Pulitzer-winning reporter Don Van Natta Jr. and journalist Jacob Feldman chat with writers and editors from across the industry on The Sunday Long Read Podcast. Listen below, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Spotify.
Episode 39: deborah and james fallows
There a few couples like Deborah and James Fallows, who have spend more than half a decade talking to people and visiting towns across America to produce “Our Towns,” first a New York Times bestseller, published last year, and now a series in The Atlantic. They’re some of the smartest, most diligent people reporting on the state of the country today and they joined Jacob for a first-ever, two-in-one SLR podcast to discuss their distinct reporting styles, the power of positive reporting, and the lessons they’ve learned from their travels around the country.
Episode 38: Charles Duhigg
Charles Duhigg is a 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and writes books about the science of habit formation and productivity, and magazine articles for The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker and The Atlantic. Charles studied history at Yale and received an MBA from Harvard Business School.
“The first question I might ask is, ‘I’m really sorry, I don’t know enough to know what question to ask you. What do you think is the most interesting thing I could ask you about x.’ It catches them off guard … and they always come up with some suggested question that never would have occurred to me — because they know their own brain better I could ever know it by asking them questions to get at it.”
Jacob and Charles discuss how every corporate job at Amazon is really the same, how longform and books allow a conversation around a subject to linger, and reporting style and tips for podcasts, print and books — including, using LinkedIn to find sources and stories.
- [0:57] Is Amazon Unstoppable? (New Yorker, 10.10.19)
- [1:09] Did Uber Steal Google’s Intellectual Property? (New Yorker, 10.15.18)
- [9:52] The iEconomy (New York Times, 2012)
- [10:41] Covering the Cops (New Yorker, 2.9.86)
- [14:31] Amazon’s Next-Day Delivery Has Brought Chaos And Carnage To America’s Streets — But The World’s Biggest Retailer Has A System To Escape The Blame (Buzzfeed, 8.31.19)
- [14:32] His Mother Was Killed by a Van Making Amazon Deliveries. Here’s the Letter He Wrote to Jeff Bezos. (ProPublica, 9.5.19)
- [14:40] Amazon Has Ceded Control of Its Site. The Result: Thousands of Banned, Unsafe or Mislabeled Products (Wall Street Journal, 8.23.19)
- [14:50] Jeff Bezos’s Master Plan (The Atlantic, 10.10.19)
- [16:39] “On the Clock: What Low-Wage Work Did to Me and How It Drives America Insane” (Little, Brown and Company, 2019)
- [18:23] Emily Guendelsberger’s Twitter thread (10.18.19)
- [23:01] “The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business” (Random House, 2012)
- [23:01] “Smarter Faster Better: The Secrets of Being Productive in Life and Business” (Random House, 2016)
- [28:58] “How To!” Podcast (Slate, 2019)
- [51:30] Zuckerberg: Standing For Voice and Free Expression (Washington Post, 10.17.19)
Episode 37: Rowan Jacobsen
“I kind of think of myself as a nature writer disguised as a food writer. Because food is a great way to write about plants and animals because everyone has a built-in interest, “
Rowan Jacobsen is an award-winning author who writes about food, sustainability, and the environment. Jacob and Rowan discuss how the latter delved into the world of food writing and some of his work including “Is Sunscreen The New Margarine” for Outside, which became the most popular article in their website’s history.
[1:09] How does one become a food writer?
[4:41] Rowan on “Is Sunscreen The New Margarine”
[8:17] On Rowan equating lack of sun to smoking
[12:25] Rowan on “What Happens When the World’s Top Plastics Executives and Environmentalists Go Snorkeling Together in the Atlantic Garbage Patch?”
[21:40] Rowan on Alt Meat Is Turning Cattle into Stranded Assets
[28:38] On reading content that doesn’t take into account certain factors that endanger the environment
[32:09] On not reading any fiction
Episode 36: Jessica Pressler
“If you don’t want to tell me something it makes me very interested in what it is.” Jessica Pressler is a staff writer at New York magazine and joins Jacob this week to talk interesting stories, screen adaptations, and empathy. Her article “The Hustlers at Scores,” is the basis for the new movie “Hustlers,” and Jessica discusses the unique experiences of having a story adapted for the screen and being visited in your own home by a movie star assigned to portray you (Hello, Julia Stiles!).
