Discover more from Long Lead Presents: Depth Perception
Welcome to Depth Perception
Long Lead's newsletter delving into the world of longform journalism.
Welcome to Depth Perception, a free newsletter that brings the world’s most powerful longform journalism to your inbox, every other week.
Curated and written by media critic Parker Molloy and veteran longform journalist Mark Yarm, it’s an insider’s guide to the world’s most powerful reporting and includes must-read/watch/listen lists, behind-the-scenes interviews with journalists, and more. Depth Perception is produced by Long Lead, an award-winning story studio that publishes in-depth, independent journalism on any topic, anywhere in the world.
Thanks for reading Long Lead Presents: Depth Perception! Subscribe for free.
Long Lead was formed to prove that high quality journalism, produced without compromise, can be more impactful than news that’s made quickly or at high volumes. Our productions have shown that combining deep reporting, stunning visuals and audio, and intuitive design can empower and inform audiences. But other media outlets are producing noteworthy journalism too; this newsletter aims to elevate the most influential longform features in the industry.
Each issue of Depth Perception will typically highlight work produced by other outlets, but Parker suggested opening our first edition of the newsletter with a Q&A with Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, the author of “The People vs. Rubber Bullets,” Long Lead’s award-winning, multimedia series that explores law enforcement’s 50-year history of misusing less-lethal, kinetic-impact projectiles. Later, Mark talks to New York Times journalist Amanda Hess about her 2021 profile of the late Sinead O’Connor, and recommends features about the art world, sex work, and one of the greatest movies to dominate basic cable.
Whether you’re a journalist or a reader with an affinity for longform journalism, welcome. We hope you enjoy this Long Lead production, and if you do, please invite your friends and colleagues to subscribe too.
So long, for now…
John Patrick Pullen
Founding Editor, Long Lead
In today's newsletter, I'm delighted to share a Q&A session I conducted with Linda Rodriguez McRobbie, the seasoned journalist behind the Webby Award-winning Long Lead production, "The People vs. Rubber Bullets." I was captivated by Linda's ability to interweave six disparate, powerful stories into a unified narrative and immediately wanted to learn more about how this piece originated and her experience working with Long Lead on the story's development. —Parker Molloy
This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
Can you tell me a bit about how this story came to be?
During the summer of 2020, when there was this seemingly unprecedented uptick in the number of injuries resulting from kinetic impact projectiles. I remember seeing all these reports coming in and thinking, “What are these? What's going on with these?”
A lot of the pieces that I've done in the past are built around taking some smallish concepts and then exploding them out and looking at all the working parts. And that was what I was most interested in with this. I wanted to see who’s making the money, how these are tested, how they are approved, and why are we seeing such a dramatic rise in these injuries? Is it because we're using them more often, or is there something inherently problematic about the weapon itself?
And I figured the best way to do that would be to investigate all of the parts.
My process tends to be to report the shit out of something, overreport it, and then prune back. My initial draft was 25,000 words. Ultimately, [Long Lead and I] hit upon the idea of keeping the length and formatting it into a six-part series. That was wonderful because it really did give me the opportunity to paint as full a picture as I possibly could of a weapon that's being used more and more by American police forces, by police forces abroad, and in ways that are not being monitored.
Up until the summer of 2020, I was clueless on this topic. When someone said “rubber bullets” or “bean-bag rounds,” I thought, “OK, that seems better than actual bullets, even if not necessarily by a ton.” I remember seeing the selfie Linda Tirado, the photojournalist you interviewed for this series, posted to social media after she was shot in the face with a foam-tipped bullet. That was when it first hit me. People were losing eyes and being seriously injured by these “non-lethal” rounds.
It was this injury that really conveyed to me the seriousness of what we were seeing. And hers wasn't the only one; there were so many others.
When I first started out in journalism in 2004, I was working at the Boston Herald when the Red Sox beat the Yankees in New York. There were celebratory riots. It totally seems like an oxymoron, but that's what they were.
Victoria Snelgrove was out there celebrating, and she got shot in the eye with a pepper ball and was killed. I was working at the Boston Herald on the city desk, and I was fielding phone calls from all of the people who were really upset at us because we published a picture of her just after she had been struck.
And I remember at the time, and I still feel this to be the case now, what they were angry about wasn't entirely that we published a photo. It was that this pretty young white college girl was killed by something that she shouldn't have been killed by. What they were angry about was that this girl died. They were taking it out on me and the other city desk people. That stuck with me.
I remember a lot of the investigations and conversations afterward, you know, about both the freakish aspects of what happened to her, and also the fact that there's no way to predict that it couldn't happen again. Because anytime you're firing projectiles into a crowded, chaotic scene, there are’s going to be problems.
