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'Longform' Podcast Names Best Magazine Articles Of 2016


A young man slowly distancing himself from his white nationalist childhood; the reality behind the foodie-favorite advertising label, farm-to-table; and just how much a man will suffer to get the best hot chicken in Nashville. These are some of the year's best stories according to Longform, a website and podcast that curates magazine journalism, essays and fiction. Max Linsky is Longform's co-founder. He joins us now to talk about why these stories stand out at the end of a long year.

Hey there, Max.

MAX LINSKY: Hey there, Audie Cornish.

CORNISH: So in the past, you've told us that crime and murder stories are usually the most popular. Has that been the case this year?

LINSKY: Very specifically, murder stories are normally the most popular, with the occasional sex story thrown in. But this year, we saw something a little different in our most-clicked stories. Two of the top four were about either people who have disappeared - one was about Richard Simmons, who has not been seen publicly in years and the other was about a man who woke up and had no idea who he was. So it seemed like this year, people were particularly interested in mistaken identities and escaping. And I'm not a psychologist...

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LINSKY: ...But I think there's a metaphor in there somewhere.

CORNISH: Well, one big story that your team tapped as one of the best is actually very much about identity. It's called "The White Flight Of Derek Black." Tell us what this story is about.

LINSKY: Derek Black was essentially white nationalism's heir apparent. And in a story written by Eli Saslow of The Washington Post, Eli basically documented how this kid went from sort of the future of white nationalism to, after a stint at a liberal arts college in Florida, completely rethinking the beliefs that he had been taught as a child. His godfather is David Duke. And I think there was something about Derek's story - and particularly the way that Eli told it - that resonated with people. And I think it was about this divide that - here was someone who had actually lived on both sides of it, sort of at the most extreme.

CORNISH: I don't see a lot of politics on your list this year. How come?

LINSKY: I don't know if you heard this, Audie, but the media didn't always get it totally right this election season.

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LINSKY: I think part of the answer is we went back and read a lot of the stories that we'd picked over the course of the election. And so much of that writing was done with the assumption that the election was going to go the other way.

CORNISH: I want to switch gears for a second because I always like to highlight the writing that comes from places that's not kind of New York, D.C., that sort of thing. And you guys flagged a piece from the Tampa Bay Times about the trend of farm-to-table labeling on menus. What's going on here?

LINSKY: Well, the Tampa Bay Times is, just say, one of America's great newspapers. And it's food critic, Laura Reiley, did a big series this year in which, basically, she proved that farm-to-table is a scam and that when you sit down at a restaurant and someone tells you that the steak you're about to eat is from a cow that, you know, went to graduate school down the road...

CORNISH: (Laughter).

LINSKY: ...That's not always the case.

CORNISH: And she actually, like, visited farms, right? I mean, she basically tried to track down the people behind the claims.

LINSKY: Yeah. She fact-checked the restaurants. And part of the reason that we put this on the list and part of the reason that I was so struck by it is just - it's such kind of classic, shoe-leather investigative reporting. Like, this answer was sitting out there for anyone, and Reiley had the moxie to go just figure it out.

CORNISH: And there were more kind of lighthearted food stories that came out this year, one from a publication called The Ringer, which I hadn't heard of.

LINSKY: The Ringer is Bill Simmons' new website. It launched this year. Bill Simmons was at ESPN for many years. He was the force behind Grantland. And he took some of his folks from Grantland, including this young writer - his name is Danny Chau. And I think - this is my favorite Ringer piece of the year. He went to Nashville and tried to find the best hot chicken in Nashville.

CORNISH: We should mention to people that this has sort of become, in recent years, a city signature dish. It's basically fried chicken with a lot of cayenne pepper...


CORNISH: ...(Laughter) Depending on where you go to get it.

LINSKY: A great deal of cayenne pepper. And, you know, yeah, you say it was a lighthearted story, but I don't know. I think Danny got to some, like, fundamental human truths about, you know, our need to struggle and deal with pain.

CORNISH: Max Linsky is the co-founder of Longform and the host of the podcast of the same name. Max, thank you so much for talking about these stories with us.

LINSKY: Thanks for having me, Audie.

(SOUNDBITE OF BROADCAST SONG, "TENDER BUTTONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.