The Verge has been committed to longform journalism since our very first day. We launched with a story called “Condo at the End of the World,” and we’ve been publishing deeply reported stories about the world technology has created ever since.
As part of our look back at the last 10 years of The Verge, we wanted to highlight (and, in some cases, remaster) a number of those stories we’re particularly proud of — pieces that had an outsized impact, exposed wrongdoing, or simply brought to life the complicated world behind our screens.
Making this list was both a delight — we have published a lot of terrific feature journalism in the past decade, and reading it all again brought back a flood of memories — and incredibly difficult, as we had to actually choose stories to put on the list. But as we looked back, it was striking to see how early we were to ideas that would go on to remake the world: the dilemma of social media moderation; online fandoms; politicians taking to platforms; the inner workings of our minds; the complicated relationship between our cameras and the social justice movement.
And, of course, Foxconn in Wisconsin. (It has been 934 days since Foxconn promised an update or correction to our story about its buildings in Wisconsin being empty, but we’re not counting.)
Below, we’ve asked some of the people who worked on these stories to talk about them: where they came from, why they chased them down, the ideas that brought them to life. We’re more inspired than ever to produce even more of this work in the future and to continue finding the big stories hiding just behind the obvious.
— Nilay Patel, editor-in-chief
By Joseph L. Flatley | Nov 1, 2011, 10:00am EDT
It’s 2021, and the world hasn’t ended (yet), but I’m pleased to report that The Verge is still going strong 10 years after its launch. From the very beginning, we were thinking big. We wanted to tell big stories and make a big splash, which I think is exemplified by my feature “Condo at the End of the World.” This look at doomsday bunker salespeople and other apocalyptic capitalists took me from the center of Ohio to the center of Kansas — two places I had never desired to visit — where I looked down into a 200-foot Atlas missile silo and asked myself, “Would I want to spend the rest of my life down there?” Of course I didn’t. But the trip was well worth it. The story introduced readers to some far-out characters and presaged the very bizarre turn that American life would take with QAnon and COVID-19 a few short years later. I’ve been on that beat ever since, and I have to thank The Verge for giving me the opportunity.
Joseph L. Flatley — Journalist and publisher of Failed State Update
By Lessley Anderson January 21, 2014
I’ve been at Vox Media for almost 10 years, and to this day, this feature remains one of my favorite pieces of work I’ve done for this company. I don’t remember much about the process of putting it together, but I do remember one of the earliest meetings we had about it. It was January 2014, and James Chae and I were in Las Vegas supporting The Verge at CES. Shortly before returning home, we met in the lobby of the hotel to discuss ideas for this feature with Josh Topolsky and a few other folks from the editorial team. At one point, James suggested having some sort of toggle so readers could choose the design they wanted, and I said, “What if, instead of a toggle, we do it automatically based on their OS, and more importantly, we don’t tell anyone and let them figure it out in the comments?” I remember Josh’s eyes immediately lit up and he was like, “Yes!” The next few weeks were a blur as James and I worked to put it together. I remember almost none of it, but I’ll never forget how good it felt to see such a positive reaction to it, starting with The Verge editorial team that day in Vegas.
Guillermo Esteves — Senior Engineering Manager, Vox Media Product Team
By Nilay Patel Feb 25, 2014
I wrote “The Internet is Fucked” in a single burst after reading yet another judge’s opinion about net neutrality that seemed utterly divorced from reality — more concerned with reciting magic legal phrases than the fact that most people didn’t have real choices for internet access, allowing their ISPs to do all kinds of icky shit without any threat their customers would leave.
So I just wrote down the obvious things and said they were obvious. The piece blew up. It was one of the first Verge stories to get serious attention from policymakers on both sides of the aisle. The famous John Oliver segment came out a few months later, hitting many of the same notes. For a moment, net neutrality — broadband policy — was an actual political winner.
