Best journalism of 2015; GameDay ratings soar this year and more
As I wrote in this space last year, choosing the best writing and reporting in a given year is an impossible task, as well as an entirely subjective enterprise. Below, are 150 or so pieces that impacted me as a reader, but I honestly could have chosen hundreds more. This year I added some SI pieces to the mix. The stories are not ranked, nor categorized. Sports and non-sports stories are listed below. I hope you find something that impacts you too.
• Arguably the most impressive newspaper story this year. From N.R. Kleinfield of The New York Times: The Lonely Death of George Bell.
• ProPublica and The Marshall Project combined on this harrowing story of rape. The reporting is brilliant; the story is vital.
• An earthquake will destroy a sizable portion of the coastal Northwest. The question is when. I cannot encourage you enough to read this New Yorker piece by Kathryn Schultz:
• A remarkable and harrowing Players’ Tribune piece from former NHL Patrick O’Sullivan on suffering child abuse.
• This Ian Urbina series on crime and violence in international waters might win the Pulitzer Prize.
• A stunning story from The Washington Post’s Eli Saslow about a 16-year-old who was shot along with 15 others in a classroom at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.
• The New Yorker’s Adrian Chen on Megan Phelps leaving the Westboro Baptist Church. Brilliant work here.
• When your father is a serial killer, forgiveness is not tidy. Fascinating piece by Roy Wenzl on the daughter of the BTK killer.
• Master class reporting and writing by New Yorker writer Nick Paumgarten with this profile of death and life in Atlantic City.
• ESPN’s Wright Thompson on the life and death of basketball coach Jason Rabedeaux.
• A Tar Heel Dead. By the NYT’s Juliet Macur.
• Via The Shreveport Times: A lead prosecutor apologizes and admits mistakes 30 years after wrongful conviction.
• For Philadelphia Magazine: Brad Pearson reconnected with the three people who kidnapped him in 2006 when he was a college senior.
• The great NYT obit writer Margalit Fox on a woman who attempted to kill Martin Luther King.
• Tremendous work by Philly.com’s Dick Jerardi on the 25th anniversary of Hank Gathers' death.
• Natalia Antonova of The Guardian on the Boris Nemtsov murder.
• You want to read the obit of an incredible life? Read this on Eugenie Clark.
• Thomas Gray lived six days, but his life has lasting impact. From Michael Vitez of the Philadelphia Inquirer.
• Here's The Post and Courier (Charleston) Pulitzer-winning series on domestic abuse murders in South Carolina.
• GQ profiled CNN's Don Lemon and make sure you read the first couple of paragraphs.
• Grantland’s Bryan Curtis on the Oklahoma City Thunder media’s relationship with Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and the team’s PR staff.
• This Alexander Wolff story on Spurs guard Patty Mills was one of Sports Illustrated’s best in 2015.
• Terrific reporting by Christian Science Monitor writer Kristen Chick, who followed Syrian refugees on a 1,500 mile journey to a better life.
• Tampa Bay Times reporters Kameel Stanley and Alexandra Zayas examined the high rate of black bicyclists in Tampa getting ticketed.
• For NHL fans and fans of great sports writing, SI’s Michael Farber on NHL super scout Hakan Andersson.
• Tremendous work by Brian Burnsed on an NCAA lacrosse player's long fight with addiction to painkillers.
• One of the best lead paragraphs I read this year on the mistress of Fidel Castro.
• This story by Michael Vitez is about a remarkable 18-year-old who had every bad hand dealt to her and overcame it.
• This Jason Gay column on the f-word was a brilliant mixing of writer, subject and graphics.
• Cincinnati.com Reds beat writer C. Trent Rosecrans on one very interesting day on the (expletive) job.
• A sensational oral history by SI’s Dan Greene on Muhammad Ali, Ric Flair and a group of pro wrestlers in North Korea.
• David Simon on Baltimore’s anguish.
• Beautiful writing on migration by Gary Younge of The Guardian.
• The Bergen Record’s Tara Sullivan on leaving Isiah Thomas' press conference feeling angry.