Episode 35: Jessica contrera
Jessica Contrera covers a wide range of topics as a narrative reporter for the Washington Post and in this week’s podcast she chats with Don about her happiest (and saddest) stories, taking care of her mental health while covering traumatic events, and the positive influence a good editor has on a young reporter. Jessica has been featured several times in the Sunday Long Read newsletter and the stories of hers that we’ve highlighted include a deep dive about sexting teenagers, a piece about the ongoing recovery of mass shooting victims, and a delightful tale about one particularly controversial dog park.
Episode 34: Jeanne Marie Laskas
The best-selling author, GQ correspondent, and National Magazine Award Finalist is our latest guest. Laskas discusses her books and articles including To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope; her New York Times Magazine article “The Mailroom;” and her GQ article “Game Brain,” which inspired the movie “Concussion.”
[0:49] Jeanne Marie on her book tour for “To Obama: With Love, Joy, Anger, and Hope”
[1:54] How she came up with the idea for the book, based off “Ten Letters A Day: To Obama With Love, and Hate, and Desperation” for New York Times Magazine
[8:07] Jeanne Marie on Joe Biden: The Most Misunderstood Man in Washington for GQ
[18:32] Writing Bennet Omalu, Concussions, and the NFL: How One Doctor Changed Football Forever
[26:50] Jeanne Marie on her writing craft, characters, and narrative arc/Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns
[38:43] Jeanne Marie on advising students
Episode 33: Will Leitch
Will Leitch founded Deadspin nearly 14 years ago. Since 2008, Leitch has written and worked outside of the site, most recently as a contributing editor at New York Magazine, a national correspondent for MLB, and the host of “The Will Leitch Show” on Sports Illustrated TV.
“…During the years I actively ran [Deadspin] — now more than a decade in the past — I was ostensibly in charge of figuring out what was coming next on the sports internet; I was the supposed leader of the blog-barbarians at the gate, all those bulls (and we were all bulls) running roughshod over the Traditional Sports Media…”
Don and Will discuss how Blacktable.com led to Deadspin.com, the Deadspin of today, Will’s writing of today, and revisit the infamous and “rather festive” 2008 Costas NOW (HBO) discussion where Buzz Bissinger, the author of “Friday Night Lights,” berated Will as being “…sort of like Jimmy Olsen on Percocet, ” and the sports blogosphere of the early aughts being “dedicated to cruelty … journalistic dishonesty, and … speed.” They’ve both come around since then.
Will lives in Athens, GA, has written four books (with a fifth on the way), and can be found on Twitter @williamfleitch.
[0:28] Will Leitch newsletter
[5:28] How to Raise a Boy: I’m not sure what to think about what my dad tried to teach me. So what should I teach my sons? (New York Magazine, 2018)
[10:30] Sports on Earth: A Closing Tribute (Sports on Earth, 2018)
[26:37] Laura Wagner
[28:44] Megan Greenwell
[29:17] Who Is We? (Deadspin, 2019)
[29:26] What Fresh Hell Is Barstool Sports? (New York Magazine, 2018)
[30:56] Licensing Company Authentic Brands in Talks to Buy Sports Illustrated for About $110 Million (WSJ, 2019)
[30:56] New York Magazine Owner Explores Sale (WSJ, 2018)
[31:42] Grierson & Leitch (Apple Podcasts)
[46:46] The Secret Life of Pitchers (The Atlantic, 2017)
[47:10] A Mound Of Troubles (New York Times Magazine, 2001)
[48:59] “Internet Media” segment, “Costas NOW” (HBO, April 29, 2008)
[48:59] Our Conversation With Buzz Bissinger (Deadspin, 2008)
[48:59] Buzz, Bob, Projectile Spittle and Me (New York Magazine, 2009)
[49:50] Buzz Bissinger (New York Magazine)
[53:28] Play Magazine (New York Times)
[54:30] “God Save the Fan” (HarperCollins)
[59:13] Twitter Is Driving Everybody Insane (Especially Darren Rovell) (Deadspin, 2011)
[1:00:40] David Wallace-Wells’ “The Uninhabitable Earth” (Tim Duggan Books)
[1:01:55] Vicki Michaelis
[1:02:05] Historic Kentucky barns are being stripped by thieves to fuel farmhouse-chic trend (Louisville Courier Journal)
EPISODE 32: anne helen petersen
Anne Helen Petersen, although she’s a superb culture writer for BuzzFeed News, still gets a little nauseous at the prospect of talking to people for her stories. She talks about that and more with J
acob on this week’s episode, where they touch on reporting attire, Beto O’Rourke, and Anne’s viral story on burnout. Anne was an academic before becoming a reporter on the fly and has adjusted to sharing her work in different ways, including in her newsletter, “the collected ahp.”
