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#NPRreads: A Digital Dark Age And A Story That's Part Listicle, Part Longread

#NPRreads is a weekly feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers from our newsroom share the pieces that have kept them reading, using the #NPRreads hashtag. On Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.

This week, we bring you three items.

From Digital Editor Avie Schneider:


Someday, maybe a few years or a decade from now, this page that you're reading might not be here. As technology and websites' owners change or go bankrupt, the sites you visit can disappear and the links that you click on can lead to those frustrating "page not found" messages.

We face a "digital Dark Ages," Internet pioneer Vint Cerf has warned. "We are nonchalantly throwing all of our data into what could become an information black hole without realizing it."

It's a familiar concern. In February, Carter Maness recounted the horror of losing thousands of blog posts he had written: "We assume everything we publish online will be preserved. But websites that pay for writing are businesses. They get sold, forgotten and broken. Eventually, someone flips the switch and pulls it all down."

Now, imagine that you were part of a team that worked on a newspaper series that was so compelling it was in the running for a Pulitzer. That's what happened to Kevin Vaughan, a reporter with The Rocky Mountain News. Its series, "The Crossing," explored the aftermath of a 1961 bus-train collision in Greeley, Colo., that killed 20 children. The 34-part series, published in 2007, resonated with a community that was still struggling with the Columbine massacre.

In a piece for The Atlantic, Adrienne LaFrance writes about how Vaughan dealt with the disappearance of his work — much of which had been available only online — after the newspaper shut down:

"In 2008, Vaughan was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in feature writing for the series. The next year, the Rocky folded. And in the months that followed, the website slowly broke apart. One day, without warning, 'The Crossing' evaporated from the Internet."

LaFrance's story takes unexpected turns and dives into the history of lost written works, including those of Aristotle and the collections of the Library of Alexandria. And if the topic isn't depressing enough, consider this passage from LaFrance:

"The life cycle of most web pages runs its course in a matter of months. In 1997, the average lifespan of a web page was 44 days; in 2003, it was 100 days. Links go bad even faster. A 2008 analysis of links in 2,700 digital resources — the majority of which had no print counterpart — found that about 8 percent of links stopped working after one year. By 2011, when three years had passed, 30 percent of links in the collection were dead."

From Investigations Digital Editor Alicia Cypress:

This past Wednesday, one of the biggest headlines to hit the restaurant industry was everywhere: Famed New York restaurateur Danny Meyer (he's the guy who owns Shake Shack and the well-established Union Square Hospitality Group eateries) will eliminate tipping at his establishments.

The news was an exclusive for Eater's New York website, and this is why it's a big deal:

"It's a radical move — while many individual high-end restaurants have eliminated tipping, this is surely the first time zero-gratuity will be the universal policy for a major American restaurant group — casual restaurants included. Never before have so many diners been faced with such a sea change in how they pay for a full-service meal, and what they are expected to understand a fair price (and a fair wage) to be."

Many news outlets including The New York Times and NPR had their own stories soon after, but there are two important reasons why you should also be reading this version by Ryan Sutton:

First, Eater had the scoop long before it was published, giving them time to research and report, making this a comprehensive analysis. Second — and this is why I was excited to share the piece with everyone who passed by my desk — they were incredibly innovative with how the story was told online.

After clicking on Eater's headline and starting to interact with the story, you would never know you're about to read 6,000 words. Go ahead and click on the story right now.

The first thing you'll notice is a gigantic sentence. That's the actual news. You can leave the post now and that's enough to go have an intelligent conversation about it at happy hour. But you probably won't leave that quickly. Dotted among each subject or phrase are footnotes. Click on a footnote and that takes you to one of seven mini-stories with every angle of this piece you might want to understand. You can read the entire story from top to bottom, jump around the story or only read two parts of it.

"People who want to just know the core deal get one easy, straightforward sentence to read. Nerds & dreamers get 6K words of context," Helen Rosner, Eater's feature editor, tweeted.

In the online news business, we're constantly seeking innovative ways to make our stories accessible to readers, and Eater has successfully done that here.

"It's an explainer but it's also a narrative! It's a listicle but it's also a #longread," Rosner (@hels) tweeted.

From Deputy Managing Editor Chuck Holmes:

Days before President Obama announced he would postpone the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan, The Washington Post's Greg Jaffe gave readers this incisive look at the president's difficult choice — fulfill the pledge to complete the American military exit by the end of his term or face the hard reality of a country again besieged.

"The speech at West Point was supposed to be the definitive word," Jaffe writes of an address Obama gave last year in which the president described a new chapter in American foreign policy. He told the graduating class that they were the first cadets in a decade unlikely to be stationed in a war zone.

But Jaffe charts the rocky course that led the reluctant Obama to reverse his decision and keep troops in Afghanistan through 2017. His hand was forced by an Afghanistan security force unwilling or unable to fight, unexpected territorial gains by the Taliban and a government in Kabul reeling.

Obama has an instinctive skepticism about ordering the use of force, but time and again he's been compelled to do it, including dispatching troops back into Iraq following the gains there by the Islamic State. Jaffe chronicles the internal deliberations at the White House. This president, so hesitant to commit U.S. forces, "has launched military strikes in seven countries." His personal desire when he won office in 2008 was to put the wars of his predecessors behind him. It's been a difficult promise to keep.

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