#NPRreads is a new feature on Twitter and on The Two-Way. The premise is simple: Correspondents, editors and producers throughout our newsroom share pieces that have kept them reading. They share tidbits using the #NPRreads hashtag — and on Fridays, we highlight some of the best stories.
This week, we bring you five reads.
From Juana Summers, who covers Congress:
I’ve never had a child and never lost one, but author Alejandra Diaz Mattoni’s How to Dress a Dead Baby immediately drew me in. It was a great, deeply personal piece of writing that I can only describe as haunting — in a good way. Diaz Mattoni’s first paragraph is provocative and bone-chilling. It was hard not to want to read more.
“The mechanics of dressing a dead newborn are basic. The little girl’s face is white, lacking the flushed cheeks normally present in a newborn. She has a full head of hair and a button-type nose that makes you want to give her Eskimo kisses. Someone, probably a nurse, has put her in a onesie with yellow tulips embroidered along its Peter Pan collar. Livor mortis, but not rigor mortis had set in; the baby’s fingers are pliant and cold when I hook my finger into hers.”
While this piece is about a tragedy that is a reality for so many families — burying a child that’s barely had a chance to live — it’s also about what it means to be human. Diaz Mattoni described her role this way:
“I’m 35, and though my life has none of the drama I hear about each day, I can sympathize—and perhaps even empathize—with the central emotion present in each of these peoples’ stories: a basic need to love a complicated person within a complicated relationship. But the family I’m presently ministering, who have lost their newborn daughter, are different because they’re not grappling with the difficulties of how to love one another. They are grieving the love of someone they lost a few moments after meeting her. I don’t feel equipped for this task.”
I didn’t feel equipped to read this piece either. It is so intimate and the details so precise that I almost felt like I was intruding on the couple’s grief. As a narrator, Diaz Mattoni is a very conscientious guide. She is also — particularly when it comes to the intersection of religion and grief — very matter of fact:
“I would be a theologically correct jackass if I were to tell the parents that their child’s death is God’s will. Moreover, though God without a doubt does grieve their loss, to say this would be to say, “Hey, you are so sad about your baby. Well, so am I and so is He.” True, but not helpful.”
I don’t often read online comments, but I took the time to do so on this piece. The personal stories that poured out are heartbreaking. It’s clear that through sharing this slice of humanity, the author struck a powerful nerve in so many, both parents and childless.
From Tamara Keith, White House correspondent:
Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook is young (at 35) and shies away from attention. So far, I’ve only seen a couple of profiles of him.
First there was this Mother Jones profile, which introduced readers to the concept of the “Mook Mafia,” the cultishly dedicated campaign operatives who have worked with him before.
And then this week Ruby Cramer at Buzzfeed took a deep dive into his method. When it comes to running campaigns, she says, at his core, Mook is an organizer. This #longread is a must read for anyone who wants to nerd out about campaign mechanics (say, this reporter, who will be covering the Clinton campaign for the duration). But I’d also recommend it for managers of all stripes who want strategies for motivating your employees to work themselves to the bone, while still adoring the boss.
“After her event, the staff dragged everything back to headquarters in the pouring rain. The power was out, and they sat there in the darkness, dripping wet.
“Then, from the silence, they heard clapping.
“It was Mook. He was going into his routine.
“It started slow at first. Then other people joined in and the pace picked up and the clapping got louder. It was still dark in the office — and they were still wet. But soon everybody was clapping. They clapped faster and faster, and then they were cheering too, and the sound in the room got so loud and fast it was almost frenzied.
“Finally they went still… and Mook started to speak.
” ‘Everyone was back in that place he gets you in,’ said DiMarzio. ‘He’d talk about the event you just did, and about how it’s neck-and-neck, and it’s so close, and’ — he slipped into a Mook impression — ‘”do you want to look back at the end of this campaign, if we lose by 1,000 votes and think, I could have maybe pulled in a couple hundred votes myself if I’d just done 15 minutes harder each day?”‘
From Sam Sanders, who reports for our NewsDesk:
The best sports writing is often about more than just sports. They’re essays and articles that touch on race and class and gender dynamics, and money and power and so much more. My favorite piece of sports writing this week comes from Steve Almond at Salon, discussing how the media have reacted to NBA MVP Stephen Curry’s recent habit of bringing his rambunctious two-year-old daughter to post-game press conferences. Besides calling out post-game press conferences as mostly worthless (I agree with that claim), Almond says this:
“Amid all the righteous blather we hear about athletes as ‘role models’ it seems curious, then, that we wouldn’t praise an athlete for being an attentive parent in such a public way.
“Think, for a moment, about the impact Curry’s presser might have on all the men (and women) who admire him. On the young players trying to figure out whether it’s possible to be a committed father and a world-class athlete. On all the absentee dads who’ve turned away from their paternal obligations. And on guys like me, who need a reminder that being a dad and having a career is inconvenient, but not impossible.”
What we have in Stephen Curry is a young man of color, who is in his own way, “Leaning In.” For so many reasons, I think that is beautiful. Almond’s essay is a wonderful defense of that and the often defiant act of public parenting. You should definitely check it out.
From Carline Watson, executive producer for NPR’s identity and culture unit:
The thing that caught my eye was the headline: “The Utopia of Records: Why Sound Archiving is Important,” an essay in The Quietus. It caught my eye because I work in radio which is all about sound — and here at NPR, we have 40-plus years of sound we need to preserve.
This essay was about the Sound Archive of the British Library and their efforts to digitize some 7 million recordings. They can’t do it fast enough, because the equipment they use is becoming obsolete faster than they can complete the task. Will Prentice is the library’s head of technical sound and vision:
” ‘You can still buy a turntable,’ Prentice explains. ‘You can still buy styli for them. You can still buy circuit diagrams to repair them…… For quarter-inch tape machines – or even cassette machines – that’s not the case. You cannot buy a professional quarter-inch tape machine. There’s sort of one cassette machine that’s kind of professional available. That’s it. Nobody’s making the heads to replace them, really. There’s one guy, near retirement, in Belgium, making quarter-inch tape heads. Possibly someone in the States. But that’s really it.’ ”
Surprisingly, there is still some NPR content that’s on audio reel-to-reel tapes, from 1971 to 1983 — each time NPR pulls one of those reels out, it’s digitized and sent back to the archives.
From Bill Chappell, a blogger on the Two-Way:
The FBI is operating a secret fleet of planes that do surveillance in the U.S. and are registered to fake companies, the AP says. I think the story might have caused a scandal in many past decades. But it doesn’t seem to be the case this week.
The AP did a good job of tracking down data and reports about sightings of unusual aircraft soaring over Baltimore, Md., and elsewhere — and spotted at least one of the planes at a Virginia airport.
“The FBI confirmed for the first time the wide-scale use of the aircraft, which the AP traced to at least 13 fake companies, such as FVX Research, KQM Aviation, NBR Aviation and PXW Services.
“…. Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers into coughing up basic subscriber information, is rare.”
I like how Bob Collins, a journalist and pilot, wrote about it for Minnesota Public Radio. He says one of the planes was spotted repeatedly circling areas around Minneapolis. I asked Collins to tell me more about the planes, which have cameras and bristles of antennae attached to their fuselages.
“It’s that they circle an area for so long and the route they circle is incredibly precise, telling me they’ve got an autopilot flight plan loaded that’s putting the plane over EXACTLY the same spot in a circle for three hours. And, of course, we all see the occasional plane circle our house for a few minutes and then fly away. It’s the fact that this one didn’t that made it noticeable around here.”