[7:30]: What to wear while reporting (Part 1 and Part 2)
[18:15]: Anne’s newsletter
[22:30]: Anne’s viral burnout story: How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation and a follow-up: Here’s What “Millennial Burnout” Is Like For 16 Different People
[32:30]: Anne’s feature on student loans
[39:30]: Anne’s 2015 profile of Brie Larson
[41:40]: Anne’s August profile of Beto O’Rourke and some of her follow-up coverage
EPISODE 31: gideon lewis-kraus
Gideon Lewis-Kraus is a writer at large for the New York Times Magazine, a contributing writer at WIRED, and a contributing editor at Harper’s. He’s the author of a travel memoir called A Sense of Direction, and he teaches nonfiction in the Graduate Writing Program at Columbia. Here, he talks with Jacob about ideal story length (100 pages, anyone?), why it took months to work out the structure of his latest NYT Magazine piece, how he uses detail, and more. You can find his work here.
EPISODE 30: Tommy tomlinson
“The clock doesn’t run out until the very end,” says Tommy Tomlinson, author of the new book “The Elephant in the Room: One fat man’s quest to Get Smaller in a Growing America.” The book was excerpted by The Atlantic and is Don’s favorite read this week. Tommy talks about his book, his weight, and more with Don on this week’s episode, which ranges from questions about emotional intelligence to the speed of Herschel Walker. Tommy, a 23-year veteran of the Charlotte Observer, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, and the host of his own podcast, has plenty of stories to tell and brings his trademark thoughtfulness to this week’s episode.
EPISODE 29: RACHEL SKLAR
If you worked in media in New York in the mid 2000s, you read the Fishbowl on MediaBistro. Our podcast guest today is the writer of that indispensable, gossipy blog, Rachel Sklar. We’ll track her unconventional path from Mediabistro to Mediaite and Huffington Post, and on to co-found The Li.st, a network and visibility platform for professional women. Now she tells Don she’s at work on a newsletter called “The Luckiest.”
EPISODE 28: BEN SMITH
Fresh off his guest-editing turn, BuzzFeed News editor-in-chief Ben Smith chatted with Don about how the term “Ben Smith-ing” came into being, why he moved from Politico to BuzzFeed, and the thought process behind publishing the controversial Trump-Russia dossier. They also discussed the journalism industry more broadly, from the blogging heyday to the current environment. “I read a lot of long articles but it’s in spite of the fact they’re long,” Ben says.
EPISODE 27: Elaina Plott
“It seemed like everyone knew what to think but me.”
Elaina Plott landed not one but two stories in the Sunday Long Read newsletter last week. The first was a cover story for Pacific Standard magazine about the residents of Tangier Island, Virginia, and their unique relationship with God, Trump, and climate change, which scientists say is likely to wipe their island from the map within the next 25 years. Her second story was a personal reflection on gun violence for The Atlantic, where she is a staff writer. In this week’s episode, Elaina and Jacob discuss the details of both stories, the intersections of personal and political discourse, the way Elaina (an Alabaman who went to Yale and works in D.C.) approaches her work, and more.
EPISODE 26: ALBERT SAMAHA
“There are two ways I view toughness and the virtue of it.” BuzzFeed News reporter Albert Samaha has a new book out about a young football team in a changing inner city. But clearly it’s about so much more than that, too. As for what he thinks will happen to America’s most popular sport, Samaha says, “Part of the question is what replaces it.” He also discussed what it’s like working at BuzzFeed, shared how he’s learned to grab attention online, and announced the topic of his next book.
