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Damn, We Wish We’d Done These 11 Stories

For a few years now, Bloomberg Businessweek has chronicled a list of stories its writers wish they’d done. We wish we’d thought of that idea ourselves, so we’re shamelessly cribbing it for the second year running. Here are 11 stories we read, watched and consumed with a mix of admiration and regret this year. Hopefully our jealousy will lead to your discovery.


“Over 4 million Americans don’t have anyone to vote for them in Congress”

By Aaron Steckelberg and Chiqui Esteban, The Washington Post

I love the graphics in this piece. They take an undemocratic aspect of our political system that most people overlook and make it striking: 4.5 million people in six states have 18 representatives in Congress, while 4.4 million people in U.S. territories and Washington, D.C., have no representatives who can vote. Plus, I’ll love anything with a nice map.

— Ella Koeze, visual journalist


“The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea”

By Evan Osnos, The New Yorker

This piece isn’t empirical, but it combines formal theory (Schelling’s model of brinkmanship) with information on what we know about North Korea. As someone who came to FiveThirtyEight from academia, I typically look at the numbers first and the context second. (Sorry!) But I found the most illuminating part of this story to be Osnos’s firsthand descriptions of his visit. Even if his experience was curated and controlled by North Korea, it reminded me that there’s no substitute for good, old-fashioned human connection when covering issues that matter.

— Andrea Jones-Rooy, quantitative researcher


“Overlooked: As women go to jail in record numbers, who’s watching out for their kids? No one.”

By Cary Aspinwall, The Dallas Morning News

We hear a lot about the problems with the criminal justice system in the U.S., but rarely do we hear about the families left behind when people get entangled in it. This distressing read from The Dallas Morning News pulls back the curtain on an issue with enormous consequences: When mothers go to jail, no one in the criminal justice system is responsible for the safety of their children. “Not in North Texas, and not in most communities across the country,” as the article puts it. Since there wasn’t data to make sense of the scope of the problem, reporter Cary Aspinwall went and gathered it. The resulting work is both novel and heartbreaking.

— Anna Maria Barry-Jester, lead health writer


“Why it’s so much harder to predict winners in hockey than basketball”

By Joss Fong, Vox

Joss Fong and her team at Vox produce videos throughout the year that make me go, “Damn, I wish I made something like that.” With data-driven videos, often the most difficult thing is figuring out the clearest way to convey complex ideas while making it visually appealing. This video stuck with me because of how beautifully they were able to accomplish both of those things.

— Tony Chow, video producer


“Can we talk about the gender pay gap?”

By Xaquín G.V., The Washington Post

I get emails and tweets claiming “the gender pay gap is a myth!!!” all the time. (It’s an occupational hazard.) This piece reads as a fact checker, running through many of the arguments over the gender gap. It provides beautiful graphics showing that the evidence actually disproves the purported mythbusters, and it lets readers enter their profession to see what day women essentially started working for free in that field, according to earnings data. I’ll be pointing pay gap deniers who @ me to this piece in the future.

— Kathryn Casteel, writer


“Here’s every total solar eclipse happening in your lifetime. Is this year your best chance?”

By Denise Lu, The Washington Post

Quite a few visual journalists published fantastic work in the lead-up to the eclipse, but Denise Lu truly knocked it out of the park. Come for the spinning globe, stay for the tour down our nation’s eclipse history. As with pretty much any project with Lu’s name on it — I mean, come on — I’m steeped in envy and awe.

— Julia Wolfe, visual journalist


“Analyzing the Gender Representation of 34,476 Comic Book Characters”

By Amanda Shendruk, The Pudding

This piece by Amanda Shendruk is really everything that I look for in a culture story that’s grounded in data. It’s got a terrific idea at its core and the data to back it up: that female superheroes have been defined by infantilizing names and “emotional” superpowers. Superheroes are a dominant story trope these days, which means they deserve scrutiny this good.

— Walt Hickey, culture writer


“A Year of Google & Apple Maps”

By Justin O’Beirne

Cartographer Justin O’Beirne goes into incredible detail to compare the interface designs of Google and Apple Maps. His findings are the best progress report we have on the tech giants’ race to create a “universal map.”

— Gus Wezerek, visual journalist


“A City Is Not a Computer”

By Shannon Mattern, Places Journal

Shannon Mattern’s trenchant essay, “A City Is Not a Computer,” considers the long history of cities as data-storage devices. Their monuments, archives and offices capture and display the existence of their residents. But technologists and venture capitalists are now elbowing out low-tech planners and scholars, reducing urbanism to an algorithm and likening cities to the internet. Amidst this change, Mattern cautions that urban data has important context. She argues for an approach that eschews mere computation and embraces memory and history. As T.S. Eliot put it: “Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

— Oliver Roeder, senior writer and puzzle editor


“Lost Mothers” and Nothing Protects Black Women From Dying in Pregnancy and Childbirth

By Nina Martin, Emma Cillekens and Alessandra Freitas, ProPublica; and Renee Montagne, NPR

I’ve been through the process of pregnancy and birth recently enough that I still remember feeling like neither the medical establishment nor the natural-birth establishment regarded me as terribly important. No matter which side of the Mommy Wars people came down on, “doing what’s best for the baby” was how it was framed. ProPublica’s series on maternal death and illness made it clear that there are real consequences to not focusing on mothers — especially for women who are already socially marginalized. These are stories that should make us rethink the way we frame medical care and medical choices.

— Maggie Koerth-Baker, senior science writer