Long-form journalism: 7 must-read features on crime, death and tragedies

(Note: Didn’t mean to release this on Halloween but it’s only now that I found time to finish this blog post. Good timing, I guess.)

Lately, I find myself reading more crime features — chilling stories of rape and murder that leave me feeling both scared and awed.

I come across them on my Facebook feed, just before I head to bed. I read the gory details late at night until I strain my eyes.

Almost as long as a novelette and with a more incredible plot than the staple crime novel, these pieces are part of what we now call long-form journalism.

People like me who work in online media are often told of the shrinking attention span of readers. And yet there is a growing market for long-form journalism.

I am not the kind of person who is captivated by violence (In fact, I find it difficult to finish reading Nick Joaquin’s compilation “Reportage on Crime”) and yet my eyes are glued to these multimedia stories that document the macabre and the depraved.

I read them not because of the sickening crimes but because of the skillful storytelling that keeps the reader interested enough to plow through several thousands of words.

People read these articles because of the superior writing, scintillating narrative and solid journalism. The aim of these articles is not just to entertain. Many are written to illustrate great injustices in society, to raise controversial issues involving institutions and yo document lessons learned from tragedy.

Majority of the stories I will share here involve crime but three of them discuss other important problems of society. Many of these authors have received awards for their writing and multimedia work.

I hope you find these stories as interesting as I did.


1. Snowfall

(December 2012)*
by John Branch of the New York Times

I was blown away when I first read “Snowfall: The Avalanche at Tunnel Creek.” The writing is very descriptive and action-oriented. You feel as if you were there as the story unfolded, in one of the snow-covered valleys, bracing for the impact of the avalanche. The multimedia work was unlike anything I had seen at that time and for an online article published in 2012, it was a trailblazer. I always think of Snowfall when I think of long-form journalism.

It won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing.

2. Slender Man is Watching

(August 2015)
by Lisa Miller of New York Magazine

“Slender Man is Watching” is a bit of a painful and scary read for me but I stuck with it because I was hooked by the question raised by the story: “If These Girls Knew That Slender Man Was a Fantasy, Why Did They Want to Kill Their Friend for Him?”

Through the article you get a glimpse of the dark side of childhood and the internet — of imaginary creatures that turn young girls into killers. But it is more than just the internet. It raises a lot of questions on how our society deals with children and the problem of mental health.


3. The Unbelievable Story of Rape

(December 2015)*
by T. Christian Miller of Propublica

I didn’t know where this story was going and when that happens it’s a sign (for me) that the narration is good.

I will not spoil this for you. All I’ll say is the writer did a great job weaving the investigation with insights on the victim’s family life and psychology.

4. Framed

(September 2016)
by Christopher Goffard of Los Angeles Times

If you think about it, the plot of “Framed” is very simple and quite petty. However, the way the story was laid out and the characters were introduced was masterful. It’ll keep you glued to the computer or your phone’s screen until the 6th and last chapter. Make sure to finish it because there’s a lot of must-read details near the end of the story.


5. The Really Big One

(July 2015)*
by Kathryn Schulz of The New Yorker

It’s not always easy to explain science concepts in a simple or entertaining way. The author of “The Really Big One” was able to do this — giving readers a very vivid description of what happens underground (and aboveground) when an earthquake occurs. Trust me, it is a very entertaining read despite the intimidating topic of geology.

6. Why did two parents murder their adopted child?

(February 2016)
by Giles Tremlett of The Guardian

(IMHO) This article is not as powerful or in depth as the other ones in this list but it serves its purpose of linking a tragic story to the bigger problem of adoption rules. The story itself will make you curious enough to read the whole thing. The writing is good, which is expected in any article under the Guardian’s “The Long Read” series.

Game of Shark and Minnow.png

7. A Game of Shark and Minnow

(October 2013)
by Jeff Himmelman of The New York Times Magazine

I cannot end this blog post without mentioning The New York Times’ multimedia story “A Game of Shark and Minnow” (I will file this story under ongoing human tragedies). It made waves in the Philippines not only because it was about the country’s controversial maritime dispute with China but also because of its spectacular use of images, video, text and audio. You cannot help but continue to scroll down and marvel at the immersive video clips sewn into the story.

*Pulitzer Prize winners

BONUS:  “A Game of Shark and Minnow” was one of the inspirations of our sub-site on last year’s climate change negotiations — “Pinas to Paris.” I wrote the first story of the series “Intense,”  which is about the science of climate change. The second story, “Zero: Saving Lives  by Sara Pacia and Matikas Santos, won Best Online Commentary in the 2nd Sarihay Media Awards.

UPDATE Dec. 8, 2016: I am adding The New York Times’ tragic piece on my country. Thousands of people, a portion of them innocent, have been killed in the last several months because of our President’s war on drugs. Read:

‘They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals’


I hope you enjoyed my list of long reads. Please let me know if you have an article in mind that was not included in my list.

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