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 online, or subscribe to the podcast on iTunes.
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.