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Category Archives: why’s this so good?

“Why’s this so good?” No. 84: Woody Allen, Earl Monroe and the ballet of basketball

Woody Allen has written and directed an original film nearly every year since 1969. He has written several Broadway plays, published dozens of pieces in The New Yorker and given innumerable interviews. As far as I know, though, he has written only a single piece of journalism: a profile, of sorts, on the flamboyant New [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 83: David Foster Wallace on a ticket to the fair

Late summer is carnival season, when fairgrounds across Middle America sprout blooms of creaky steel whirling machines and stands of sugary fried food, jostling us from our languor and threatening nausea en masse. Which is, of course, part of their allure. When I was 14, I threw up mid-tumble on The Egg Roll at my [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 82: Rebecca Solnit and “Detroit Arcadia”

If you’ve been following the recent reports out of Detroit, you know conditions there are dire. This is hardly new. For decades the dominant narrative about the city has been one of failure: economic collapse, physical devastation, racism and violence propelling a once robust metropolis down a dismal path. For a taste of the common [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 81: Lawrence Wright and the “bootleg preacher”

I’m old enough to have practiced as a state prosecutor for a while, but I still laugh at fart jokes. Regardless of the flatulent punch line, Larry the Cable Guy’s trademark quip, “I don’t care who you are, that’s funny right there,” always applies. And the Pulitzer Prize-winning Lawrence Wright must have known this when [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 80: Joseph Mitchell and Joe Gould’s secret

When I write a story about someone else, I keep me, myself and I, out of it. I feel strongly that I, and my proxy pronouns, do not belong. But a few years back, I wrote about someone else and did belong in the story; I was an undeniable part of it. The story centered [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 79: Joan Didion, Hemingway, and mathematically musical writing

Joan Didion finds herself counting syllables. If this is part of her brilliance, and it is, it’s largely because of who she is as an observer; meticulous but detached, intimate yet removed. These paradoxes are how she draws you in. The penchant for counting reveals what may seem like another paradox, but is actually the [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 78: Eli Saslow and “Into the Lonely Quiet”

Sunday’s Washington Post carried the kind of story that can leave you limp for days. Rare anymore is the narrative that has such a visceral effect, but Eli Saslow’s piece about Jackie and Mark Barden, whose 7-year-old son Daniel died in the Newtown shootings, is the kind you wake up thinking about, and cannot shake. [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 77: Danny and the carjackers

One of the most riveting stories to emerge from the Boston Marathon bombing coverage was the Boston Globe piece, by Eric Moskowitz, about “Danny,” the young Chinese entrepreneur who spent more than an hour with the bombers in his carjacked Mercedes, trying to figure out how to escape. The story was relatively short, at 2,183 [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 76: William Nack and “Pure Heart”

I still remember where I was—sitting in a dive bar in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., trying to tune out the noise from the beach bums and a jukebox blaring Madonna and the Bangles—when I read these words: Just before noon the horse was led haltingly into a van next to the stallion barn, and there a [...]

“Why’s this so good?” No. 75: Dan P. Lee and the father who lost everything

My estimable friend and former colleague Paul Kix recently wrote a column in this space on John Jeremiah Sullivan. In it he cited an essay Sullivan wrote about the art of writing: A fundamental law of storytelling is: withhold information. As the writer Paul Metcalf put it, “The only real work in creative endeavor is [...]