EPISODE 25: MARIA BUSTILLOS
Maria Bustillos is the current editor in chief of Popula, an alternative news and culture magazine that recently launched on the blockchain-based Civil platform. In this week’s episode, Don and Maria walk through one of Popula’s first pieces published, her 20,000-word interview with the late Anthony Bourdain—“he spent two and a half hours with me in the comfy Irish bar, blabbing about everything under the sun … And nobody bothered us in all that time, it was like there was a force field around him.”—as well as blockchain-based journalism—“it’s obvious why [blockchain] recordkeeping is valuable for journalism: it allows us to maintain archives that can’t be censored or altered after the fact. We can amend previous records only through addenda, in other words: not through erasure. This is the first benefit of blockchain technology to the free press, and this benefit alone makes it worth moving our news media into blockchain-based publishing systems.” Maria’s work has previously appeared in The New Yorker, The Awl, The New York Times, Harper’s and The Guardian.
EPISODE 24: JO PIAZZA
Jo Piazza is a journalist, podcaster, author of fiction and nonfiction books, and writer of personal essays. Her latest book—her eighth—is a novel called Charlotte Walsh Likes to Win, and it’s a fascinating look at what it takes for a woman to run for national office. She talks with Don about how she learned to be a good reporter covering celebrities, how her novel is influencing voters, and how the book might have been different if Hillary Clinton had won.
EPISODE 23: BRETT MICHAEL DYKES
Through a mixture of humorous tales and handy insights, Uproxx editor-in-chief Brett Michael Dykes explains to Don how he turned a few viral posts on a personal blog into a series of jobs in digital media. He also discusses the book that inspired him to write, where he gets his best thinking done, as well as why he goes by The Cajun Boy online.
EPISODE 22: GLYNNIS MACNICOL
Glynnis MacNicol wisely says about writing that “not telling the truth leads to bad writing.” She’s spot on about that and quite a few other things in her new book, “No One Tells You This,” which she discusses with Don on this week’s episode. The two talk about her 40th birthday, solo travel, and how Glynnis once ended up eating steak for breakfast. Her book is a memoir about being 40, single, and childless, and although her stomach turns slightly at the phrase “deeply personal,” Glynnis has received lots of praise for her book’s honesty and clarity, which comes across in this week’s episode.
EPISODE 21: seymour hersh
A reporter’s reporter, Sy Hersh characterizes his work this way: “I’m constantly walking into editors’ offices and throwing a dead rat full of lice on their desk. Maybe he’s still alive and moving.” Hear his unfiltered thoughts on his career and journalism, and check out Hersh’s memoir, Reporter. Subscribe to the podcast here if you haven’t already.
EPISODE 20: amy chozick
Amy Chozick moved to New York after college with nothing but a set of clips from her college newspaper and now, 17 years later, is The New York Times bestselling author of the campaign memoir “Chasing Hillary.” In this week’s episode, Don (the co-author of a 2007 Clinton book with Jeff Gerth) chats with Amy, a Times reporter, about Hillary Clinton, and the pair trade war stories about the blowback the Clinton camp has dished out to journalists who write unauthorized books about Clinton. They also evaluate the media’s approach to the 2016 election and talk about Hillary’s press team, a notorious group Amy refers to as “The Guys.”
EPISODE 19: Steve almond
Steve Almond says of writing: “The idea is that you are trying to show the reader somebody whose life is in disequilibrium and who is struggling with some universal bewilderment.” His newest book, Bad Stories: What the Hell Just Happened to our Country, is out now. It’s his tenth. He has also published more than 150 short stories and is the co-host of the popular Dear Sugars podcast. He and Don discuss the value of good editing, the apprenticeship a young writer should undergo, and much more.
EPISODE 18: rachel syme
Where is Rachel Syme’s favorite people-watching perch in New York City? What would her ideal beat be? One of our favorite profile writers—and a soon-to-be author—discusses those topics and many, many more on this week’s podcast. She also explains the “tricky, transactional nature of profile writing,” how she thinks of interviews as first dates, and why she wound up discussing detergent one afternoon on Twitter. Plus, Don’s conversation with Rachel begins and ends with stirring discussions of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work (before Don shares his true feelings about Ernest Hemingway). Enjoy!