• A father's initiative. More tremendous reporting from Eli Saslow of the Washington Post.
• This Daniel Kellison piece on working for David Letterman was sensational.
•Beautiful writing by Stephanie Wittles Wachs on her late brother, Harris
• The intersection of this writer, the best obit writer in the country IMO, and subject is terrific.
• Pro Publica’s David Epstein on ex-Oregon Project runners and employees accuse Alberto Salazar of breaking drug rules.
• How reporter Andrew Jennings exposed the FIFA scandal that toppled Sepp Blatter.
• My 977 days held hostage by Somali pirates.
• In an hour, a church changes forever. Brilliant and griping reporting from Doug Pardue and Jennifer Berry Hawes of The Post and Courier newspaper of Charleston.
• I wish every U.S. high school and college showed this clip of Jon Stewart talking about Charleston.
• The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates makes the argument why South Carolina lawmakers need to take down the Confederate flag.
• Jeff Schultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote a beautiful and honest piece on his heroin-addicted son.
• Bravo to my old colleague Jamie Lowe for her honesty and courage with this piece. "My 20-year struggle with bipolar disorder".
• Erika Swyler writes with poignancy on the death of her mother.
• The Guardian, on a man who has quietly amassed the world’s largest collection of Nazi memorabilia.
• Reading this from Brandon Huffman about his daughter Avery was gutting.
• Call Bunk and McNulty because this Newark-Star Ledger columnist murdered Chris Christie.
• After a hospital error, two pairs of Colombian identical twins were raised as two pairs of fraternal twins. This Susan Dominus piece explains how they found one another—and of what happened next.
• Race and the death penalty in a Louisiana parish.
• A remarkable story on the 1970s band The Runaways by Jason Cherkis.
• Via The Huffington Post’s Duncan Murrell: Amaris Tyynismaa is a 14-year-old runner with Tourette Syndrome, a potential Olympian whose brain is at war with her body.
• From Flinder Boyd: The chaotic life of Lennox Lewis' former manager who returned to boxing as a transgender woman in May.
• The New Yorker’s David Remnick on the unapologetic vulgarity of Donald Trump.
• ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne and Tim MacMahon on how DeAndre Jordan went from the Clippers to the Mavericks to the Clippers.
• Grantland’s Jordan Conn wrote a terrific piece on a boy's death, a coach's trial, and a community's search for justice.
• James DeHaven, Jennifer Robison and Eric Hartley and the Las Vegas Review-Journal editors who greenlit this story are some of the gutsiest media members in the nation.
• If you loved the book Friday Night Lights, this is a must-read for you.
• You won't soon forget this obituary. Raw, heartbreaking, honest.
• The New Yorker republished online for the first time one of the most remarkable pieces of journalism: John Hersey’s piece on Hiroshima from the Aug. 31, 1946 issue.
• Great reporting by Tim Carpenter of the Topeka Capital-Journal on the brother of Kansas Governor Sam Brownback.
• From Caitlin Flanagan of The Atlantic: The Censorship of Stand-Up Comedy on College Campuses.
• The Education of Alex Rodriguez, by J.R. Moeringer.
• A must-read story from Huffington Post reporter Mariah Blake on one of the brazen, deadly corporate gambits in U.S. history.
• From the Baltimore Sun’s Justin Fenton, Mayah Collins and Christina Jedra: 45 murders in 31 days: The victims of July violence.
• From David Epstein: How DEA agents took down Mexico’s Most Vicious Cartel.
• Via The Washington Post: The heroin epidemic’s toll: One county, 70 minutes, eight overdoses.
• From Wired: The Rise And Fall of Silk Road.
• Gizmodo’s Annalee Newitz did remarkable reporting on Ashley Madison’s user base.
• About as strong an anti-Roger Goodell column as I've ever read. From Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post.
• Via Slate: Why drivers in China intentionally kill the pedestrians they hit.
• If you're an aspiring sports writer, or magazine writer, this Jeff Pearlman interview with Michael Farber is something you’ll want to read.
