Awards season continues with the announcement of the American Society of Magazine Editors’ finalists for the National Magazine Award. The organization this week honored 62 publications in 23 categories, with winners to be revealed in New York on May 2. The National Magazine Awards have long honored the best of narrative journalism, especially in the Feature Writing category. This year, ASME combined the features bracket with the Profile category. Here are short excerpts from each of the seven finalists in “Feature Writing Incorporating Profile Writing:”
Pamela Colloff, Texas Monthly, for “The Innocent Man: Part I” and “The Innocent Man: Part II,” about the wrongful incarceration of a man believed to have killed his wife. (Colloff recently annotated the project in Storyboard’s Annotation Tuesday! series.)
The stack of old documents contained critical clues that might have helped identify Christine’s killer had they ever been followed up on. Michael learned from a 1986 sheriff’s deputy’s report that several of his neighbors had seen a green van parked by the vacant, wooded lot behind his home around the time of the murder and had observed its driver walking into the overgrown area that extended up to his privacy fence. He read an internal memo to Wood about a call received from one of Christine’s relatives in Phoenix who reported that a check his father-in-law had made out to her had been cashed after her death with what appeared to be a forged signature. (On later inspection, Michael would realize the signature was actually his own.) The internal memo, which was unsigned, included a telling note to Wood: “They seem to think that Chris’ purse was stolen, course, we know better than that.” Though Christine’s purse was missing from the crime scene, Anderson had brushed aside this detail by telling the jury that Michael had staged a burglary to deflect attention away from himself.
Dexter Filkins, The New Yorker, for “Atonement,” about an Iraq veteran’s attempt to make amends for one family’s suffering:
In the early hours one morning last September, Lu Lobello rose from his bed, switched on a light, and stared into the video camera on his computer. It was two-thirty. The light cast a yellow pall on Lobello’s unshaven face. Almost every night was like this. Lobello couldn’t sleep, couldn’t stop thinking about his time in Iraq. Around San Diego, he’d see a baby—in a grocery store, in a parking lot—and the image would come back to him: the blood-soaked Iraqi infant, his mother holding him aloft by one foot. “Why did you shoot us?’’ the woman demanded over and over. Other times, Lobello would see a Mercedes—a blue or white one, especially—and he’d recall the bullet-riddled sedan in the Baghdad intersection, the dead man alongside it in the street, the elderly woman crying in broken English, “We are the peace people! We are the peace people!” He’d remember that the barrel of his machine gun was hot to the touch.
Charles Graeber, Wired, for “Inside the Mansion—and the Mind—of Kim Dotcom, the Most Wanted Man on the Internet,” about the federal case against the controversial mastermind of the Internet storage behemoth Megaupload:
The DOJ maintains that the legitimate storage business was only a front, like a Mafia pork store; the real money was made out back, where Megaupload was a mega-swapmeet for some $500 million worth of pirated material, including movies, TV shows, music, books, videogames, and software. Kim, they contend, was the Jabba the Hutt-like presence running this grand bazaar of copyright criminality with impunity from his Kiwi Tatooine, protected by laser break beams and guards and guns, CCTV and infrared and even escape pods—including a helicopter and high-performance sports cars. The FBI also believed Kim possessed a special portable device that would wipe his servers all across the globe, destroying the evidence. They called this his doomsday button.
Operation Takedown was carried out by armed New Zealand special police and monitored by the FBI via video link. Descriptions of the raid varied from one news outlet to another, but most included the cops’ dramatic helicopter arrival on the expansive Dotcom Mansion lawn and their struggles with a security system fit for a Mafia don.
At will and sometimes against his will, Sam Brown can return in his mind to that hour in the Kandahar desert when he knelt at the edge of a blast crater and raised his flaming arms to the Afghanistan sky. He’d already run through the macabre slapstick routine of a man on fire, trying to put himself out by rolling on the ground. He’d resorted to pelting his face with fistfuls of sand. That failing, he’d run in helpless circles. Finally he’d dropped to his knees, lifted his arms, and screamed Jesus, save me. Each scream drew fire deeper into his lungs. Behind him his Humvee was a twisted inferno. Bullets whizzed around him. His men were scattering, taking cover, moving dreamily in clouds of so-called moondust, that weird powdery talc, which hung in the air and gave the soldiers the appearance of snowmen. It was going on dusk, and in the fading light the enemy gunfire blazed behind the walls of the village.
Several months prior, I’d reported on an Ohio warehouse where workers shipped products for online retailers under conditions that were surprisingly demoralizing and dehumanizing, even to someone who’s spent a lot of time working in warehouses, which I have. And then my editors sat me down. “We want you to go work for Amalgamated Product Giant Shipping Worldwide Inc.,” they said. I’d have to give my real name and job history when I applied, and I couldn’t lie if asked for any specifics. (I wasn’t.) But I’d smudge identifying details of people and the company itself. Anyway, to do otherwise might give people the impression that these conditions apply only to one warehouse or one company.Which they don’t.
In a few months the room would be a clay oven, holding the day’s heat deep into the night, and he would wake each morning lathered in sweat. But with the Afghan winter still pushing temperatures below freezing, Tom watched his breath roll out in a hazy plume when he woke. He squirmed out of his sleeping bag, swung his legs off the cot, and slipped his feet into his boots. He lit a Marlboro and worked his mind through the day ahead, patrolling the surrounding fields and villages, infested with buried bombs and Taliban fighters.
As the sergeant in charge of 1st Squad, 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 8th Marine Regiment, he oversaw three four-man fire teams, the basic building blocks of a Marine infantry unit. His days had a simple rhythm: Wake up, patrol, come home, start over. Every day, he and his men pushed out on foot into the farmland around the patrol base, and every day the Taliban shot at them, sometimes just a few hastily fired rounds, but oftentimes accurate and sustained gunfire. The Marines shot back, and sometimes they saw fighters fall, but they never found bodies, only blood trails. The Taliban were good about taking their injured and dead with them, same as the Americans.
What does the bull see as it charges the matador? What does the bull feel? This is an ancient mystery, but it seems like a safe bet that to this bull, Marques—ashy black, 5 years old, 1,100 pounds—the bullfighter is just a moving target, a shadow to catch and penetrate and rip apart. Not a man with a history, not Juan Jose Padilla, the Cyclone of Jerez, 38 years old, father of two, one of Spain’s top matadors, taking on his last bull of the afternoon here at the Feria del Pilar, a hugely anticipated date on the bullfighting calendar.
When Marques comes galloping across the sand at Padilla, the bullfighter also begins to run—not away from the animal but toward its horns. Padilla is luminously scaled in fuchsia and gold, his “suit of lights.” He lifts his arms high above his head, like a viper preparing to strike. For fangs, he has two wooden sticks with harpoonlike barbs, two banderillas, old technologies for turning a bull’s confusion into rage. Padilla and Marques are alone in the sandy pit, but a carousel of faces swirls around them. A thousand eyes beat down on Padilla, causing sweat to bead on his neck. Just before Marques can gore him, he jumps up and jabs the sticks into the bull’s furry shoulder. He brings down both sticks at once, an outrageous risk. Then he spins around so that he is facing Marques, running backward on the sand, toe to heel.