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I always thought non-fiction was boring. It didn’t help that the only non-fiction I read in school was trapped in the bowels of my textbooks. I read Anne Frank’s diary twice, even though it made me cry. But non-fiction doesn’t have to be boring or make you cry (well, sometimes it’s supposed to make you cry).
After graduating from college, I found myself wanting to be more connected to the world and decided to subscribe to various news outlets. (Looking back, I was basically becoming my dad.) The 2016 election was fast approaching, and I thought it was time to become more aware of the world around me, especially since there had had so much dialogue about “fake news,” which made me determined to do my own research. As I read more and more articles, I realized that the stories I really cared about were those written by investigative journalists. Opinion pieces and data analysis are interesting, but I found it hard at times to really engage with the material because I felt like I was being fed to the spoon of someone’s interpretation. I’m all about opinions and analysis, but something was missing. Maybe a deeper connection to the truth? Or maybe details that only an insider would know?
Investigative pieces not only gave me a compelling account of a significant event or even a seemingly mundane event with wider repercussions, but also helped me to respect the fact that what I was reading was time consuming and of sacrifices to write. I also noticed that investigative pieces prioritized presenting the facts as they happened rather than keeping a story with a personal or political agenda. As someone who works with subject matter experts for a living, I have nothing but the utmost respect for well-researched, well-written text that forces me to slow down.
Having grown up in an attention economy, where sensational articles about celebrity breakups or the latest trend from fruit cereal to TikTok feta pasta salmon rice bowl gaining traction have always caught my eye, I was struck by how much more these longer, more immersive pieces demanded of me as a reader. Suddenly, rather than expecting aesthetic content to be delivered to me quickly and efficiently, I was happy to slow down and critically examine the words in front of me.
I used to be a slow reader as a kid, mostly because my immigrant parents wouldn’t allow me to watch TV or “surf the net” during the school week, so I really had to deal with it. so that my reading life matters. As an adult with their own freedom, I wasn’t always interested in content that required me to sit and be on the same webpage for more than a few minutes because there was always something other more interesting to catch my attention.
Most content these days still seems to be pushing some sort of agenda. That’s fine, but it seems I now have a taste for well-researched content that showcases events as they happen. It’s easy to read a headline about something that just happened or watch a recap on TikTok and think you have all the relevant information. But investigative articles require readers to connect the dots on their own and even do their own research outside the lines of the article. That’s because investigative plays don’t exist for entertainment. I would say they don’t even exist for education. They exist to make you question – that’s why really good investigative articles take time to write. Some journalists spend months or even years gathering evidence before writing and publishing their stories.
Although I had been reading investigative articles for a few years, the one that really pushed me to the limit was none other than the story of Elizabeth Holmes, the young founder of blood testing startup Theranos, when John Carreyrou unveiled the story for the first time for The Wall Street Journal. My jaw dropped reading the story of Silicon Valley secrets and intrigue and how Elizabeth Holmes managed to trick some of the most powerful people in the land into funding her company based on a product that didn’t actually work. . I drank Silicon Valley’s Kool Aid early in my life, truly believing its beloved founders were brilliant people who had to “move fast and break things” in order to make the world a better place. But the reality is not so bright; someone has to pick up the broken pieces. Holmes was able to leverage the ethos of Silicon Valley and grow his company into a billion dollar unicorn. The question is, how did she do that? And will she make it?
When Bad blood was published in 2018, I had to read the book. It also didn’t help that ABC released their podcast. The stall in 2019 to follow the trial of Elizabeth Holmes. Bad blood It was the first time that I devoted my time to a book written by an investigative journalist, rather than just articles. It made me realize there was so much more going on than the headlines suggested. Although articles convey important information, there is an immersive element to a book that the format of a newspaper article cannot match. With the book, I have the whole chronology in my hands. What struck me was that Carreyrou rarely, if ever, was judgmental. It was interesting for me as a reader because almost every book I had read always had a point of view. That doesn’t mean that Bad blood didn’t have a point of view, but it was never explicitly shoved down my throat. Instead, Carreyrou followed the events that led to Theranos’ dissolution and how investors and employees were treated and even lied to.
Before reading investigative journalism, I probably would have just watched a documentary, but after reading Carreyrou’s careful reporting and subsequent interviews about how Holmes tried to intimidate him into not finding out the truth about his lies and cover-ups, I realized what investigative journalists were putting up with. to tell us these stories. While investigative journalists are people and certainly have their own biases, good journalists tell a true story as it happened based on evidence that has been meticulously gathered.
Other amazing books by investigative journalists and journalists in general include: She said: Breaking down the sexual harassment story that helped spark a movement by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, empire of pain by Patrick Radden Keefe, Caste: the origins of our discontent by Isabelle Wilkerson, Our Women in the Field: Essays by Arab Women Reporting from the Arab World by Zahra Hankir Gujarat Files: Anatomy of a Concealment by Rana Ayyub, and Behind the Eternal Beauties: Life, Death and Hope in an Underground City of Mumbai by Katherine Bou.
These books also relayed specific moments in history (past and modern) that required endless research and reporting. Although these books dive deep into specific situations, they convey background information about the culture and politics that brought these stories to life.
Journalists will often say that if someone says “it’s raining” and someone else says “it’s not raining”, it’s not up to them to report both sides, but to open a window and see if it rains. Reading books by investigative journalists gives me that much-needed dose of reality in a world that can’t decide the percentage of rainfall.