• From Sarah Schweitzer of The Boston Globe: The life and times of Strider Wolf.
• The New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe on the defense lawyer representing Dzhokhar Tsarnaev.
• Washington Post reporter Stephanie McCrummen produced a stunning piece on the people Dylann Roof stayed with before the Charleston church shooting.
• A remarkable piece about an incredible war journalist.
• The Black Family in the Age of Mass Incarceration, by Ta-Nehisi Coates.
• Via Chicago Magazine: The Last Years Of Ernie Banks.
• The NYT's Jere Longman ran a marathon in Pyongyang, North Korea. This is his story.
• SI’s Mike McKnight on attempting to dunk.
• From The Boston Globe’s Chad Finn: Love, basketball, and keeping a bond with my daughter as she grows older.
• Via SI’s David Gardner: How a fight between college-bound basketball stars damaged lives forever.
• Sportsnet’s (Canada) Arden Zwelling on the week that turned the season around for the Blue Jays.
• From Fortune: Hack of the Century.
• From SI’s Jon Wertheim: Dive Bombers: American Olympians defeated Axis Powers in peace & war.
• Via The New Yorker: How far would you go to avenge the death of a sibling? Patrick Radden Keefe’s remarkable story about the obsessive, three-decade quest of Ken Dornstein.
• From Chicago Tribune reporter Matt Walberg: What I've learned about grief in the nine years since my son's death.
• This piece by Spencer Hall of SB Nation on his childhood is honest, artful and superbly crafted.
• Via the NYT and Adrian Chen: From a nondescript office building in St. Petersburg, Russia, an army of well-paid “trolls” has tried to wreak havoc all around the Internet, and in real-life American communities.
• Read this 1974 profile of Joe Biden by Kitty Kelley. It’s incredible to read in 2015 given some of the quotes.
• The Billionaire, the Picassos and a $30 Million Gift to Shame a Middleman.
• Julie DiCaro's piece on what she and other women in sports media face on social media.
• Bloomberg story on China's second-generation rich kids was just too good.
• ESPN.com’s Tim Keown had a great profile of Raiders owner Mark Davis.
• A fascinating piece by Katrin Bennhold on a London police officer with a gift for recognizing faces.
• SI’s Lee Jenkins on Lamar Odom.
• Via New York Times: The Dark Reality of Sports Betting and Daily Fantasy Games.
• Via Grantland's Charlie Pierce: It’s Time To Stop Being Stupid About Gambling.
• Sensational work by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! following the Michigan-Michigan State game.
• A remarkably done by Washington Post Julie Zauzmer piece on a Pennsylvania boy blessed by Pope Francis.
• Gus Ramsey, a longtime producer at ESPN, wrote a poignant post about being part of the company’s layoffs.
• Savoring life and canine companionship. Fantastic work from one of the best newspaper writers in the country, Boston Globe reporter Eric Moskowitz.
• From Jay Caspian Kang: Notes on the Hip-Hop Messiah.
• She told the family of a severely disabled man that she could help to communicate with the outside world. The relationship that followed would lead to a criminal trial. Remarkable work by the NYT Magazine.
• ESPN senior writer Ramona Shelburne traveled to Nevada to reconstruct what happened to Lamar Odom.
• SI’s Tom Verducci on how Carlton Fisk's home run altered baseball and TV.
• Terrific of reporting by Nathan Fenno and Paul Pringle on Pat Haden’s outside income from his current job as USC Athletic Director.
• Great work from Yahoo!’s Jeff Passan after Game Six of the ALCS.
• From Bloomberg BusinessWeek: What is code.
• From the Arizona Republic’s Sarah McLellan: Coyotes' Max Domi embarks on NHL life with a diabetic alert dog.
• SI’s Tim Layden is one of the great horse racing journalists of all time. On American Pharoah's last ride.
• Via Gregg Doyel: One last soccer game to watch.
• The cardiologist who helped launch the paramedic system.
• The New Yorker’s Lawrence Wright on five families whose children were held captive in Syria.
