Best journalism of October 2016

Illustration by Jeff Drew Pictures

Sorry, no king-sized candy bars here—CJR feasted this Halloween on October’s best work in journalism. If you missed these savory bits of goodness last month, what better time to revisit them than when you’re nursing your sugar hangover in the coming days?

Best journey into the twilight zone

The Washington Post gets inside the mind of a conspiracy theorist, following her gravitation toward online hoaxes and, in turn, support for Donald Trump. “The more she read, she said, the more certain she was becoming that she was not out of the ordinary, and that her hospitalization, for instance, was just one more example of an increasingly unjust world.” Perhaps most impressively, the piece doesn’t pass judgment on a woman who self-medicates with misinformation.

Best example for other local outlets to follow

Sign up for CJR's daily email

The growing consensus among national media is that publicly financed sports stadiums are a money pit. That’s not necessarily the case for cash-strapped local outlets that rely on teams for content and need their urban growth machines to keep turning. Reporting out of the Lone Star State on a proposed venue for the Texas Rangers stands out in this regard. WFAA has thrown cold water on the supposed taxpayer cost—even if it oversells the future interest payments on municipal bond debt—while the Dallas Morning News has in recent months consistently challenged projected economic benefits and aggressively covered all sides of the issue. The Texas Tribune and Texas Monthly have provided necessary skepticism in their work on whether the Rangers would actually relocate sans subsidies, while the Fort Worth Star-Telegram made clear the real winners in the proposed deal: franchise owners. Local journalists everywhere should take note for when such billionaires inevitably come begging for more taxpayer dollars.

Best real-world chills

Few other stories have captured the daily horrors in Aleppo as chillingly as The Wall Street Journal’s dispatch from its overflowing graveyards. With the United States standing idly by as Syria’s second city crumbles, this piece previews how the once-vibrant metropolis will long remain a black spot on our collective conscience.

Best fact check

No outlet is better equipped than BuzzFeed to hold social platforms accountable. It once again proved as much with a deep analysis of political pages on Facebook, finding that hyperpartisan pages—particularly those on the right wing—circulate gobs of misinformation. Even more concerning: Facebook pages sharing the least accurate information often drew far more engagement than mainstream news pages. This is required reading for those concerned with the internet’s effect on media and democracy, as are two other BuzzFeed stories in that same nexus: an explanation of why Facebook algorithms often surface fake news; and a profile of pro-Trump Twitter pundit Bill Mitchell.

Best unskewing

There are too many polls—or, there’s at least too little knowledge of how polls work. The New York Times committed an act of service journalism by detailing why a single tracking poll can throw off entire polling averages in favor of Trump. The short answer: A lone 19-year-old black man in Illinois was being weighted up to 30 times more than the survey’s average respondent. The less geeky among us would appreciate more such reporting on polling methods and forecasting models.

Best reminder that the clock is ticking

It’s hard to fully comprehend the rate and scope of climate change. Yet The New Yorker made both accessible with its recent feature on Greenland, placing the country’s shrinking ice sheet against the backdrop of its historical arc of colonization and development. The method provides both a useful sense of scale for laypeople and an ominous warning that it might be too late to change course. “It’s likely that the ‘floodgates’ are already open, and that large sections of Greenland and Antarctica are fated to melt,” Elizabeth Kolbert writes. “It’s just the ice in front of us that’s still frozen.”

Best profile

The Worldwide Leader’s profile of an openly gay NBA referee is one of those periodic reminders that it produces some of the best sports journalism in the game—afternoon programs notwithstanding. The piece tells the story of a man who hid his sexuality as he chased his lifelong dream of officiating professional basketball. It broaches the intersecting topics of sports and culture in a unique way, all the more interesting given how college and professional leagues are beginning to more proactively support LGBT rights.

Best face saving

After a year of breathless and often bumbling TV coverage of the 2016 campaign, the presidential debate moderators responded in a major way under the brightest of lights. Chris Wallace, Fox News’ first general election debate referee, stole the show with a performance that lent credence to his network’s self-parodic “fair and balanced” tagline. The widespread pearl-clutching over whether he’d truth-squad candidates in real-time now seems like a distant memory.

Best local watchdogging

Look no further than The Los Angeles Times’ investigation of a developer’s shady political contributions to see what we’re losing with the atrophy of metro newspapers. The reporting showcases how real estate interests can influence local planning decisions—not something national outlets would likely cover. A corresponding interactive illustrates just how far this web of political contributors stretches into the surrounding community. This expose, coupled with the Times’ recent reporting on how the Pentagon demanded that California veterans return their enlistment bonuses, provides a much-needed respite from the ongoing saga of the Times’ gutturally named corporate parent, Tronc.

Update: An earlier version of this article did not caveat its praise for WFAA’s reporting on Arlington’s projected interest payments on municipal bond debt. We’ve also broadened our compliments to include other Texas outlets’ strong work on the stadium issue. 

Has America ever needed a media watchdog more than now? Help us by joining CJR today.

David Uberti is a CJR staff writer and senior Delacorte fellow. Follow him on Twitter @DavidUberti.