23 Of Our Favorite Feature Stories We Published This Year
A housewife who became the first woman to fly around the world. The boxer who integrated Louisiana. A deep-dive into the 60-word basis for the war on terror and an exploration of whether elementary schoolers should be locked up for plotting to kill their classmates. A debauched week in the world’s largest retirement community, a weekend at a clown convention, and 36 hours on the fake campaign trail with Donald Trump. Here’s a look back at some of the great feature stories BuzzFeed News published in 2014.
1. 60 Words and a War Without End — Gregory D. Johnsen
Written in the frenzied, emotional days after 9/11, the Authorization for the Use of Military Force was intended to give President Bush the ability to retaliate against whoever orchestrated the attacks. But more than 12 years later, this sentence remains the primary legal justification for nearly every covert operation around the world. Here’s how it came to be, and what it’s since come to mean.
2. Why Is the World’s Gayest Sport Stuck in the Closet? — Blair Braverman
Men’s figure skating has always been caught between its public image and its conservative culture. But with anti-LGBT policies haunting the Sochi Olympics, the sport’s biggest stars were under more pressure than ever to set the record straight.
3. What Does Pussy Riot Mean Now? — Miriam Elder
Two members of Russia’s most notorious band of shit-stirrers were free after nearly two years of political imprisonment and enjoying the rock star treatment during their first trip to the U.S. But the group’s unlikely journey from art school project to international icons shows just how rotten Russia has become and how much the mission has changed.
4. 36 Hours on the Fake Campaign Trail With Donald Trump — McKay Coppins
Over the course of 25 years, he’s repeatedly toyed with the idea of running for president and now, maybe, governor of New York. With all but his closest apostles finally tired of the charade, even the Donald himself has to ask, what’s the point? On the plane and by the pool with the man who will not be king.
5. “I Killed A Man”: What Happens When A Homicide Confession Goes Viral — Joel Oliphint
In June 2013, Matthew Cordle drove drunk the wrong way on a highway in Ohio, killing another driver. With the help of a charismatic, entrepreneurial do-gooder, Cordle admitted his guilt in a YouTube video that 2.6 million people watched — but where is the line between personal contrition and public spectacle?
6. Failure to Launch: How New Mexico Is Paying for Richard Branson’s Space Tourism Fantasy — Joshua Wheeler
One of the poorest states in the nation has invested nearly a quarter of a billion dollars and 10 years in creating a hub for Richard Branson’s space tourism company, Virgin Galactic. Some see it as the crown jewel of a new space age, while others call it a carnival for the 1 percent — but with persistent delays and mounting financial strain, Spaceport America is just trying to avoid becoming New Mexico’s costliest, most futuristic ghost town.
7. Looking for Tom Lehrer, Comedy’s Mysterious Genius — Ben Smith and Anita Badejo
Tom Lehrer is considered one of the most influential figures in comedy — despite a body of work consisting of just 37 pitch-black songs and a career that stopped abruptly when the counterculture he helped spawn eclipsed him. You can ask him why he quit, but good luck getting an answer.
The late Jerrie Mock was a 38-year-old housewife from Columbus, Ohio, when, 50 years ago, she accomplished what Amelia Earhart is famous for having failed to do. But in the decades since, as Mock’s life began to unravel, history all but forgot the pilot who made it.
9. Why Would a Gay Teenager Commit Hate Crimes Against Herself? — Sandra Allen
Ten years ago, a liberal San Francisco suburb was traumatized by a rash of hate crimes against a 17-year-old lesbian. But when it was revealed that the victim herself had staged the attacks, the entire community turned on her. For the first time, she speaks publicly about what happened.
10. How to Survive a Super Typhoon — Laurel Fantauzzo
In Batanes, the northernmost islands of the Philippines, a small indigenous population routinely survives the most violent storms in the world. But in an era of unprecedented weather disturbances, can centuries-old methods of adaptation survive modernization and economic struggle?
11. The Controversial Answer to America’s Heroin Surge — John Knefel
With heroin use at epidemic levels, harm reduction — a bold, long-contested approach to treating addicts — is gaining political traction. But are we ready to make it easier to shoot heroin even if it means fewer deaths?
12. Who Killed Lois Duncan’s Daughter? — Tim Stelloh
Lois Arquette wrote successful teen thrillers like I Know What You Did Last Summer under the name “Lois Duncan” until 1989, when her daughter was murdered. What followed was a twisted tale, with a potential police cover-up, a seedy criminal network, uncanny coincidences, and psychics — and a mother still trying to find answers.
13. Should Two Children Be Imprisoned for Plotting to Kill Their Classmates? — Victoria Beale
In Washington state, a 10- and 11-year-old were sentenced to years in a detention facility after being caught with weapons and claiming they were going to murder other kids at their school. Where is the line between a childish game and a real threat?
14. How an Unknown Boxer Knocked Out Segregation in Louisiana — Steve Knopper
In 1955, an African-American boxer in New Orleans named Joe Dorsey sued the state of Louisiana for the right to fight against white opponents. What started out as a chance to advance his career wound up changing sports and culture in the state forever.
15. The Girl Who Survived the Brain-Eating Amoeba — Peter Andrey Smith
One year ago, Kali Hardig went swimming at an Arkansas water park and the next day was rushed to the hospital where doctors diagnosed her with a rare, 99% fatal condition: a brain-eating amoeba. This is the miraculous story of how she lived.
16. The Down and Dirty History of TMZ — Anne Helen Petersen
How a lawyer from the San Fernando Valley created a gossip empire and transformed himself into the most feared man in Hollywood, all by breaking a few long-held rules and, as rumor has it, lording over a notorious vault full of secrets.
17. Don’t Be Afraid of the Clowns — Leigh Cowart
The red-nosed pros at the 2014 World Clown Association annual convention know you think they’re creepy. How does a maligned and misunderstood centuries-old art form survive bad PR and cultural decline?
18. Nothing Says “Sorry Our Drones Hit Your Wedding Party” Like $800,000 and Some Guns — Gregory D. Johnsen
On December 12, 2013, a drone struck and killed 12 members of a wedding party in Yemen. If the U.S., which claims the strike was clean and justified, didn’t pony up the $800,000 in cash and guns as reparations, then who did?
19. What Hurt Feelings: The Untold Story of the 31-Year Battle Over “Flashdance” — Soraya Roberts
The dancers and photographer who inspired one of the biggest pop culture touchstones of a generation have gone most of their lives unable to publicly talk about the credit they think they deserve. Until now.
20. Club Meds: Seven Days and Seven Nights in the World’s Largest Retirement Community — Alex French
Boasting 100,000 residents over the age of 55, The Villages may be the fastest growing city in America. It’s a notorious boomtown for boomers who want to spend their golden years with access to 11 a.m. happy hours, thousands of activities, and no-strings-attached sex, all lorded over by one elusive billionaire.
21. Why Did Charity Johnson Pretend to Be a Teenager For Nearly 20 Years? — Katie J.M. Baker
Charity Johnson, a 34-year-old woman from Texas, didn’t want to steal money or hurt anyone. So why did she trick people all over the country into believing she was still in high school?
22. The 19-Year Search for Bianca Lozano and the Nightmare of Child Abduction Cases — David Peisner
As if losing a child to kidnapping wasn’t horrifying enough, ineffective law enforcement agencies and predatory private investigators only add to the confusion and pain. Deana Hebert’s long, maddening search for her daughter — and the ex-husband who took her — may be the rule, not the exception.