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Stories We Wish We Had Published in 2018

The Pacific Standard staff highlights the stories published elsewhere that moved us, made us think, and left us a little envious.

We're very proud of the work we did this year at Pacific Standard. From our Postcards From America project and our Journey Through Contested Lands series, to our rigorous reporting on the death penalty and oil pipelines, we produced meaningful and impactful journalism at an impressive clip.

But we never rest on our laurels, and we all know what it's like to read a story that's so well-written and so thoroughly reported, you're left tussling with that familiar and haunting question: "Why didn't I think of that?" And so, in the spirit of friendly competition and of celebrating some of the writers and publications we admire, here are our favorite stories from this year that were published elsewhere.


"Quincy Jones Has a Story About That," by Chris Heath (GQ)
He sure does. Quincy Jones has a story about that, about everything—about making eggs with Dean Martin, about his friendship with Frank Sinatra, about his 22 girlfriends, about the difficulties of growing up on the south side of Chicago, about that time with Marilyn Monroe, and about so much more. And that’s just in the first section of this wide-ranging interview with an aging American icon, this producer and playboy you thought you already knew. Like the best interviews, it makes you wonder if you can ever really know someone. Nicholas Jackson

"I Used to Give Men Mercy," by Terese Mailhot (Guernica)
Therese Mailhot blazed her way into our hearts with her memoir Heart Berries, but this essay has haunted me more. "I can't afford to let white academia drag me into mediocrity," she writes, letting authenticity, honesty, and candor propel her. "You can write the truth explicitly. Like the cold cracking open a healing wound. ... Nothing is too ugly for this world." Jennifer Sahn

"The Obsessive Search for the Tasmanian Tiger," by Brooke Jarvis (The New Yorker)
Some stories set out to settle debates: Is the Tasmanian tiger extinct, or not? Instead, Brooke Jarvis does so much more, using a dark colonial history and spirited scientific disputes to tie this question to a legacy of violence, carelessness, and injustice. The result: she’s written one of the best pieces on humankind’s role in extinction. As we continue to destroy the planet and its wildlife, this piece shows us that it’s both naive—and hopeful—to believe that our mistakes can be fixed. Emily Moon

"In This Rapaciously Dry Year, a Quiet Question Grows Louder: What Are We Doing Here?" by Cally Carswell (High Country News)
This is a personal and resonant story about living in—and loving—a place with a tenuous future. Carswell writes beautifully about how our relationships with places like the New Mexico desert can be as emotional and challenging as our relationships with people. Rebecca Worby

"How Much Hotter Is Your Hometown Than When You Were Born?" by Nadja Popovich, Blacki Migliozzi, Rumsey Taylor, Josh Williams & Derek Watkins (New York Times)
This was such a clean, simple illustration of climate change's global impact: It showed you the dramatic change the changing climate patterns will mean to your hometown over the course of your lifetime—then expanded on that to what it would mean for other areas, and finally for the wider world. Graphic bells and whistles aside, the idea of letting readers choose their own adventure, tailoring the narrative to their readers' experience on an individual level using data and interactive design, is just brilliant. —Eric Zassenhaus

 "The Best Way to Save People From Suicide," by Jason Cherkis (HuffPost Highline)
Cherkis is one of the best at reporting stories like these—at portraying suffering people not just with empathy but with dignity too. I've thought about this feature every couple of days since I read it. Ted Scheinman

We all know someone, or know someone who knows someone. Read Jason Cherkis on our suicide epidemic—and how to fight it. And then send a letter, or an email. Or make a call to a friend. You just might save a life. Nicholas Jackson

"U.S. Law Enforcement Failed to See the Threat of White Nationalism. Now They Don't Know How to Stop It," by Janet Reitman (The New York Times Magazine)
A remarkable account of how many law enforcement agencies over the decades ignored or minimized the threat of white nationalist violence—and a reminder that when we obsess on threats from outside our borders, we neglect those that originate inside. Tom Jacobs

"The Tower," by Andrew O'Hagan (London Review of Books)
If you like your longform long, then this epic investigation is a must. An episodic treatment of the Grenfell fire and subsequent inquiry, the piece looks at the tragedy from not only a disaster-preparedness and response angle, but delves into the political, social, and architectural programs and choices that allowed such a firestorm to take 72 lives and leave hundreds homeless. Jennifer Sahn

"150 Minutes of Hell," by Lizzie Johnson (San Francisco Chronicle)
Last year, I selected a story about a fire, and this year, it's another. This story in many ways approaches disaster in an opposite way to the one I selected last year: it focuses in on hours, not days; it highlights firefighters, and not civilians; and it uses video footage to round out the writing. But the effect is the same: a heartbreaking look at destruction that doesn't attempt to force hopefulness where it does not exist. Ben Rowen

"How a Young Woman Lost Her Identity," by Rachel Aviv (The New Yorker)
Imagine waking up with no memory and no sense of self. In the search for a woman who vanished, this story contextualizes a mysterious condition triggered by trauma, known as dissociative fugue. Aviv's thoughtful investigation into what it means to have an identity has haunted me all year. Emily Moon