Previously, I had only really associated rubber bullets with Ireland. You think about them as something that happens in police states and in other countries, so largely associated with the Troubles and the political situation there, that it surprised me.
It's a fascinating, horrifying, and meticulously reported story. As we all know, this is a very strange time for the media. What advice would you give to journalists looking to kickstart their careers writing long form journalism in 2023?
I think that a lot of people who want to do journalism might focus on the writing side. The idea of getting your words out there is exciting, but it has to be grounded in reporting. Without the skills to uncover the story, you don’t have the words to present it. You don’t have anything. You have to focus on the people who are involved in the story because that's where the nuance and the important meaty stuff is, which is why being skilled at and learning how to get in there and do the reporting is important.
What was it like working with Long Lead on this project?
One of the really cool things about working with Long Lead was being able to tell a story through multiple media formats. We had audio, visuals, and writing. There was an expansion of possibilities for what a story could be and what it could look like.
In journalism, we do have some set forms, right? If your story is three to 5,000 words long, it can appear here. If it's 6,000 words long or 8,000 words long, it's more of a magazine piece, and we read it here. And we're stuck in these places. You know, 800 to 1,000 words is a feature, but sometimes we can stretch to 2,500. I think what was cool about working with Long Lead was the expansion of those boundaries. I thought it exciting to try to tell a story in ways that perhaps hadn’t been done before, to try to do something spectacular.
When news of Irish musician Sinead O’Connor’s death at the age of 56 broke last month, I recalled Amanda Hess’s stirring 2021 New York Times profile of O’Connor (gift link), which was timed to the publication of the singer’s memoir, Rememberings. Recently, I called Hess, a critic at large for the Times, to discuss the piece. Here’s what she told me about readers’ intense reaction to it. —Mark Yarm
“I’ve written about very famous people before, like Tina Turner. But I've never heard from so many people who were desperate to speak to [a subject], or for me to forward messages to her. I got phone calls from people — I have no idea how they found my phone number — who really felt like they needed to talk to her. And even for the short period of time that was happening, it was so incredibly overwhelming. It gave me this small sense of what it must be like to be Sinead. I just really felt for her.
“I got this email from this guy who said, ‘Sinead has changed my life, and I would love the opportunity to write to her. Would you be able to help me?’ And then he says, ‘I’m sure there’s something that I can do for you, as I’m very well-connected.’ And I forwarded it to her just to say, ‘I’m getting a lot of emails like this. Would you like me to forward them to you, or do you want me to ignore them?’ And she wrote back, ‘Do you know what he means when he says he’s ‘well-connected’? Maybe he's a weed dealer, smiley emoji.’
And then she said, ‘Do send any emails you think aren’t from weirdos.’ I wasn’t sure what to do with that, because what’s a weirdo, you know? So I did pass some of them along. I tried to not inundate her.
Here’s where we recommend our favorite recent longform pieces from other publications. This week, Mark Yarm shares what stories captivated him.
• “How Larry Gagosian Reshaped the Art World” by Patrick Radden Keefe, The New Yorker (July 24, 2023).
Keefe is one of the foremost profile writers working today. (You must check out his recent collection, Rogues: True Stories of Grifters, Killers, Rebels and Crooks.) His latest is a massive examination of the world’s most prominent art dealer, Larry Gagosian, an exceedingly wealthy, charming, and wily character. “When contemporaries describe Gagosian, they tend to summon carnivore analogies: a tiger, a shark, a snake,” writes Keefe. (All three comparisons seem apt.) I savored every word.
• “We Are All Animals at Night” by Lana Hall, Hazlitt (July 12, 2023).
Hall’s essay on her years working at an illicit massage parlor in Toronto is a meditation on sex work and the late-night, “low-skill” workers who, she writes, constitute “an entire ecosystem [that] still hums and clanks and keeps the world stitched together quietly.” At the heart of this piece is an anecdote about a fellow sex worker doing Hall’s hair, treating her with the kindness so often lacking in the workaday world: “I felt so much care in that moment I could barely breathe, and it occurred to me that I’d never had a woman, before or since, handle my hair so tenderly.”
• “‘I Didn’t Kill My Wife!’ — An Oral History of ‘The Fugitive’” by Andy Greene, Rolling Stone (July 29, 2023).
If I’m flipping channels at night and come across the 1993 thriller The Fugitive on TV, you know what I’m going to be doing for the rest of the evening. Even without star Harrison Ford’s participation, Greene’s oral history of the making of The Fugitive — which much of the cast feared was going to be a career-ending stinker — is almost as fun and compelling as the movie itself.
Thanks for reading Long Lead Presents: Depth Perception! Subscribe for free to receive new posts.