Lately, it’s become fashionable to say that the net neutrality debate came to nothing — that the worst predictions of what broadband providers would do never came to pass after Trump FCC Chairman Ajit Pai rolled back net neutrality rules in a shady process that he almost certainly lied to Congress about. This take ignores the various state net neutrality laws on the books, most notably in California, and the lawsuits still underway.
But another big part of the reason the ISPs aren’t trying harder to break the internet is because they know that people hate the idea of tiered internet pricing, and they know it because stories like “The Internet is Fucked” exploded. And when there is competition for internet access, it quickly leads to a situation that looks a lot like net neutrality: providers start giving certain services preferential treatment, then compete to add more and more preferred services, quickly arriving at the end state of giving every service the same treatment. The market works, when there’s a market.
Nilay Patel — Editor-in-chief, The Verge
By Kwame Opam | March 14th, 2016
It was around the time of CES 2016 that I got tapped to write The Verge’s Michelle Obama feature. I forget when exactly the discussions with her team in Washington started, but I distinctly remember sitting in that trailer in Las Vegas, going over what we could do, what we should do, how fast we needed to get it done, and how big of a deal it was.
If you can recall anything about 2016 other than that election, you’ll remember that Vine was in full flower at that point. The former First Lady had made a splash on it — something about turnips — and her team was trying to attract youthful eyes to her initiatives. It was certainly a bit fluffy, but it mattered. After all, here was someone in the public eye trying to meet young people where they were and do some good.
We were going to blow the doors off the thing. I’d leave Vegas early and fly to DC to meet with her team. A week later, Nilay would interview her for the site’s first 360-degree interview. James Bareham would conduct a photo shoot right there in the White House. It was all incredibly ambitious.
And I was not ready. Like, hilariously unready. I’d never written a 3,000-word feature before. Picture me standing in the East Wing in wide-eyed terror meeting functionaries of the Obama administration, not even Mrs. Obama herself. And when we did finally meet, my awestruck brain could only think, “Wow. She’s really tall.”
That line made it into an early draft of the piece. Nilay’s note was something to the effect of, “Cut this. It’s bad.”
We got the thing where it needed to be. (Thank you, Nilay and Michael Zelenko, my editor at the time.) There were long, coffee-drenched weekends. Late nights. A few panicked texts and phone calls. By the time we hit publish two months later, I was at South by Southwest, an entirely different event. I don’t think I ever slept quite as well as when it finally went live.
In the end, I’m proud to have my name on such a huge project. Up to that point, it was the hardest thing I’d ever attempted. It made me a better journalist. But honestly? Rest in peace, Vine. We didn’t deserve you.
Kwame Opam — Senior Producer of Digital Strategy, The Problem with Jon Stewart
By Catherine Buni & Soraya Chemaly | April 16th, 2016
Over the past five years, The Verge has established a great track record of platform moderation stories. These narratives often take us inside places like Cognizant, where we get a sense of what it’s like to spend all day sanitizing the most rancid corners of platforms like Facebook and YouTube in the modern era. But when Catherine Buni and Soraya Chemaly — two journalists I’ve always admired — approached me with the pitch that would become “Secret Rules of the Internet,” they proposed something I hadn’t yet read: a vivid description of the very earliest days of the content moderation industry. We’re talking untrained college grads in the mid-2000s, improvising rules as they saw fit, and who, through trial and error, would set the foundation for platform moderation as we know it today.
The story took more than a year to come together, but the result is one of my favorite pieces I commissioned for The Verge. It’s jarring to read it now and see how so many of the challenges of the moderation industry — as well as the inhumane and harrowing working conditions of those doing the job — were baked in from the very start, back when YouTube was still run out of a small office above a pizza shop in San Mateo, California. I remember being concerned that the morose subject matter might turn off readers, but just the opposite — the story did well, and Catherine and Soraya won a Mirror Award to boot.
