This week I’m feeling good about journalism: The Atlantic won a Pulitzer for Caitlin Dickerson’s dogged investigation of the U.S. family-separation policy—30,000 words of challenging reporting, and not a single correction needed—and two more nominations; one for Xochitl Gonzalez, and one for Liz Bruenig’s reporting from Death Row in Alabama. The piece that sticks with me is Liz’s investigation into what happened to Joe Nathan James, whose body bore witness to the difficulty Alabama had in killing him. (Liz attended his autopsy.) Unable to find a vein for the poison, the guards simply slashed his arm open.
This week, I also helped judge the Paul Foot Awards for Investigative Journalism, which are always a cheering collection of British bulldogs nipping at the heels of some proper wrong ‘uns. What emerged this year was the grossness of the two-tier society we live in: the rich and powerful use lawyers, reputation management firms, press officers and their own connections to try to thwart justice. The poor and disenfranchised get screwed over in absolute silence, often through neglect as much as malice. No one attends the magistrates courts hearing where their fate is decided, and the courts system crawls agonisingly slowly. Journalism exists to level that playing field just a little.
Finally, I got some good news of my own: I’ve been shortlisted for the Orwell Prize for political journalism, for three entries: “Gazing into the Abyss” and “White Women’s Tears” from The New Gurus, and “The Guggenheim’s Scapegoat” for the Atlantic. (You know that if Orwell was alive now, he would have a podcast.)
Believe in Magic (BBC)
On 10 August 2015, crowds of fans cheered and waved as two members of pop band One Direction posed for photos outside a fundraising ball at London's Natural History Museum. But inside, the real stars were a group of very ill children - dressed up in gowns and suits, some accompanied by their carers, others midway through chemotherapy.
For Megan and her mother Jean, this "Cinderella Ball" was another chance to raise money for their fast-growing charity, Believe in Magic. Over the past two years they'd granted hundreds of wishes to seriously ill children, including parties and trips to Disneyland.
The guests also knew that Megan - who was just 20 - had organised the ball while very publicly battling a brain tumour of her own. It's an "incredible privilege" to work with Believe in Magic, One Direction's Louis Tomlinson told attendees. But behind the ball gowns and themed masks there was a secret involving one of the medical profession's most mysterious syndromes.
This article is a preview of podcast by Jamie Bartlett called Believe in Magic, about a young woman called Megan who set up a charity with her mother Jean around her brain cancer. Which she didn’t have. Perhaps the strangest part of the story is that Megan was actually ill with something—whether organic or induced—from which she died in 2018.
Here’s a chilling line from the article, quoting Munchausens expert Marc Feldman, whom I interviewed for my piece on social Munchausens: “More recently, Prof Feldman has spotted a new trend—people faking conditions to meet celebrities. A serious condition, he says, ‘allows someone to emerge out of the pack of people who are infatuated with this celebrity’.” That chimed with an interview in The Times I read this week, talking to a woman who is acting as a surrogate for Ollie from Made in Chelsea. Ollie’s husband Gareth said: “It’s a weird thing because you have to wonder, with our backgrounds, what the intentions and motivations of people reaching out are. That’s always the concern because you’re like, ‘Does someone want to do this because they see us on TV?’”
The Ultimate Oral history of BuzzFeed News (BuzzFeed)
Venessa Wong, senior culture reporter: My first job here in 2015 was to report on food companies. I did a really simple post about McDonald’s selling mozzarella sticks for $1, just something short and fun that I put very little time into, and suddenly half a million people had read that story. It was a level of reach I had never experienced before, and it was absolutely thrilling and terrifying. There was a clear sense that if something was being said online, people were hearing it from BuzzFeed.
