Make you re-think your positions.– Josh Tyrangiel [+1 from Karen Weise: I’ve been particularly grateful for the work of Ta-Nehishi Coates, whose writing has provided clear-eyed ways to think about the racial inequity that’s behind some of the year’s most critical stories.]


A Thousand Pounds of Dynamite

The most fun I had reading a story this year was without a doubt the fun I had reading Adam Higginbotham’s riveting reconstruction of the events surrounding a mysterious bomb that appeared in in 1980 in Harvey’s Wagon Wheel Casino near Lake Tahoe. It came with a letter explaining that the box contained 1,000 pounds of dynamite and demanding $3 million to defuse it. It’s not only a relentless narrative, but a nicely built Web experience. It’s superlong, but there was nothing about the story I didn’t enjoy. – Bryant Urstadt


The Secret Recordings of Carmen Segerra

This is the perfect match of source material (surreptitious audio recordings) and medium (radio, This American Life), plus a long-form article that put Segerra’s story in context at ProPublica. An exploration of why regulators are spineless, it’s surprisingly compelling—and damning. – Brad Wieners


A Valuable Reputation

After discovering that a commonly used herbicide may impede the sexual development of frogs, Berkeley biology professor Tyrone Hayes finds himself under attack by its maker, the Swiss chemical giant Syngenta. In this envy-inducing New Yorker piece, Rachel Aviv does a fantastic job profiling the eccentric and tenacious Hayes, documenting Syngenta’s extensive efforts to discredit him, and raising questions about the “science for hire” industry in general. – Caroline Winter


Read It And Reap

This profile of Modern Farmer and its editor, Ann Marie Gardner, perfectly articulated one force behind today’s foodie culture: Agriculture as lifestyle symbol. There’s something about the idea of farming, particularly to urbanites, that captures the imagination—if you blur out all the labor and odors and blood that farming requires. “I don’t have a farm,” Gardner said in the story. “I sort of dream about it.” Food enables escapism: It feels pretty good to imagine oneself eating a beautifully plumed, free-range heirloom chicken. No wonder aspirational consumers are willing to pay extra for responsibly raised meat and organic vegetables. – Venessa Wong