Michael Zelenko — Deputy Editor, Rest of World
By Elizabeth Lopatto | Sep 27, 2017
I didn’t really mean to write “Diary of a Concussion” at first. I just wanted to find something that would tell me what to expect; I’d seen a lot of clinical language about concussion symptoms — totally useless. I already knew what my symptoms were. I wanted to know what recovery was like.
Medicine does not rely on first-person reports, but if you are experiencing something, the first-person report is vital — it can also give you a guide to what to expect and how to understand your own experience. I found nothing. If you are a journalist, you know the sinking feeling: this story does not exist and therefore I guess I have to write it. But it was worse than that, because in order to write it, I was going to have to figure out how to write for more than 15 minutes without giving myself a headache.
Four years later, I have almost no lingering effects from the brain injury, except for one. My relationship with sound appears to have permanently changed. I listen to a lot less music and am still sensitive to loud noises.
Liz Lopatto — Deputy Editor, The Verge
By Sarah Jeong | Aug 28, 2018
I originally wrote The Internet of Garbage in 2015, when the issue of online content moderation was still a niche topic. The book is written mostly with an eye toward online harassment, since that was what the conversation around moderation and censorship was mostly centered around at the time. In a semi-ironic twist, when I was hired by The New York Times in 2018, some people (i.e., Fox News) became very mad about some old tweets of mine (i.e., about white people). I ended up receiving an onslaught of social media abuse, some fairly horrific emails, a lot of creepy calls to a phone number I promptly got rid of, and a few really weird messages from a guy who would later go on to mail bombs to Hillary Clinton, George Soros, and CNN. In the middle of all of this, my beloved colleagues at The Verge repackaged and republished The Internet of Garbage.
In many ways, 2015 was already a bygone era at the time, and even more so now. But to my regret, the book continues to be relevant. Although many things have changed — from the increasing prominence of fascism in American political life, to specific changes in the law such as the passage of SESTA-FOSTA in 2018 — the issues I tackle in the book have gone from niche to mainstream. My colleagues understood that — possibly because they themselves understood that The Verge, as a “tech” publication, had also gone from niche to mainstream.
Sarah Jeong — Journalist
By Casey Newton | Feb 25, 2019
“The Trauma Floor” started with a direct message on Twitter: A Facebook content moderator working for Cognizant in Phoenix asked if we could talk about some of the issues they had seen in the workplace. When we got on the phone, they told me about awful working conditions, the incredible difficulty of applying Facebook’s ever-changing rules, and the long-term effects the work was having on their mental health. A few weeks later, I was in Phoenix meeting with a handful of moderators, huddled in my hotel room, piecing together what would come to feel like the most important story I covered at The Verge.
Two years later, Facebook reached a tentative $52 million settlement with its American content moderators. A similar settlement seems likely in Europe. Cognizant has gotten out of the content moderation business altogether. From far enough away, it looks like progress.
But despite some improvements to working conditions, the underlying issues remain the same. Repeated long-term exposure to violence, child exploitation, and other harmful content can lead to long-term mental health problems, including post-traumatic stress disorder. The moderators I wrote about in Phoenix have moved on with their lives. But I still hear from moderators working for various platforms all the time.
“The whole 2 year period was really traumatic,” a former Facebook moderator who worked for a vendor in Greece wrote to me in August. She said that she had gone on anti-anxiety medication while on the job. “I’m really happy that I don’t work for Facebook any longer. But I still feel sorry for those people who are stuck in that dreadful workplace!”
Casey Newton — Contributing Editor, The Verge and Editor of Platformer
By Chloé Cooper Jones | March 13, 2019
Ramsey Orta was waiting to get dinner with his friend Eric Garner when the police approached. Orta took out his cellphone and hit record. In the video, which has been seen by millions and sparked outrage across the country, Orta narrates what we see. We can hear his voice move from frustration to anger to fear as he realizes the gravity of what he is recording. As Garner tells his killers that he can’t breathe, Orta also whispers this from behind the camera — “He can’t breathe” — as it becomes clearer that what he’s recording is the death of his friend. Shortly after the release of the video, Orta was routinely harassed by police and later incarcerated. The video did not secure swift and meaningful justice for the Garner family as Orta believed it would. Did he regret recording it? I wanted to ask him this question, and I wanted to know who he was and how his life had led him to this decision.
