2020 Favorite Stories

Louise Matsakis
4 min readDec 24, 2020

Every December, I make a list of the best things I read that year. Like in 2019, I’m sharing 10 general interest stories, ten that are about tech (what I write about mostly) and ten that are about China (A new beat for me this year as well as a place I read about constantly.)

These stories made me cry, feel intense jealously, and generally say “Wow!!!” They are listed in no particular order. Here they are:

General Interest

  1. The Skeletons at the Lake By Douglas Preston in The New Yorker (December) How did ancient remains belonging to people of European ancestry end up in a remote lake in India? More generally, how is DNA analysis changing our understanding of history?
  2. The Accusations Were Lies. But Could We Prove It? By Sarah Viren in New York Times Magazine (March) This story is terrifying and so well-written.
  3. U.S. Chemical Companies Face Few Legal Risks, and the Cartels Bank On It By Cam Simpson in Bloomberg Businessweek (December) I never thought about how organized crime groups obtain the ingredients for making drugs. This story is deeply reported, and Bloomberg got incredible interviews and sources. It’s part of a series, you can read some of Bloomberg’s other (equally good) coverage here.
  4. Un-Adopted By Caitlin Moscatello in The Cut (August) A nuanced, deeply reported story about what happened after a family of famous YouTubers gave up their adopted child.
  5. Meet the Customer Service Reps for Disney and Airbnb Who Have to Pay to Talk to You By Ken Armstrong, Justin Elliott and Ariana Tobin in ProPublica (October) I don’t think I’ve ever felt more angry after reading something. This is accountability journalism at its finest, and exposed a deeply hideous side of the gig economy that was hidden in plain sight. This was a collab with Planet Money, and their audio version is just as excellent.
  6. The Rise and Fall of Getting Things Done By Cal Newport in The New Yorker (November) The most interesting thing I’ve read about “productivity” as a concept.
  7. Sin City By Brock Colyar in The Cut (November) People kept partying during the pandemic, and The Cut went to find out what those fuckers were doing and thinking.
  8. The Last Children of Down Syndrome By Sarah Zhang in The Atlantic (December) This complicated story was told with such compassion and grace.
  9. The Schoolteacher and the Genocide By Sarah A. Topol in New York Times Magazine (August 2019, but I read it this year) Topol gave Futhu’s incredible story the attention, depth, and care that it deserved. This story is a model for what international reporting can and should be.
  10. How Far Can Abused Women Go to Protect Themselves? By Elizabeth Flock in The New Yorker (January) Why are women with convincing self-defense claims being charged with murder?

Technology

  1. The Secretive Company That Might End Privacy as We Know It By Kashmir Hill in The New York Times (January)
  2. Cute videos, but little evidence: Amazon Ring isn’t much of a crime fighter By Cyrus Farivar in NBC News (February)
  3. Inside the Strip Clubs of Instagram By Taylor Lorenz in The New York Times (April)
  4. When Your Freedom Depends on an App By Molly Osberg and Dhruv Mehrotra in Gizmodo (April)
  5. Why Do Food Delivery Companies Lose Money? By Josh Barro in New York Magazine (May)
  6. At Talkspace, Start-Up Culture Collides With Mental Health Concerns By Kashmir Hill in The New York Times (August)
  7. Techie Software Soldier Spy By Sharon Weinberger in New York Magazine (September)
  8. She was Instacart’s biggest cheerleader. Now she’s leading a worker revolt. By Nitasha Tiku in The Washington Post (December 2019, but I read it in January)
  9. The hills are alive By Alizeh Kohari in Rest of World (November) (Yes, I work here! But this story is so good!)
  10. Why Is An Obscure B-Side Pavement’s Top Song on Spotify? It’s Complicated By Nate Rogers in Sterogum (November)

China

  1. How Steve Bannon and a Chinese Billionaire Created a Right-Wing Coronavirus Media Sensation By Amy Qin, Vivian Wang and Danny Hakim in The New York Times (November)
  2. How My Mother and I Became Chinese Propaganda By Jiayang Fan in The New Yorker (September)
  3. China Secretly Built A Vast New Infrastructure To Imprison Muslims By Megha Rajagopalan, Alison Killing, and Christo Buschek in Buzzfeed News (August)
  4. How China Controlled the Coronavirus By Peter Hessler in The New Yorker (August)
  5. Chinese Rappers Are Chasing Clout Through Hip Hop Culture, So Why Won’t They Do More for Black Lives Matter? By Josh Feola in Variety (June)
  6. China Is Collecting DNA From Millions of Men and Boys, Using U.S. Equipment By Sui-Lee Wee in The New York Times (June)
  7. A Fearful Asymmetry: Covid-19 and America’s Information Deficit with China By David Moser in The Asia-Pacific Journal (July)
  8. The Infinite Heartbreak of Loving Hong Kong By Wilfred Chan in The Nation (May)
  9. Two Women Fell Sick From the Coronavirus. One Survived. By Sui-Lee Wee and Vivian Wang in The New York Times (March)
  10. Life on the Slow Train: Views of a Vanishing China By Wu Peiyue in Sixth Tone (August)

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