EPISODE 17: shea serrano
DVN: How many writers are you mentoring right now?
SS: I think like 600.
Don and Shea discuss how he first resorted to writing, how comments got him a job, how he found his unique voice, and the first compliment Bill Simmons gave him. From the first to graduate high school in his family to a New York Times bestseller, Serrano’s story—just like his personality—is one-of-a-kind.
EPISODE 16: atossa araxia abrahamian
“What kind of globalization should we want? There are lots of different versions of it, and we have a particular version that at this moment is pissing off a lot of people—but it doesn’t have to be that way.” Atossa has spent most of her journalism career investigating issues of globalism, from how global elites act at a level above states to how the global poor get caught up in the system. In 2015, she wrote a book on the topic, and issues of statehood and citizenship are in the news now as much as ever. Atossa explains how she ended up focusing on the topic and the “real reason” she became a journalist; offers a few tips for fellow freelancers; and discusses the joy of surfing. (And she’s always open to ideas: atossa dot abrahamian at gmail).
EPISODE 15: geoff edgars
“I’m not that special,” Washington Post national arts reporter Geoff Edgers says. “All I do is call a million people.” That’s how he’s written unforgettable profiles on every star from Lionel Richie to David Letterman. Edgers shares his process with Don, discusses what he looks for in a potential profile subject, and tells his Bill Murray story. The two also discuss Edgers’ newest project: Edge of Fame, a podcast co-produced by WBUR which gets the audience even closer to today’s biggest entertainers (for the most recent episode on Jimmy Kimmel, Edgers left his recorder on the comedian’s desk for an entire day).
EPISODE 14: alex belth
After writing the Oral History of Inside Sports for The Sunday Long Read, and as he launches a new journalism archive project debuting today, Alex catches up with Don—who calls Alex “America’s Curator Laureate.” As for his new website, thestacksreader.com, Alex said: “I just want to have a destination where things that would ordinarily have been discarded have a place to live—does that make sense?”
EPISODE 13: Michael Kruse
“We’re all a product of our path to the current moment, and my path is a little bit different,” Michael says. He has worked his way up from covering exurban news to writing about the President for POLITICO. And he says that journey, which included stories about a dead sheep and a woman who disappeared inside her own home, helps him today. “My path was through small areas and rural areas in New York state and in Florida … it can’t hurt when I go out to quote-unquote Trump country—which is to say, most of the country—and talk to people.”
Michael also talked about his first lucky break in the business, how a lack of access can sometimes be liberating, and why he considers his audience to be just about every single person on planet Earth.
EPISODE 12: sally jenkins
Washington Post columnist and four-time NYT best-selling author Sally Jenkins recounts the advice Billie Jean King gave her about dealing with sexism; shares her opinion of Lance Armstrong, Joe Paterno, and Roger Goodell; and explains why journalism is a civil religion. She and Don also discuss several pieces of advice for young writers.
EPISODE 11: S. L. Price
Longtime friends Don and Scott discuss how Price started going by S.L., the changes they’ve seen in American newsrooms, and how writing requires being both the god and dog of your story. They also go personal, discussing Scott’s prescient student newspaper profile of Michael Jordan when they were both students at the University of North Carolina, the articles for SI that Scott has turned into books, and his time working internationally. (Also, a correction: In our Best of 2017 Edition, we misattributed a pick to Scott. It was actually Kevin Van Valkenburg who initially recommended, “Is This the End of the NFL?”)
EPISODE 10: Kevin Van Valkenburg
Kevin Van Valkenburg is a senior writer at ESPN The Magazine and ESPN.com, where he writes primarily about football and golf. Prior to joining ESPN, he spent 11 years at the Baltimore Sun. In 2015, he was the T. Anthony Pollner Distinguished Professor at the University of Montana, where he taught a class on storytelling. He and Don discuss his start in journalism, how he faked his way through an ESPN job interview, the time they’ve spent co-reporting, and his powerful Sunday Long Read essay.