• NYT story on the death of woman in a tank at a Nevada Cryotherapy center is sad and uncomfortable to read.
• Deadspin’s Diana Moskovitz had a deeply reported piece on why Greg Hardy was arrested for assaulting his ex-girlfriend.
• Via the New Yorker’s Nathan Heller: A College Romance That Turned To Murder.
• Via Kathryn Schulz: What We Think About When We Run.
• Remarkably reported Eli Saslow piece on a high school player attempting to return to football after being part of a fatal on-field collision.
• New York Times sports columnist Juliet Macur wrote with elegance on her late father.
• Swatting hoaxes: A must read piece on the dark side of the web from Jason Fagone.
• Writer Kevin Pang: What I've learned in 11 years working at The Chicago Tribune.
• Loved this Players’ Tribune piece by NHL Hall of Famer Bryan Trottier, who writes a letter to his younger self.
• From The Atlantic: What ISIS Really Wants.
• This is what domestic abuse looks like: SI’s Jon Wertheim and Mike McKnight on Milton Bradley.
• Nicholas Henin, for The Guardian, on being held hostage by Isis.
• From The Washington Post’s Terrence McCoy: They told her she was America's next great basketball player, now she lives on the streets. Here's how it happened.
• Via The Nation: What I Discovered From Interviewing Imprisoned ISIS Fighters.
• A donor meets the young woman who saved his life: This piece from Michael Vitez for Yahoo! will make you feel good about people.
• From The NYT: The Hidden History of Seal Team 6.
• Profile writing at its best. SI’s Tim Layden on Michael Phelps.
• SB Nation’s PFT Commenter attended the GOP Debate.
• Cosmopolitan’s Abigal Pesta had a revealing piece on Glory Johnson and the dissolution of her marriage to Brittney Griner.
• espnW's Ramona Shelburne on Ronda Rousey.
• Loved this Charly Wilder piece on Diana Taurasi in Russia.
• A Stanford neurosurgeon’s parting wisdom about life and time. Please read and pass on.
• The Boston Globe’s Eric Moskowitz produced tremendous work on Boston Marathon survivors.
• Via Lindy West: What happened when I confronted my cruelest troll.
• How foreign wealth purchases top-end New York City real estate. Brilliant reporting by Louise Story and Stephanie Saul.
• SI’s Tim Layden covering a young Mike Tyson.
• A fantastic Q&A by Jeff Pearlman with a high school senior on what it's like for her at 17.
• Don Van Natta and Seth Wickersham went under the hood on Spygate and the NFL.
• If you have mental illness in your family, I really think you would benefit from reading this devastating piece.
• Remarkable piece by Mariya Karimjee about forgiving he mother for having her ritually circumcised.
• Actor Tom Hanks wrote a great op-ed on his community college experience.
• In a piece titled “Why I Prefer Having Sex With NBA Players,” GQ’s Myles Brown interviews adult film star Lisa Ann. Honest stuff here.
• If you are on social media, I’d urge you to read this: How One Stupid Tweet Blew Up Justine Sacco’s Life.
• espnW's Kate Fagan, with the story of an Ivy League runner's suicide, and the desire to seem like life is perfect.
• Oliver Sacks on living with terminal cancer.
• SI’s Lee Jenkins on James Harden.
• ESPN MLB analyst Curt Schilling wrote a compelling blog post in which he outed those who tweeted sexual threats against his 17-year-old daughter.
• Really enjoyed this New York Times piece about a man who walks around Central Park at 4 a.m.
• Luise Rainer was the first actress to win consecutive Oscars before quitting acting. She lived to 104. Amazing NYT obit here.
THE NOISE REPORT
1. The switch from Chris Fowler to Rece Davis as host of College GameDay could not have been more seamless. In fact, GameDay averaged 1,961 million (14 shows) in 2015, the most-watched regular season since the show expanded to three hours on ESPN in 2013, and up five percent from last year (1.859 million). The most-watched episode came on Nov. 28 from Stillwater, Okla. (2,267,000 viewers), ahead of Nov. 7 from Tuscaloosa (2.233 million).