I spent a year visiting Orta in various upstate carceral facilities in order to learn his story and the result is this piece. I was very fortunate that the team at The Verge saw the value of this story immediately and supported my work.
Chloé Cooper Jones — Writer
By Verge Staff | Aug 31, 2020
After the tragic death of George Floyd, I was really struck by what happened to Darnella Frazier, the 17-year-old girl who filmed his traffic death on her cellphone. Not only was Frazier deeply traumatized and bothered by witnessing Floyd’s death, but she later expressed that she was getting a lot of backlash for documenting the incident. As I followed her story, I kept going back to the central question we’re asking in this piece: what compels someone to record police violence and what are the consequences for doing so?
As I had these conversations at work with other colleagues, it became clear that a lot of us were trying to reckon with the complex role of technology in police interactions. Our executive editor, TC Sottek, sent an all-staff message asking us to really think about what The Verge’s platform and resources mean in moments like this. It was a compelling call to action that created one of our most ambitious and wide-reaching projects: Capturing the Police, a multimedia project that explores the documentation of police violence — what happens when you film the police; both the activism and trauma that result from videos of police brutality; and what police body cameras don’t show.
It is a powerful thing to hit record at this moment in history, but it’s also a powerful time to share what you’re seeing online. Yes, this project is about those who choose to record police violence, but it’s impossible to have a voice when you are siloed. So while many of these videos are from particular individuals, it took a community to amplify and share these stories for them to be seen. When you decide to share a video online, you are participating in shaping culture with the click of a button.
We published this project in 2020 and while, for many reasons, it feels like ages ago, so much of what we documented and began to unpack in the project are areas that continue to evolve and raise new questions in the aftermath of a global reckoning.
Mariya Abdulkaf — Senior Video Producer, The Verge
BY Josh Dzieza | Oct 19, 2020
- Winner, Reporting by Independent Digital Media, Deadline Club Award 2021
- Winner, Sidney Award November 2020
In the spring of 2019, I drove around Wisconsin trying to figure out what Foxconn was doing in the state. It was immediately clear what it was not doing: building the fantastic factory it and President Trump had promised. But it was also not doing nothing. It had bought real buildings and put up signs. It had an office downtown, and after climbing a nearby parking garage, I saw there were actual people in it. What they were doing there remained an enigma.
That changed about a year later, when employees reached out to me to say that not even they knew what Foxconn was doing. Many were just sitting around, hired for jobs that didn’t exist. Others were assigned wild boondoggles — self-driving golf carts, fish farming, glass orb data centers — then berated for pursuing them. They described a Potemkin village so chaotically mismanaged that those in charge often didn’t seem clear on what the illusion was supposed to be.
A year later, Wisconsin has radically scaled down its contract with the company, slashing the subsidies for which Foxconn is eligible. But other damage is harder to undo. The employees I spoke to look back on their time at the company as a surreal, sometimes nightmarish detour in their careers. Many of the people who lived near the project are still furious about the way the city council pushed through the deal and forced people from their homes to clear space for a factory that the residents believed — and now they know, correctly — was never going to happen. Millions were spent to prepare the way for a factory that isn’t there.
Foxconn still announces new plans, and they still fail to materialize. The latest was electric cars. Few people I speak to take them seriously. It did finish work on the orb, which stands alone in an empty field. No one is quite sure what it’s for.
Josh Dzieza — Investigations Editor, The Verge
Written by Kara Verlaney
This news first appeared on https://www.theverge.com/22750164/verge-feature-packed-longform-stories under the title “Feature Packed”. Bolchha Nepal is not responsible or affiliated towards the opinion expressed in this news article.