Weekend Reading: The Effects of the Pandemic, Peak Newsletter, the Next Academy Awards, and More

The best reporting and writing from the past week, and context to understand it.

There’s a lot of great journalism out there. Every week, in a format short enough that it won’t be clipped by your inbox, we aim to share some of the best, with additional context for understanding the biggest news of the day. This is a weekly digest of stories you can savor and reporting you can rely on.

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Why Health-Care Workers Are Quitting in Droves — Ed Yong, The Atlantic

Ed Yong doesn’t miss. His latest is unsurprisingly great but oh-so bleak when you consider what he’s saying. COVID-19, the disease itself, but also the broader sense of the term that includes public opinion, science skepticism, lackluster governmental responses, and so much more — they’re all taking away our nation’s medical professionals. This story opens with a gripping story of extreme care given by a longtime ICU nurse, and you feel for her. It ends with an ER doctor who recently left the profession, and while it is cumulatively our loss, you can’t help but feel for her too.

  • 📖 What Happened at Carmine’s — Bridget Read, The Cut/New York: If Ed Yong’s piece showed on effect of COVID-19 to be a loss of our medical professionals, this story from New York shows the loss of civility. Now, is the COVID-19 pandemic to blame for all of that? Of course not. But this story shows have vaccine mandates — and requirements around those mandates — fueled an ugly narrative that mixed with faulty reporting, innuendo, and other hot-button topics in our national political discourse in 2021.

  • 📖 Will Real Estate Ever Be Normal Again? — Francesca Mari, The New York Times Magazine: In a story that could initially feel like it represents the collective loss of sanity on the part of homebuyers, this New York Times Magazine feature gives some interesting explanations for why this possible run on the housing market may not be over any time soon, including my fellow Millennials arriving belatedly to home-buying party after the Great Recession did them no favors.

  • 📖 The Home Is the Future of Travel — Derek Thompson, The Atlantic: The CEO of Airbnb considers a reality that was always coming but was accelerated by the pandemic: the revolution made possible by remote work. “And remote work — the ability to do a job not only from home but from anywhere — mashes up our work time and leisure time, erasing the spatial differences between many of our weekdays and weekends.” He and his company are betting that the future of vacations is tied up in those homes people are so desperate to buy right now.

  • 📖 What Happened to Eric Clapton? — Geoff Edgers, The Washington Post: Eric Clapton is representative of that which we’ve all had to deal with on some level, and that’s how to assess a person with whom you might disagree. This story tells about a friendship lost, and that’s a reality that many recognize during this highly charged time through which we’re now living. But Clapton is also Clapton, the same famous guitarist who saw his name equated with God in London graffiti decades ago. HIs lofty perch and popularity make him a vector for some troubling thoughts when it comes to COVID-19. What does that do to the artist and fans’ relationships to him? The same questions could be asked of other famous people, like Aaron Rodgers after his willful lies about his vaccination status and his recitation of tired tropes, weak “science” and conspiracy theories. Some will care; others won’t. But his story encapsulates a lot from the past two years.

A Good Newsletter Exit Strategy Is Hard to Find — Delia Cai, Vanity Fair

I’m going to get a bit meta for a minute, thinking about the concept of the very magic that will put these words in front of you: the humble newsletter. Before she was Vanity Fair’s Delia Cai, she was the Cai of Deez Links, a popular media-focused newsletter on Substack. After taking her talents to VF and (for the most part) retiring from the newsletter game, she assessed the state of the great newsletter boom of 2021, prompted, in part, by the aftermath of the Atlantic’s rollout of a new suite of newsletters. While most who start a newsletter are dreaming of growth and longevity, some who’ve already seen both are looking for a way out.

Inevitably, a writer freed from the constraints of pesky editors and SEO dictates must become a writer and a one-person P.R./circulation/audience-development strategist all at once. (Turns out, media companies had those things for a reason?)

  • 📖 The Internet’s Unkillable App — Dave Pell, The Atlantic: Dave Pell, the reigning “managing editor of the Internet,” wrote approximately 1.3 bazillion words in his email newsletter, “Next Draft,” before The Atlantic asked him to write an essay on a simple question: Why have newsletters persisted? I liked so much of what he wrote, but especially this paragraph:

Newsletters are patient. I send something to you, and you can read it when you want to and respond (or not) when you want to. You get to absorb and consider the contents of a newsletter without the rest of the internet chiming in, telling you what to think while puking out tweets, replies, posts, comments, photos, videos, news, and memes at a pace that pulverizes human attentional capacity. (The second you catch up, you’re already behind.) Newsletters are always right where you left them. Sure, people complain about having too much email. But compared with everything else online, your inbox is the Walden Pond of the internet.