1a. ESPN studio coverage of the college football playoffs will feature sets from both the Orange and Cotton Bowls. The Orange Bowl (Clemson vs. Oklahoma) set will debut on Dec. 28 run through an episode of College GameDay on Dec. 31 (9 a.m.-noon). Rece Davis will host the Orange Bowl set with analysts Lee Corso, Desmond Howard, David Pollack, Joey Galloway, Butch Davis and George Whitfield, and reporter Gene Wojciechowski. The Cotton Bowl (Alabama vs. Michigan State) set will consist of host Adnan Virk and Joe Tessitore, and analysts Kirk Herbstreit, Mack Brown, Mark May, Danny Kanell and Tim Tebow. On New Years Day, ESPN will have a show (10 a.m.- 1 pm.) from the Rose Bowl with Davis, Herbstreit, Howard, Rinaldi and Wojciechowski.
1b. Samantha Ponder will be the reporter for Oklahoma. Marty Smith will report on Clemson. Kaylee Hartung will report on Alabama. Tom Rinaldi will cover Michigan State.
2. Deadspin reported last week that the Fox Sports 1 reporter Colleen Dominguez, who joined the network in 2014 from ESPN, has filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Central District of California, accusing Fox of age discrimination. The lawsuit is here. Fox declined to comment to SI and other publications on the suit. Dominguez is 54 years old.
Four years ago in this space I cited Dominguez (along with producer Justine Gubar) for their compelling reporting on the life and death of professional golfer Erica Blasberg, who committed suicide in 2010 at age 25. The duo reported the story for Outside The Lines for seven months, including trips to Dubai, Las Vegas and Portland. Dominguez was never a personality at ESPN; she merely did solid work whether working on NBA or NFL coverage, usually from the West Coast. After ESPN opted not to renew her contract, Fox Sports 1 announced it had signed Dominguez to work as a reporter and feature contributor on Fox Sports Live.
"I decided to work for Fox Sports because I was offered a great opportunity, one that I'm really excited about," Dominguez told me. "I will get to do what I believe is my strong suit: finding and telling stories, doing in depth interviews and I will also be able to cover games and events for all platforms of Fox Sports ... When you look at the rights they've acquired, the events they cover and all of the programming they offer, I think I'm going to be afforded the chance to contribute significantly."
2. Green Bay’s win over Dallas last Sunday drew 28.9 million viewers, the second most-watched NFL game of the season. Fox touted in recent release that its Sunday late afternoon window season-to-date average audience through Week 14 had drawn an average of 27.5 million viewers, nine percent better than CBS’ national game average audience (25.2 million) and 20 percent better than NBC’s Sunday Night Football average (23.0 million) this season.
2a. Fox said through 14 weeks, Fox NFL Sunday is averaging a 5.2 million viewers, up eight percent over last year (4.8 million), and 44 percent better than The NFL Today (3.6 million). Given the larger NFC markets, Fox should always beat CBS here by a healthy margin.
2b. From The Washington Post: How the Feds used a fake Washington Redskins party to take down criminals.
2c. Interesting Sunday morning for the NFL Network and insider Ian Rapoport regarding its reporting of Peyton Manning. On NFL GameDay Morning, Rapoport reported, “From what I was told and what I reported is Peyton Manning–who has always been a starter his entire career–really does not want to be a backup which is no surprise [and] something the Broncos know. When I ran this by a source close to Peyton Manning earlier in the week, the response I got was, ‘Yeah, of course.’ The other part and a very important part of this report was that Peyton Manning is not healthy. He has not gotten any of the team reps in practice to be the starter or to be the backup. Of course had to back off on some of his rehab on Friday and until he gets real reps in practice, none of this really means anything.”
That prompted a response from Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway who tweeted, “Peyton has never told [head coach] Gary [Kubiak] or myself that he doesn't want to be the backup. Any report or rumor that suggests otherwise is incorrect!!”
