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Damn, We Wish We’d Written These 11 Stories

Every year, Bloomberg News publishes a “Jealousy List” — the stories Bloomberg staffers wish they had published. It’s a delightful and endearing concept, and one that makes us incredibly — what’s that word? — envious.

So, here are the stories other folks published in 2016 that made the FiveThirtyEight staff super duper jelly.




“Will I Know Anyone At This Party?”

By This American Life

“You don’t think there’s Sharia? I’m just blown away. We’re living on two different planets,” South Dakota state Rep. Al Novstrup tells reporter Zoe Chace about 45 minutes into the Oct. 28 episode of This American Life. Chace and Novstrup came to their conversation with an entirely different set of facts. (Zoe’s facts happen to be the accurate ones.) It’s an exchange that makes explicit much of the divide that fueled the 2016 election, and I found Zoe’s piece to be one of the best pieces of journalism produced this year. It made me think Americans are retreating to separate worldviews while at the same time becoming more convinced that they are well informed.

–Jody Avirgan, podcast editor



“Spies in the Skies”

By Peter Aldhous & Charles Seife, Buzzfeed

This story has some of the most striking cartography that appeared all year, showing the flight paths of 200 federal planes circling U.S. cities as part of Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Homeland Security monitoring programs. The visualizations are as beautiful as they are discomforting – who’s watching me from above right now?

–Reuben Fischer-Baum, visual journalist



“Inside the Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns”

By Jeanne Marie Laskas, GQ

“Just a small fraction of murders in cities are ever solved.” That line makes its obligatory appearance in almost every story about urban gun violence, but rarely does any story explain why so few cases ever reach investigative resolution. Jeanne Marie Laskas’s “Inside the Federal Bureau Of Way Too Many Guns” does just that. Laskas blends the absurdity of a federal agency banned from using computers to do its job with the can-do attitude of resourceful public servants navigating the powerful gun lobby; the result is a gripping story about the unexpected connections between a brick building in a small West Virginia town, the uniquely American ethos around gun ownership and the epidemic of gun violence in the United States.

–Anna Maria Barry-Jester, science reporter



All things Todd Schneider, but especially “A Tale of Twenty-Two Million Citi Bike Rides

By Todd Schneider,

Writers at FiveThirtyEight have a wonderful group of editors and visual journalists working to make every story smarter, clearer and nicer to look at. Todd Schneider has Todd Schneider. Yet this year, the Genius software developer, who works on his personal, eponymous site in his spare time, produced a mammoth analysis of the mammoth data set of New York City bike-share rides, covering everything from how fast riders go by age and gender, to how weather affects ridership, to how private the data really is. Oh, and he also published a great breakdown of “Simpsons” data this year.

–Carl Bialik, reporter



“Six maps that show the anatomy of America’s vast infrastructure”

By Tim Meko, The Washington Post

Tim Meko’s maps of the infrastructure underpinning our nation are genius in their simplicity. Plus, they’re gorgeous.

–Ella Koeze, visual journalist



“Text analysis of Trump’s tweets confirms he writes only the (angrier) Android half”

By David Robinson, Variance Explained

I’m jealous of this piece by David Robinson, a data scientist at Stack Overflow, who conducted an analysis that showed it was likely you could differentiate between @realDonaldTrump tweets sent by Trump himself and tweets sent by his staff by looking at whether the tweet was from an iPhone or Android device. Robinson looked at characteristics that differed between @realDonaldTrump’s Android and iPhone tweets, including time of day, use of quotation marks and links, the content of the tweets, use of hashtags and sentiment. The investigation, replete with code snippets, graphs and nerdy footnotes — as well as a GitHub link to the full source code behind his analysis — provides substantial evidence that the Android tweets may indeed be from Trump himself.

–Dhrumil Mehta, data journalist



“Gawker Media’s Biggest Mistakes”

By Ashley Feinberg, Gawker

On the eve of Gawker’s last day, Ashley Feinberg dredged up all the story ideas she unsuccessfully pitched to editors there (a review of “Mein Kampf,” “Which Famous Dead Person Do You Love More”). It confirmed my suspicion that Gawker was as fun to work at as it was to read. The follow-up is hilarious, too.

–Gus Wezerek, designer



“This small Indiana county sends more people to prison than San Francisco and Durham, N.C., combined. Why?”

By Josh Keller and Adam Pearce, The New York Times

The Upshot’s analysis of the new geography of imprisonment in the U.S. is revelatory and a perfect example of what we at FiveThirtyEight call an “outlier story” — a piece of reportage that explains a phenomenon by focusing on one of its extreme cases. Dearborn County, Indiana, has one of the highest incarceration rates in the country and is emblematic of an upward trend in inmates per capita in rural areas, even as those numbers have dropped dramatically in cities. Told through a combination of analysis, visualization, mapping and shocking prison sentence comparisons based on some very smart reporting, this story is the full package — and it really bums me out it didn’t appear on FiveThirtyEight.

–Ritchie King, data visualization editor



“The Future of Shopping: Trapping You In A Club You Didn’t Know You Joined”

By Rebecca Greenfield and Kim Bhasin, Bloomberg News

I love this story. It’s an exhaustively researched piece that busts up a single bad actor, Adore Me, an online lingerie store, while addressing a longstanding issue in an expanding business model — subscription services that automatically renew. The history is fascinating, the data is enlightening and the art is a delight. After reading it, I started questioning how I spent my own money.

–Walter Hickey, culture writer



“‘You Want A Description of Hell?’ Oxycontin’s 12-Hour Problem”

By Harriet Ryan, Lisa Girion and Scott Glover, Los Angeles Times

This Los Angeles Times investigation was a fascinating and thorough look at OxyContin and opioid addiction. It’s a fantastic piece of reporting and writing, using people, documents and data to tell a critically important story.

–Blythe Terrell, science editor



Breaking the Black Box: What Facebook Knows About You

By Julia Angwin, Terry Parris Jr. and Surya Mattu, ProPublica

We all know that algorithms are playing an ever-greater role in our lives. And many of us have a sense that these algorithms can have worrisome and unintended (or occasionally intended) consequences. But in a series of stories, Julia Angwin and her team at ProPublica put into human terms how little-understood snippets of computer code are increasingly influencing both our online and offline lives.

–Ben Casselman, economics editor

CORRECTION (Dec. 28, 9:25 a.m.): A previous version of this article misstated the location of Dearborn County. It is in Indiana, not Illinois.