One thing that I have learned from decades of writing is always find and tell a great story. And this is why Ira Glass is one of my heroes, one of my mentors. You wouldn't think that a guy who writes about tech day in and day out could be so moved from listening to him on public radio, or seeing one of his live shows. It isn't like he uses some new-fangled streaming audio gear or USB microphone setup. (Well, maybe he does, but that isn't the point.) Hearing his show is always a moving experience, a moment when he finishes the story and you just go, "Wow, that was something." Some stories are funny, some sad, some have morals or points to them, others just are what they are.
In any case, Glass sets a very high bar when it comes to his craft.
Today you have a chance to read his work in a very unusual but wonderful experiment. Every year, the New York Times publishes in its last December Magazine section a recap of those who have died over the past year. Most are people that you remember from the announcement contemporaneously, some you have missed (no matter how carefully you read the obits or pay attention to the news) and surprise or shock you. This year's installment combines the usual journalism of the famous deaths with Glass's special section, where he has picked the deaths of ordinary folks. His are the extraordinary stories of the year and deserve mention. For those of us who write for a living, he continues to inspire us.
There is the story of the couple, both diagnosed with HIV, that are both in hospice care. He buys a motorcycle and surprises her with a last ride, while she is carrying her bag of Morphine and riding with her paper gown fluttering in the slipstream. Of the soldiers that died on one random day this summer, one of whom has to call in an air strike for the first time and realizes that his fourth grade teacher's instruction of lattitude and longitude was what saved his men that day, and gets to tell her class in person when he returns home.
Another is the last speech a brilliant math teacher gave that is peppered with prime numbers, and contains the love he has for both his students and learning. A woman who fought for the rights of her kids to have proper shelter and won a long-standing lawsuit that has helped thousands of other at-risk kids as a result.How the founder of the cryonics movement was embalmed at his own death.
These quick summaries are not doing the stories justice. But you get the idea.
There is some tie-in to tech. The Times has collected, via Storify, a selection of inadvertent last Tweets from some prominent people here as part of its interactive collection. And the way the newspaper has arranged its coverage is also well thought out and something noteworthy for those of us that try to present lots of information online. (It even does a nice job with Helvetica type too.) But it is really the stories that make up this issue that are worthwhile. Go take a look.
So I realize that writing about Hedy Lamarr and Wi-Fi, or how a group of security researchers uncovered a piece of malware, or how two bloggers fighting a troll isn't going to be close to the level of the Times/Glass stories: not even in the same league. But they still are great stories for our time, and I hope to write many more for you. Here is to another wonderful year.
You can buy the newspaper on Sunday, or read it today online. If you are looking at ways to tell better stories, it is a must read. Thanks for the collection. You can also listen to Glass' radio show online here too if you want more inspiration.