Protesters march down 5th Avenue in New York City in anti-police brutality demonstrations on June 10, 2020. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

Extraordinary Reporting and Excellent Writing: The Best Journalism of 2020

Choosing the best pieces of journalism I read during the year is very challenging. Though I read so many more, the sixty pieces I include here were the most memorable. Given the nature of this year, many of the pieces are difficult to read, but due to the excellence of the writing and the emotions they evoke, they’re very much worth reading. So give them a try, even the intense ones. I love journalism — especially long form pieces — and enjoy celebrating it by publishing this because the writer tells a story about an interesting event or person or sometimes tells a deeply personal essay. And we all love a good story.

In 2020, we had two events which captured the attention of the American people and reporters — Covid-19 and protests over racial injustice and police brutality — in a way a story has not done in a long time. Because of that, I have a list of coronavirus stories, a list of stories about the protests and racial injustice, and a third list in which the focus of the story is either not at all related to or not just singularly on those events.

Racial injustice and anti-police brutality stories:

  • Though Ahmaud Arbery was not killed by cops, Arbery’s execution was covered up for months. This piece by David Dennis Jr. at Atlanta Magazine is a beautiful tribute to Ahmaud Arbery. (disclaimer: this story uses a quote from one of Arbery’s killers which includes the N-word).
  • In 1920 there was a horrifying lynching in Duluth, MN, which some residents call “the darkest day in the city’s history.” This powerful LA Times story is about how three people are forever connected by the actions of their ancestors.
  • This BuzzFeed News story centers on the backlash of a Black Lives Matter rally in the small, very white city in Ohio called Bethel. (Disclaimer: this story contains plenty of overt racism including the N-word)
  • Pulitzer Prize winner Wesley Lowery writes about why George Floyd’s murder was the breaking point.
  • Jelani Cobb examined Juneteenth and the meaning of freedom.
  • Here’s Robert Samuels’ wonderful profile of a white woman in Tulsa, Oklahoma, who’s on a journey to become an anti-racist after George Floyd’s murder.
  • Black fathers talk to GQ about losing sons to police brutality and what it means to raise a Black man in America.
From left: Selwyn Jones; Jacob Blake III; Michael Brown Sr. Photos by Awol Erizku.
  • With detailed maps visualizing where and how many protests occurred from late May through June 9, The New York Times shows us how Black Lives Matter reached every corner of America.
  • An oral history of one of the worst nights in American history: when federal officers teargassed peaceful protestors in Lafayette Square, just blocks from the White House.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner Hannah Dreier reported on a perfect storm in Huntsville, Alabama: A white police officer fresh from de-escalation training, a troubled black woman with a gun, and a crowd with cellphones ready to record.
  • Anne Helen Peterson, formerly of BuzzFeed News, wrote about a viral video that seemed to show BLM storming a church, but the story behind this incident is much darker — a campaign to discredit Black Lives Matter.
  • For 126 years, Mississippi has had the Confederate battle flag on their state flag. In July, the flag finally was removed via an act of the state Legislature, but just days before the vote it seemed it would not happen. Listen to the inside story about how the flag came down (also available on Spotify or Apple) from WNYC studios. It’s an incredible story.
  • A deeply intimate story by Jaweed Kaleem: A white mom marched alone to say ‘Black lives matter.’ Her Black son urged her to do more.
Jesse Ugstad and his mother, Marcy, in their lakeside Minnesota home. (Dan Koeck / For The Times)

Coronavirus stories:

  • A harrowing story from the Washington Post: a 70 year old mother figured she was most at risk to get coronavirus. But when her son got it, all she could do was stand by for word about his recovery or death — from 760 miles away.
  • Vanessa Arredondo wrote a coronavirus diary detailing what it was like being one of the last students on campus at UC Berkeley.
  • “Everyone Is So Afraid”: COVID-19’s Impact on the American Restaurant Industry. The Ringer’s Jordan Ritter Conn zeroes in on a Syrian restaurant called Café Rakka in Tennessee, and its owner, struggling to get by during the pandemic.
  • From The Star Tribune: Six lives changed forever — how Coronavirus ravaged Minnesota.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner Stephanie McCrummen reported on a New York City funeral home overwhelmed by surging deaths from the coronavirus pandemic in the spring.
  • Via the incomparable John Woodrow Cox: the Ismael children — 13, 18 and 20 — relied on their parents for everything. Then the Coronavirus took them both.
(Salwan Georges /Washington Post)
(Photograph by Win McNamee / Getty)
  • A talented team at ProPublica investigated the fall of the CDC — How the world’s greatest public health organization was brought to its knees by a virus, the president and the capitulation of its own leaders, causing damage that could last much longer than the coronavirus.
  • 10-year old Reign Howard saved her younger brother’s life, but then the virus threatened to take it. A moving story by Pulitzer Prize finalist John Woodrow Cox.
  • From Annie Gowen at the Washington Post: Covid-19 becomes personal in a small South Dakota town as neighbors die and the town debates a mask mandate.