Katie Notopoulos, senior tech reporter: An incomplete list of things BuzzFeed gave all employees while I was there:
Winter pompom hats in six-plus different colors, one for each year
A woven blanket with the viral arrow
A fleece blanket that was just colorful
Three-plus pairs of BuzzFeed branded socks
Three-plus tote bags
Five T-shirts with different city office names on them, all in one year
One longsleeve BuzzFeed shirt
Uncountable T-shirts tied to events
Two BuzzFeed hoodies
One pair of BuzzFeed sweatpants
Two pairs Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones, branded
A BuzzFeed backpack
A BuzzFeed duffel-style gym bag
Several drink koozies
A limited-edition print of a drawing of a cat made by a machine by artist Cory Arcangel
Rosie Gray, former politics reporter: There was the infamous cat drawing by Jonah [Peretti]’s friend Cory Arcangel that we all received as a holiday present one year. It was literally a really basic line drawing of a cat, like a doodle, on computer paper. Each copy was individually numbered, and Jonah claimed these artworks would appreciate in value. We were dying laughing about this. I think I still have it somewhere
This article makes a good case for BuzzFeed as an incubator of talent: my Atlantic colleagues McKay Coppins, Adam Serwer and Charlie Warzel were all there. It is also a record of lots of people pissing money against the wall—sometimes the bosses, sometimes the journalists. The epic fail from BuzzFeed’s imperial free-oysters-for-breakfast pomp to the waves of layoffs and multiple strategy “resets” is brutal.
Coronationballs: my favourite story from the coronation was the New York Times inventing something called “breakfast pie” that Britons allegedly love to eat, as well as asserting that a Bucks Fizz is non-alcoholic. (The article has since been corrected.)
And what might a breakfast pie look like?
“He was all alone as he crossed the start line, an elderly man who had already fallen behind the pack. He was last, but he was just getting started.” This lad’s out there running ultra marathons at 81 (The Walrus).
“There remains uncertainty as to whether Starmer can win a majority. But one thing we can be sure of is that if Labour, Lib Dems and Greens are collectively getting 65%+ of the vote, as they did this week, there is absolutely no route to Sunak retaining the premiership.” Sam Freedman on the local election results (Comment is Freed).
“I was admittedly swept up in Liz as an authentic and sympathetic person. She’s gentle and charismatic, in a quiet way. My editor laughed at me when I shared these impressions, telling me (and I quote), “Amy Chozick, you got rolled!” I vigorously disagreed! You don’t know her like I do! But then, something very strange happened.” Elizabeth Holmes sounds like one of those fraudsters who are utterly convincing because the first person they have deluded is themselves. She’s also not doing the deep voice any more (New York Times).
“If the Austro-Hungarian Empire still existed, 25-year-old Ferdinand Habsburg would eventually be its ruler. Instead he’s a racecar driver.” GUTTED to have been scooped on this premium Habsburg content by the NYT.
“As Borges dreamed of endless libraries, Harry dreams of endless retractions.” Prince Harry’s ghostwriter, JJ Moehringer, on the craft of what he does, the subjects it works for, and the book’s reception, “a jabberwocky of bonkers hot takes and classist snark.” There are some very odd assertions in here—such as that the reactions to LeBron James and Harry were both driven by “racism, surely.” (Anti-ginger racism? Don’t tell Diane Abbott.) But overall it’s quite telling that Moehringer ends up so thoroughly on Team Harry: that’s the power of hearing someone’s story: “empathy is thin gruel compared with the marrow of experience.” (New Yorker, free sub required).
“Faced with such punishing concentrations of attention, many companies panicked and sacked unlucky staff. But what is increasingly understood is that even tens of thousands of infuriated people represent a virtually irrelevant portion of Twitter’s 450 million active users, let alone the population as a whole.” James Marriott thinks we are past Peak Cancel (The Times, £)
See you next time!
'Breakfast Pie' (or Bacon and Egg Pie as it is more commonly called here) is a New Zealand thing it seems. So score one for the Dominions I guess?
Congratulations on your Orwell nomination!! Brilliant news, and let me know if you need someone to arrange an 'accident' for the other nominees.