Which prompted a follow-up from Rapoport: “That is a very specific tweet. What I do know is that there are plenty of people who know that Peyton does not want to be the backup. Now, from what I understand it’s not like he’s issued an ultimatum I’m either the starter or else, but it is something he clearly he would not be comfortable with, something he has never done and it’s not even clear how good of a backup he would actually be since he’s never done it really ever.”
3. Episode No. 34 of the Sports Illustrated Media Podcast features ESPN's Sage Steele, who hosts NBA Countdown on ESPN and ABC. Steele joined ESPN in 2007 after stops in South Bend, Indianapolis, Tampa and Washington D.C.
In this episode, Steele discusses how she landed her job on NBA Countdown, if she should have a say when it comes to her analyst, how she viewed her on-air relationship with Bill Simmons and the perceived creative differences between them, if a sports audience cares about race, how being a bi-racial woman impacted her sports television role modeling growing up, the most media-friendly NBA coaches and players (listen up for why she thinks Russell Westbrook has gotten a raw deal), racism in the sports media, what social media is like for her and much more.
A reminder: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and Stitcher, and you can view all of SI's podcasts here. If you have any feedback, questions or suggestions, please comment here or tweet at me.
4. NBC Sports said NBCSN averaged 151,000 viewers through the first 50 weeks of the year and will finish 2015 with its best-ever Total Day (6 a.m.-6 a.m.) viewership (143,000 viewers) which included 16 days of live Sochi Winter Olympics coverage. The network said NBCSN is on pace for its best-ever year in primetime (8 p.m.-11 p.m.) averaging 366,000 viewers – up 24 percent from last year (296,000). The four most-watched non-Olympic events in the network’s history were 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup races, with the July 26 race at Indianapolis (4.70 million) topping the list.
4b. NBCSN is averaging 439,000 viewers this season for the Premier League, up 3 percent from last year at this time. The Premier League is enjoying its best-ever season on U.S. cable television, averaging 483,000 viewers per match window, up 16 percent from last year at this time.
NBCSN’s April 12 telecast of Manchester United’s 4-2 victory over Manchester City averaged 1.1 million viewers, the most-watched Premier League match in U.S. cable television history.
5. ESPN Radio's Mike Greenberg and Mike Golic will be inducted into the National Association of Broadcasters HOF during an induction luncheon on April 19 in Las Vegas. The two have hosted the ESPN Radio’s morning show since 2000.
5a. NBC will air the first-ever Premier League doubleheader on a U.S. broadcast network on Dec. 26: Newcastle-Everton airs at 12:30pm ET followed by Southampton-Arsenal at 2:45pm ET.
5b. NBC Notre Dame announcer Doug Flutie remembers his parents in a Players’ Tribune piece.
5c. FS1’s broadcast last week of China’s 1-0 win over the U.S. in a women’s soccer friendly, the final game for Abby Wambach on the U.S. Women’s National Team, drew 709,000 viewers, the most-watched non-World Cup USWNT match in network history.
5d. Reel Media Group, a broadcast training agency will host a one-day ‘Inside the World of Network Sports Broadcasting’ Workshop on January 30 at Bravo Studios New York City. The workshop will be part seminar and part in-studio training and has a pair of respected former ESPN-ers teaching: former ESPN senior coordinating producer of planning and talent development Gerry Matalon and former SportsCenter anchor Bram Weinstein.
5e. Golden State Warriors telecasts are up 33 percent among total viewers this season compared to the average for Warriors games to-date during the 2014-15 season (543,000 total viewers vs. 407,000).
5f. Armen Keteyian signed a three-year extension to be lead correspondent for Showtime’s 60 Minutes Sports and a contributing correspondent to 60 Minutes.
5g. HBO Real Sports With Bryant Gumbel won a 2016 Alfred I. duPont-Columbia University Broadcast Journalism Award for this piece, the third time Real Sports has been honored with a duPont (2006 & 2012). It is the only sports television program to be recognized with three duPont Awards for broadcast excellence.
5h. Fans of the Dallas Cowboys fans will love this Ben Shpigel story, but not more than Cowboys' haters will hate it.
5i. Eye-opening piece here on women's hockey and concussions.