Tracer Rounds – Long-Form

Telling a story that needs room to breathe ~

One of the things I drop on my students every semester in an introduction to the idea of long-form journalism.  I already know that I’m the weirdo in most already-weird wargaming crowds in that I’m the one with the journalism degree, not the history/poli-sci/sociology degree, or an engineering background, but I do believe that long-form journalism, when done right, can be a powerful tool for telling real stories about real people.  And I wish someone would take the time for a solid, serious, long-form article about our hobby, and give it the same kind of exposure that other long-form articles get from big media.

tr-newspaperLong-form journalism is hard to do, as it takes a long time, and possibly a lot of travel, to thoughtfully explore a topic in that level of detail.  It takes time – which means “money” – to truly dig into the nuances of a topic, to get to know the people, to tell the stories that are necessary to understand how the topic affects people, and how it can matter to you.  Some of these stories, quite frankly, don’t matter one whit.  They are simply intriguing and interesting looks into the lives of something you thought was completely mundane, or never knew existed, or had no conception of.  But all are tales worth telling, when told well.

Long-form journalism isn’t simply an exercise in length, which can occasionally end very, very badly.  It’s an exercise in depth, which often requires length to achieve its goals.  And that depth doesn’t come from a deadline-induced chaotic dash to the presses to beat everyone else to the punch.  It comes from the thoughtful, methodical, and intelligent analysis of a situation, and that’s much harder to do in today’s world of aggregated-blog-posts-on-brand-name-websites-for-free world of “journalism” that’s taking over our public discourse.  And since it’s getting harder to do, it’s much easier to appreciate it when it’s done well.

One of the reasons it’s getting harder to do is the evolutionary shift of journalism itself.  We’re losing the career professionals who honed their talents over decades (literally) to changing business pressures and a shifting marketplace.  There are different reasons for those market shifts.  Part of it, honestly, is Craigslist, which has hammered classified advertising revenue for newspapers.  Part of it is a public cynicism of “main stream media” that’s become a byword “enemy” among vast swathes of political junkies who revel in commentary disguised as news.  Part of it is a culture that has a hard time separating reporters from personalities, after years of having reporters appear as talking heads alongside those opinion columnists on everything from Meet The Press to Mike and Mike.  Quite frankly, a part of it is a generational shift that assumes that anything that can be digitized, should be free – music, scholarly journals, sports news, or journalism – with no consideration for the time and effort of the creators behind the “free” stuff.

Can a subscription model work for serious content?  Maybe.  Salon is still around.  Foreign Policy gates much of their content, as does The Economist.  The New York Times limits your free articles each month, but it’s easy to circumvent that one by switching computers.  The problem comes when some long and interesting pieces are done by non-professionals, and given away free through digital publishing.  Suddenly, the dominant mindset becomes “well things this good should be free” even if they are rarities.  Instead of valuing the time and effort it takes to create these stories, to re-tell the meaningful tales that can illustrate the world so well, we shamble off after another clickbait headline to leaf through a slideshow of celebrity cock-ups because there’s no call for intellectual engagement on our part.  Quite frankly, that intellectual engagement is, to me, the whole point of those assignments for the students, and why I foist these on them every semester.

With all that in mind, here are a few of the “greatest hits” of the past few years that I wanted to share, and see what you guys think.GHLogoText

  • First, from the Department of the Things You Never Knew Existed, is a heart-rending piece about what happens when you die alone in New York City.  Who identifies the body?  Who clears up the estate, tracks down family, and organizes the disposition of the will?  What happens to their possessions?  What about a funeral?  And who are the people involved in these duties?  Yes, these are jobs that you probably intuitively understand that need to happen, but the human face attached to the process changes the appreciation of the tasks and how monumental they can become when they all add up.  This sort of perspective and depth is exactly what long-form journalism should do for a subject.
  • What happens when America’s best agricultural region suddenly has the water faucet turned off?  What’s the damage not just to the farmers, but their communities, their neighbors, their customers, and the entire ecosystem that supports them?  This article explains not only the devastation on California’s central valley, but why it’s your fault and why you haven’t cared enough to do anything about it.  Drawing these extended connections from the almond farmers whose trees are all dead through the environmental impact of water diversion to your grocery store shelves is masterfully accomplished by the author as you wonder how our policies and consumer behavior got us to this point.
  • What happens when a band manager rapes a 14-year-old member of his band, in a room full of people?  Apparently not enough.  The Runaways were an iconic ‘70s band whose all-girl membership spawned the follow-on careers of Joan Jett, Lita Ford, and Cherie Currie.  But along the way, their control-freak manager, with his teenage-girl fetish, was an abusive and controlling asshole.  After Jackie Fox was drugged and raped, and then left the band when her cries for help were ignored, she spent years trying to come to grips with what happened, and why everyone else let it happen.  This kind of tale can’t be told in the weeks after the shocking event, as it takes decades for the mental understanding to
  • Sexting is a new phenomenon as digital ‘crimes’ go.  But what happens when the police investigate a high school and find that over 75% of the students have been involved with sending or receiving a nude photo of another teenager?  And is criminalizing this behavior, and slapping life-long sex-offender labels really the appropriate response to an entire generation of kids just exploring and experimenting with this new digital frontier of relationships?  How much do we want to recraft the way we deal with teenage shenanigans when ‘spin the bottle’ moves into the digital age and makes reproduction, sharing, and archiving of racy material such a simplistic thing?
  • How far are you willing to go to chase your dream?  I shared an article in the forums how your question shouldn’t be “what do you want?” but “what struggle are you willing to endure?”  These guys have taken that question to an insane extreme as they barnstorm their way around Europe with an exhibition basketball team, desperately hoping to impress a low-level team and latch on to continue their careers.  It’s one thing to tell a sanitized story about how exhibition teams will travel around showcasing players in hopes of landing them a contract.  It’s another thing altogether to dig into the personalities that drive these guys to this level of desperation (and delusion) in the hopes of furthering their dreams.

All of these articles are over 20,000 words.  None of them are likely to be finished in one session in the shitter.  All of them take the time to really dig into the subject at hand and really humanize their subjects, and give voice to their concerns, while providing multiple perspectives to understand the topic, not merely be exposed to it.

This sort of long-form journalism is at risk.  It’s understandable why.  It’s also unfortunate that it is, and our world will much poorer without it.  Find your local long-form journalists and give ‘em a hug and buy ‘em a beer and make sure you subscribe to their publications so we can keep the stories flowing.

 

This week’s soundtrack:
I’ve been cranking these guys up in the car a bunch lately.  I always regret that I didn’t catch their national tour back in the 80s with Dio and Dokken.

 

Game that caught my eye:
I’ve got Fleets 2025 on the table at home, just to push the counters around and see what happens.  I’m not normally a naval game kinda guy, but I thought I’d give this a whirl and see what happens.

 

What I’m doing this week when I should be playing games:
Soccer tournament road trip for Bayonet Jr, and getting some injuries of my own dealt with by the doc so I can get back to playing.

 

Wouldn’t it be cool if…
Someone tackled some good long-form articles about the wargaming world?  Not blog posts, or game reviews, but serious, non-sensational “can-you-believe-these-guys-play-at-war!” articles that tell the story of how a game gets made or a publisher keeps chugging.

 

This week’s poll:
A new feature – we’re going to start asking about small amusing topics just to see what y’all think.

Go tell your own tales.   Bayonet 06 – out!


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