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The Nine of 2009

Full cliché ahead! At least this year-end list connects to good journalism.

When I’m awake, I recoil from two forms of journalism: the simple-minded list that is the staple of service-oriented magazines (“25 Ways to Please Your Man While Reading This Brain-Dead Glossy!”) and the anniversary story. My aversion probably has something to do with having worked, early in my career, for editors who thought stories about the 30-year celebration of any event, no matter how trivial, could be made riveting through use of the bulleted list.

The story about the best of this, that or the other from the preceding 12 months is, of course, a list-anniversary combination that can’t really be defended in polite company, and this version of the form is no less clichéd than the thousands of others that news organizations inflict on readers from Christmas to New Year’s Day, with one exception: The article you’re reading may not be worth much, but the journalism it links to — what I judge to be Miller-McCune’s nine standout stories from 2009, a year in which the magazine was full of remarkable, award-winning journalism — is, as the credit-card commercials say, priceless.

So, on to the good stuff, in suspense-heightening reverse order:

9. Deep Throat Meets Data Mining
As usual, I’m egotistical enough to choose my own work and humble enough to place it last: This column explains how and why the new field of computational journalism might help investigative reporting survive the economic realities of the digital era. Read the story


8. Counting the Stars
A surprising set of graphic representations of statistical data that show how movie stars and their critics really rate, by Duke University’s David Sparks. Read the story


7. Tilting at Turbines
Our European correspondent, Michael Scott Moore, looks at a “green” idea for tidal power in the U.K. — through the hilarious lens of British river surfers. (Yes, that’s right — people who surf rivers.) Read the story


5. Lessons From the Reverse Engineering of Nature
A Miller-McCune Research Essay by Columbia University professor Shahid Naeem on nothing less than the true significance of the human species on Earth. Read the story


4. The Panhandle Paradox
Veteran environmental writer Hal Herring reveals the danger that “responsible development” poses to hundreds of thousands of acres in environmentally sensitive Northwest Florida. Read the story


3. Fishing for Answers in Alaska
A personalized look at the worldwide implications of the unusual politics, economics and culture of the Alaskan salmon trade by Bruce Porter, author of the book, Blow: How a Small-Town Boy Made $100 Million With the Medellin Cocaine Cartel and Lost It All, which became a movie starring Johnny Depp. Read the story


2. Simply Rwandan
From Kigali, Colleen Shaddox tells the heart-rending but somehow uplifting story of the orphans who are trying to make a new Rwanda. Read the story


1. Racism’s Hidden Toll
Does the stress of living in a white-dominated society make African Americans get sick and die younger than their white counterparts? Miller-McCune contributing editor Ryan Blitstein finds the surprising and compelling answer, which is, apparently … yes. Read the story


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