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The Sunday Long Read Podcast

Author: Don Van Natta Jr. and Jacob Feldman

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Pulitzer-winning reporter Don Van Natta Jr. and journalist Jacob Feldman chat with writers and editors from across the industry as an audio extension of The Sunday Long Read e-mail newsletter.
41 Episodes
Episode 41: Tim Urban

Episode 41: Tim Urban


Tim Urban is a popular blogger and the co-founder of “Wait But Why,” a site that discusses a wide variety of topics including picking the right career path, SpaceX rockets, and love. His most recent mammoth work is “The Story of Us,” a re-tracing of how we got to this political moment.
Caity Weaver is a favorite of the Sunday Long Read, appearing in multiple newsletters every year, always giving us thoughtful, clever, and enjoyable stories to read. This week, the New York Times features writer joins Jacob to talk about how she interviews celebrities, to outline how she interacts with editors, and to perform a real-time dive into her search history on the Oxford English Dictionary. Along the way she provides a few tips for writers and talks about how she discovers new stories. Due to some technical difficulties, we had some trouble with the audio quality of our interview with Caity. So if you'd prefer to read this conversation instead of listening to it, we've published a transcript of this episode on our website,
There are few couples like Deborah and James Fallows, who have spent more than half a decade talking to people and visiting communities across America to produce "Our Towns," a New York Times bestseller, published last year, and an online series for 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 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.
Charles Duhigg is a 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, the author of The Power of Habit, and a magazine writer who most recently published an in-depth look at Amazon's world-eating growth for The New Yorker. “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 than 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. Charles can be found on Twitter @cduhigg and emailed at (he promises to get back to anyone who reaches out). [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 News, 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)
"I kind of think of myself as a nature writer disguised as a food writer. 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
"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!).
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.
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 Produced by Julian McKenzie
Episode 33: Will Leitch

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 led to, 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.
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 Jacob 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."
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.
"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." 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.
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, then on to co-found The, a network and visibility platform for professional women. Now she’s at work on a newsletter called The Luckiest.
Episode 28: Ben Smith

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.
“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. [1:35]: The Country's First Climate Change Casualties -- Pacific Standard [18:00]: Bullet in My Arm -- The Atlantic [28:20]: A Love Letter to the Upper West Side essay/A Teenage Ann Coulter Fangirl essay [43:20]: Elaina breaks news on Scott Pruitt -- The Atlantic
Episode 26: Albert Samaha

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. [1:00] The Sunday Long Read with Albert Samaha [1:30] Never Ran, Never Will [18:00] Albert’s magazine story about the Mo Better Jaguars [22:00] Jacob’s story on baseball in Liberty City [23:00] There Are No Children Here [41:45] Can A School Ban Its Students From Kneeling During The National Anthem? [56:30] Fatal Errors [1:05:00] Looking for Right and Wrong In the Philippines
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. This week’s episode includes explicit language.
Episode 24: Jo Piazza

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.
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.
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.
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