The rest of the memorable stories I read:

Illustrations by Kagan McLeod
  • A powerful essay by former NBA player Ben Gordon about dealing with mental illness. (Warning: This essay contains strong language about suicide and suicidal thoughts.)
  • David Brooks wrote about how America is having a moral convulsion.
  • “The political wisdom is ingrained at this point: Black and brown people don’t vote for Republicans.” Clare Malone, formerly of FiveThirtyEight, wrote about how the Republican Party spent decades making itself white. (Warning: this story uses a quote from the 1960s which includes the N-word).
  • GQ Magazine interviewed Chase Strangio, who explains how the ACLU won the Supreme Court ruling protecting LGBTQ rights in the workplace and what comes next.
  • The New York Times’ Elizabeth Dias posits, with fantastic reporting and memorable quotes, that Evangelical Christians support Trump because of who he is, not in spite of who he is. Because to them, he is their protector in a world which dismisses them.
  • From Brooke Jarvis: Young climate activists like Jamie Margolin are building a movement while growing up — planning mass protests from childhood bedrooms and during school.
Jamie Margolin in her bedroom. Holly Andres for The New York Times.
  • In his 30-year career, The Independent’s Chief US Correspondent Andrew Buncombe has filed dispatches from across the world. In July, while reporting on protests in Seattle, he was arrested for the first time. This first person story is about more than his indefensible arrest. It’s also about how Seattle jails didn’t adequately protect people from coronavirus risks and how Seattle police intimidate and threaten people with impunity.
  • A fascinating story about the brutality and resistance on the front lines of Hong Kong’s battle for democracy.
  • The New York Times analyzed powerful eulogies delivered by Joe Biden since the 1970s to academics, politicians, and childhood friends. Regardless of who he’s honoring, Biden’s words are personal. Biden’s entire political career has been marked by personal loss. His allies say that makes him uniquely capable of leading a nation grappling with death and grief.
  • Suburban white women are repulsed by Donald Trump and are a big reason why he lost re-election. In a fascinating piece, Pulitzer Prize winner Stephanie McCrummen profiled Miranda Murphey, who’s struggled with her political identity since Donald Trump’s election.
  • Tremendous reporting by Nicholas Casey: “Blessed are those who seek refuge and have the door shut on their face.” After tacitly criticizing President Trump’s Syrian refugee policy at the pulpit, a young pastor found himself at a crossroads of God, Alabama and Donald Trump.
  • The New Yorker’s Adam Entous chronicled what Fiona Hill learned in the White House. Despite being advised not to, Fiona Hill took a thankless job at the National Security Council. This is about what happens when a president and his White House disregards national security experts.
  • ‘The President Was Not Encouraging’: What Obama Really Thought About Biden. Behind the friendship was a more complicated relationship, which now drives the former vice president to prove his partner wrong.
Illustration by Klawe Rzeczy
  • The New York Times profiled Evan Brandt, who is essentially the last reporter for The Mercury, a newspaper in a small Pennsylvania town. The Mercury was once a thriving newspaper with a large newsroom, but under Alden Global Capital hedge fund it has been greatly diminished. But Brandt won’t stop chronicling his small town, and he had one question for his rich boss.
  • David Shor — the data guru for Obama’s 2012 reelection at age 20 — is one of the smartest political scientists. In July, Shor was interviewed by New York Magazine about why big-dollar donors actually pull the Democratic Party left, how the Democratic Party really operates, why the coming decade could be a great one for the American Right, how protests shape public opinion, what the left gets wrong about electoral politics, and more. It was an engrossing interview — anybody vaguely interested in politics will learn a lot from him.
  • In 2003, then Secretary of State Colin Powell infamously explained why the U.S. should go to war with Iraq. But the analysts who provided the intelligence now say it was doubted inside the C.I.A. at the time. Colin Powell still wants answers.
  • Immediately after 9/11, humorists struggled with what many called “the death of irony.” But The Onion returned and showed everyone the way. This is a fun oral history of The Onion’s 9/11 issue.
  • Via The Ringer’s Ben Lindbergh: In 2017, the Times dissolved its copy desk, possibly permitting more typos to slip through. This is a interesting story about the anonymous lawyer who’s correcting The New York Times one untactful tweet at a time.
  • “This is not a party struggling to find its identity. This is a party in the middle of a meltdown.” In this fascinating article, Tim Alberta asks, What happens when a party gives up on ideas?
  • This informative Washington Post story explores how a giant climate hot spot is robbing the West of its water.
  • The Earth is overheating and millions are already feeling the pain. For the past 60 years, every decade has been hotter than the last, and 2020 has been among the hottest years ever. The New York Times explores how the agony of extreme heat is profoundly unequal.
  • Bleacher Report’s Mirin Fader on what Tyler Skaggs left behind. A year after he died, the Angels pitcher’s widow and mother open up on his death and how they’re coming to terms with what happened and why.
  • The Ringer‘s Justin Sayles wrote about sex workers turning to platforms like OnlyFans to sell their product directly to consumers amid Covid-19 and porn taking on a personal touch during the pandemic.
  • This wild story from Elle lit Twitter on fire last week. Why did Christie Smythe upend her life and stability for Martin Shkreli, one of the least-liked men in the world?
Photo by Caroline Tompkins for Elle.
  • Via The Marshall Project: A family opted to meet their mother’s killer, a process known has restorative justice. But then tragedy struck again.

OC native & 2020 graduate from CSUF with a BA in Political Science. This is a place to read about TV, sports, politics/elections, and Supreme Court cases.