The lunatics haven’t taken over the asylum, the writers have. Together they’ve produced something of a shift in the journalism business as a growing number of readers have expressed a taste for unhomogenized, point-of-view journalism from “name” writers that hasn’t felt the iron fist of an editor, doesn’t necessarily conform to the AP Stylebook, and hasn’t been compressed into the inverted pyramid form. Alone, newsletters won’t save journalism from extinction, but as an arrow in the quiver they are doing their part to buttress the shattered business model.

How Kristen Stewart Became Her Generation’s Most Interesting Movie Star — Emily Witt, The New Yorker

The end of the year means a whole host of Oscar-baity movies are on the way, and with the movies come big profiles. This one from the New Yorker catalogs the life and career of Kristen Stewart in the magazine’s typically meticulous way, and it uses some of my favorite tropes of these pieces, namely using the upcoming film to reveal truths about the actor (and vice versa) and the inclusion of the random outing the reporter’s been allowed to share with the star (in this case, it’s a trip to the golf course).

  • 📖 Paul Thomas Anderson on ‘Licorice Pizza’ and Moviemaking: ‘Anyone Who’s Done This Knows That Confidence Is an Illusion’ — Brent Lang, Variety: Spend even a short amount of time skimming through Film Twitter these days and you’re sure to see a tweet of rapturous praise for Paul Thomas Anderson’s newest film, Licorice Pizza. This longform Q&A is fun for PTA’s everyman quality — “He’s up by 5, in bed by 9 or 9:30...” — and for a peek into an auteur’s viewing habits — “Shang-Chi was good fun. There’s a terrific energy about it, but I also live in a Marvel-obsessed household, so continuing the journey of these Marvel stories is exciting to us. I liked Venom 2. Titane is worth seeing.”

  • 📖 Introducing the Real Will Smith — Wesley Lowery, GQ: Another of Paul Thomas Anderson’s most-anticipated films of the year comes out this week. “I watched the trailer for King Richard, and when it comes out, I will be first in line. When Will Smith decides to turn it on, it’s so magical,” PTA told Brent Lang in Variety. Wesley Lowery profiled Smith ahead of the release of the film, in which he will play the father of Venus and Serena Williams.

For decades, Will Smith was driven by the desire to be the biggest movie star on Earth — early in his career, he even came up with a formula based on the top 10 box office successes of all time. He achieved that goal so effortlessly, ruling the July Fourth weekend from 1996 (Independence Day) to 2008 (Hancock), that it’s easy to forget how unlikely it was for a rapper turned actor. But over the last 10 years, as Smith has become increasingly focused on evolving as a human being, a gulf has emerged between Will Smith the movie star and Will Smith the man.

Campion tends to seek eye contact, and she is quick to ask fourth-date questions. (During our walk, she asked whether I liked being married, really wanting to know. She is divorced and a bit skeptical of the institution.) She laughs raucously and frequently, and she inserts impish comments into every conversation in her clipped New Zealand accent. She has the drape of fine, silver hair you might associate with a mystic, but everything else about her — the square, chunky black glasses and understated, monochromatic outfits — indicates, aesthetically speaking, what she is: the most decorated female filmmaker alive, an auteur in the lineage of Luis Buñuel, François Truffaut, and Pedro Almodóvar.

More of Our Favorites From the Past Week

To Catch a Turtle Thief: Blowing the Lid Off an International Smuggling Operation — Clare Fieseler, The Walrus

Amazon's Dark Secret: It Has Failed to Protect Your Data — Will Evans, Wired

Seven Forgotten Stories From 1995 — Josh Levin, Slate

The Notorious Mrs. Mossler — Skip Hollandsworth, Texas Monthly

Untimely Futures — Brandi T. Summers, Places

The Follow-Up

The news doesn’t stop. If you checked out last week’s edition and found the topics interesting, here’s a collection of stories published since.

Supreme Court News

January Insurrection

The National Rifle Association

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The Postscript

This week, elsewhere on The Postscript.

Going Solo: How Journalists Recreated the Production Studio in Their Own Homes

COVID-19 saw journalists adapt to new conditions. With only skeleton crews allowed inside most studios, what did broadcast journalists who had to work from home do? We spoke to three to find out.

Stories That Matter: How a Local Writer Built a Resource for Parents of Color Navigating Seattle's Gifted Program

Jasmine M. Pulido and the South Seattle Emerald, a non-profit digital news outlet, navigate educational equity on a human scale.