EPISODE 9: Seth Wickersham and Wright Thompson
Seth Wickersham and Wright Thompson both write for ESPN The Magazine and have been discussing stories since their time together at the University of Missouri (they discussed several while guest editing The Sunday Long Read in September). Don chatted with them about how they developed their confidence, the stories that got away, and what they’d like to be remembered for—or at least Don tries to get them to answer that last one. We think you’ll enjoy it.
This week’s episode contains explicit language.
EPISODE 8: Souad mekhennet
Souad Mekhennet is a national security correspondent for The Washington Post and the author of the national best-selling, “I Was Told To Come Alone: My Journey Behind the Lines of Jihad.” Last month, she was named the 2017 recipient of the Daniel Pearl Award. In this conversation with her friend and former colleague, Don Van Natta Jr., Mekhennet describes her 16 years covering Jihad for the Post, The New York Times and other publications; the techniques she uses to gain the trust of sources, including terrorist leaders, and how she manages their expectations; where her immense bravery and courage likely come from. She also discusses several of her most renowned pieces, including one for The New York Times that she and Don collaborated on in 2005 about a German man’s imprisonment and torture in an Afghanistan prison by officials believed to be with the CIA, as well as her most recent story, The Jihadist Plan To Use Women To Launch the Next Incarnation of ISIS. Their conversation lasts 59 minutes.
EPISODE 7: chris jones
In the middle of his Twitter hiatus, two-time National Magazine Award winner Chris Jones chats with Don Van Natta Jr. Jones shares behind-the-scenes details from his favorite stories—including profiles of Roger Ebert and Teller. He also explains why he’s just now learning to cook and how he managed to expense both poker losses and marijuana.
EPISODE 6: Taffy Brodesser-Akner
It was about time The Sunday Long Read Podcast caught up with Taffy Brodesser-Akner, who extended her lead in list appearances this week. It’s a longer episode, but equally jam-packed with stories and tips—and make sure to stick around for the first-ever lightning round!
EPISODE 5: Christopher GOffard
Christopher Goffard, now at The Los Angeles Times, is an experienced journalist of over 20 years. Most recently, he’s the reporter, writer and voice of Dirty John, a captivating series told via print and chart-topping podcast. Christopher tells Jacob why he assigns his journalism students stories of everyday people, the way he first learned about “Dirty John” Meehan, how creating a podcast was “harder work than I think I’ve ever done” (but work he recommends to any journalist), and why he isn’t comfortable with the True Crime label for Dirty John.
EPISODE 4: Ana Menendez
Award-winning author Ana Menendez is called “a triple-threat” by Don in our 4thSunday Long Read podcast—she’s been a reporter, a columnist and is now a full-time fiction writer (and, last week, Ana was guest-curator of the SLR). In their 40-minute conversation, Don and Ana discuss their shared early days at The Miami Herald and the inspiration and writing tips of a joyous, Pulitzer Prize-wining editor named Gene Miller; the joys and difficulties of writing (and re-writing); the music and rhythm of the finest prose (and its poetic origins); and the wisdom and folly of reviewing one’s own work 10 or 15 years later.
Also, special thanks to Justin Morris for providing our new intro music.
EPISODE 3: Jacob Feldman
Sunday Long Read producer Jacob Feldman joins Don to talk about his latest story on the NFL and discuss the podcast project.
EPISODE 2: Michael n. Graff
Michael N. Graff, an award-winning writer and editor from North Carolina, has appeared four times in The Sunday Long Read, including last week when Don selected Michael’s essay “Is the Secret to Successs… Faking It?” as his Favorite of the Week. In our second SLR Pod, Don chats with Michael, who was married yesterday to Laura Houston (Congrats!), about the writing life, the difference between journalism and essay-writing, the importance of nailing the most authentic details in our stories and this thing Michael has for crab cakes. A special thanks to writer Tommy Tomlinson, a mutual friend of Michael and Don, for framing two revealing questions. The podcast runs for about 40 minutes. Subscribe here.
EPISODE 1: Jody Avirgan
For nearly 30 minutes, Don chatted with Jody about how the 30 for 30 Podcasts idea was born, the critically acclaimed first 30 for 30 Podcasts episode, The Trials of Dan and Dave and whether this is the golden age of pods or we’re sitting atop a podcast bubble that’s about to burst.