"It Happened There: How Democracy Died in Hungary," by Zack Beauchamp (Vox) 
Too often we throw around the word "authoritarianism" without really dissecting the meaning and implications behind the term. That's what makes this piece, by Zack Beauchamp, so engaging and so instructive: He meticulously and systematically breaks down Hungary's pivot away from democracy—and shows exactly how some of our elected officials appear to be taking a page out of Viktor Orbán's playbook. Max Ufberg

"'If Bobbie Talks, I’m Finished': How Les Moonves Tried to Silence an Accuser," by James B. Stewart, Rachel Abrams & Ellen Gabler (New York Times)
After winning the Pulitzer Prize in 2017 for her work on sexual harassment, the Times' Ellen Gabler hasn't let up. This year, she covered Eric Schneiderman's resignation as New York attorney general following assault claims and partnered with Rachel Abrams and James B. Stewart for a stunning piece that'll likely cost former CBS chief Les Moonves his $120 million severance package. Especially for a newspaper story, the writing here is tight and lively, and you'll speed quickly through all 5,000 words of it. Use the time you've saved to read it twice, because, since the Times doesn't call attention to it, you may not notice the first time just how many critical sources have gone on the record here, and how many of the smallest details have been unearthed in what I imagine was many, many months of reporting. Nicholas Jackson

"A Kingdom From Dust," by Mark Arax (The California Sunday Magazine) 
This one will be on a lot of lists this year, but I, too, want to single out "A Kingdom From Dust," Mark Arax's 20,0000-word opus. This one's got wonder, intrigue, mystery, plenty of dust, and that golden sheen of sunlight pouring down on every scene. Hats off to the editors for carving the space for it, and to the author for taking me down this crazy rabbit-hole of a story playing out in my home state. Jennifer Sahn

"Many People Taking Antidepressants Discover They Cannot Quit," by Benedict Carey & Robert Gebeloff (New York Times)
Great writing on an issue of national importance (mental health and addiction) from an angle you rarely see—and, baked into it at a key moment, the ability to add your own experience and become a part of the reporting project. —Eric Zassenhaus

"The FBI of the National Park Service," by Rachel Monroe (Outside)
I read everything Rachel Monroe writes, and, here, she managed to provide a both a portrait of the Park Service's scrappy Investigative Services Branch and a propulsive narrative. This story has it all: mysterious deaths, wild landscapes, bureaucracy, poaching, backcountry investigations, and more. Rebecca Worby

"The Alt-Right's Asian Fetish," by Audrea Lim (New York Times)
Alt-right leaders' disturbing affinity for Asian women seems, upon first glance, to contradict their white supremacist values. But as Audrea Lim unravels the history of the model-minority myth, while attesting to her own internalized instincts to "distance [herself] from the other Asian kids" growing up, she establishes that the alt-right’s Asian fetish is not peculiar at all. Rather, it is a natural progression of the invisible racism against Asians in America. This was the article I wish I could have read when I was younger, and I can’t recommend it enough. Alexa Lee

"Jerry and Marge Go Large," by Jason Fagone (HuffPost Highline)
This is the wild story of an old couple who "hacked" the lottery and became wildly rich. The story first plays like a mathematical heist movie, outlining exactly how Jerry and Marge discovered a flaw in the design of the lottery that they could exploit. It then becomes a comedic character-study as it turns to the implementation of their plan (full days spent printing tickets at gas stations feature prominently). And throughout, it manages to weave in a detailed look at the ethics of lottery systems in general. Ben Rowen

"The Food of My Youth," by Melissa Chadburn (New York Review of Books)
Melissa Chadburn's essay opened my eyes about food insecurity in a way that no reported piece has. This deeply personal story is a beautifully written reminder to cherish every morsel of fresh, healthy food that comes our way without effort, and to see the humanity in those who struggle for sustenance, waking daily without knowing if they will get enough to eat. Jennifer Sahn

"The Snapchat Thief," by Alex Goldman & PJ Vogt (Reply All)
I asked if I could include a podcast episode on this list for one reason and one reason only. This episode was the greatest and most unnerving hour and eight minutes of 2018. The Reply All team helps recover a stolen Snapchat account and uncovers an elaborate Internet heist, a group of apathetic teenage hackers, and the impossibility of privacy in the digital age. You'll want to delete your apps and burn your phone, but you can't, because how else would you listen to Reply All? Emily Moon

"Bundyville," by Leah Sottile (Longreads & Oregon Public Broadcasting)
I decided to follow Emily's lead here because Bundyville was one of the best journalistic experiences I had all year. As a public lands nerd, I really appreciated how thoughtfully Leah Sottile and the rest of the team explained the connections among a range of complicated issues while still telling an exciting story. Episode 6, which packs the stories of Bears Ears and Gold Butte national monuments and what it all has to do with the Bundys into just 25 minutes, is especially impressive. Rebecca Worby

"Kidnapped Royalty Become Pawns in Iran's Deadly Plot," by Robert F. Worth (The New York Times Magazine)
This piece features falcon hunters, Qatari royalty, and a $360 million ransom. It is, to put it candidly, one hell of a story. But it also has a more functional appeal: It slowly and scrupulously unravels the labyrinthine, confounding world that is Middle Eastern policy. Max Ufberg