Pacific Standard: Mid-Year Impact Report (2018)

Story Package: Postcards From America
Our 10th anniversary project, "Postcards From America" (March/April 2018 issue), offered a state-by-state accounting of the most and least promising ideas and projects happening in each of the 50 states, as well as Washington, D.C., and the U.S. territories. The contributors ranged from high-profile writers and public figures to activists in the trenches. The 52-piece package and the special micro-site that was custom built for it were shared widely among the literary and publishing community: by LitHub, Poets & Writers, The Common, Places Journal, and Nieman Lab. It was praised on Twitter by Anne-Marie Slaughter, chief executive officer of New America (160K followers); Lisa Lucas, executive director of the National Book Foundation (37.2K followers); Mathew Ingram of Columbia Journalism Review (86.2K followers); and Anne Helen Petersen of BuzzFeed (53.8K followers). And the design of the package in print and online was featured by the Society of Publication Designers. The package was celebrated for the diversity of voices that were featured, and the wide range of ideas and efforts described therein. The attention from the literary community is valuable to us, as we find that many of our most articulate writers and thinkers come have literary as well as journalistic backgrounds.

Prestigious Award Nomination, Alongside Nation's Top Reporting Talent
In April, Lois Parshley's "Editor in Exile" feature—a 2017 investigation into the erosion of press freedom in the Maldives, told through the lens of editor who was forced to flee the country—was named a Mirror Awards finalist in the profile category, alongside pieces at GQ and Vanity Fair by two of the most prominent magazine writers in the industry. Syracuse University's Mirror Awards are the most prestigious honor given for excellence in media reporting. Other finalists include the Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times and The New Yorker's investigations into the conduct of Harvey Weinstein. Pacific Standard was the only small-budget publication nominated among the industry's giants.

Network Television Influence
Maya Dusenbery's research-backed reporting about gender bias in medicine—specifically, her look at inequities in the treatment of heart attacks in 2015—inspired an episode of ABC's Grey's Anatomy, which aired in February of 2018. Dusenbery wrote about the resulting episode that month, linking back to her previous work, and Grey's writer Elisabeth Finch publicly praised Dusenbery's reporting and analysis ("Mind/heart blown"), as well as publicly crediting Pacific Standard with influencing her thinking and work on the matter.

NPR Appearance
Columnist Michael White spoke with NPR's Phoenix science desk about the emerging technology of gene therapy. His appearance on air builds upon a strong track record of attention and praise from influencers, including Michael Moller, the director general of the United Nations.

State/Federal Government Citations

  • A Pacific Standard story on bureaucratic neglect at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, written by Francie Diep, was cited in a report by Senator Elizabeth Warren advocating for better worker protections. Specifically, our story was cited in the report’s assessment of Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta (who oversees OSHA). Why This Matters: Warren is one the most impactful and recognizable politicians today. She's also been a leading advocate for workers' rights for the better part of a decade. It's encouraging to see that we're not just on her radar, but reporting on little-covered facets of otherwise major issues. (There's a reason she cited PS here and not, say, the New York Times: The Times never reported this story.)

  • A ProPublica story on racial bias in criminal risk scores, cross-posted on and written by Julia Angwin and Jeff Larson, was cited in letter co-written by Senator Corey Bookers and Brian Schatz imploring the Department of Justice to complete a study on the use of algorithmic risk assessment tools for determining prison terms and setting bail. Why This Matters: Booker has staked his political career on criminal justice reform. That he includes PS in anything related to the topic suggests we're a destination for astute criminal justice analysis—an especially impressive feat given the crowded field in this subject.

  • A Pacific Standard story on the efficacy of 12-step programs, written by Maia Szalavitz, was cited by a Pennsylvania Joint State Government Commission on opioid addiction treatment. Why This Matters: The war on opioid has taken the national spotlight, with Pennsylvania recognized as one of the worst-affected states in the entire nation. That PS has been able to have a direct legislative impact in a place like Pennsylvania speaks to the sustained and robust coverage we've been doing around the issue.

Print Feature Stories
Sabine Heinlein's cover story, "My Brother's Keeper" (February 2018 issue), reports on a radical law in Texas that allows accomplices to murder to receive the death penalty, and specifically about a developmentally disabled driver of a getaway car who has been on death row for over 20 years. When it published online, it was listed as the No. 1 article on the popular long-form website, ranking above very strong essays as the most compelling story published by major outlets that week. This recognition shows that there is still a strong appetite among all kinds of readers for deeply reported work on topics as thorny as the death penalty, especially when that reporting is presented beautifully. The story was also recommended by the Marshall Project, Global Comment, the Texas After Violence Project, and The National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, was featured on Digg (in the top spot) and on the Reddit Longreads channel, was shared on Facebook by the Southern Poverty Law Center (1.1 million likes), the National Association for Public Defense (12.7K likes), Texas Moratorium Network (2K likes), Equal Justice USA (5.4K likes), Death Penalty Action (1K likes), and the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers (7K likes), and was featured in The Sunday Longread weekly email round-up. The story was applauded by journalism organizations as well those working for criminal justice reform, which indicates that we publish outstanding journalism that is respected by practitioners in the field.

The PS Interview with Bryan Stevenson (February 2018 issue), titled "What Well-Meaning White People Need to Know About Race," was conceived as an intellectual primer for readers who think they already know how and why they should be sensitive to matters of race. It definitely struck a chord, and it’s been our biggest long-form story of the year so far. It was widely shared on Twitter: by The Skoll Foundation (491K followers), The Open Society Foundation (242K followers), Rolling Stone's Jamil Smith (158K followers), The New Jim Crow (41.6K followers), LA Progressive (51.4K followers), Justice Democrats (70.4K followers), NYU Law School (40.2K followers), Robert Greenwald (19.3K followers), Marc Gunther (38.1K followers), ESPN's Joel Anderson (36.6K followers), the New York Public Library's Paul Holdengraber (15.5K followers). Facebook shares included: EmbraceRace (16K likes), Michelle Alexander (222K likes), Soka Performing Arts Center (5K Likes), Integrated Schools (1.6K likes), Bill Moyers (840K likes), and Brave New Films (556K likes). The share count for the story on our own website is 67.5K. Given our social change mission, maximizing readership is the primary goal for a story like this one, and the sharing and recommending on social media from thought leaders and professionals, both black and white, says that this story satisfied a need in the public conversation about race, and found a wide readership.

Gabriel Thompson's feature "The Red Pill" (March/April 2018) grappled with what a family can and should do when a loved one becomes radicalized and active in white supremacist circles. The story was recommended by the Southern Poverty Law Center, was featured on Digg, was shared on Twitter by Black Conservative (84.9K followers), New York magazine's Max Read (38.7K followers), Anti-Defamation League researcher Mark Pitcavage (10.7K followers), and Humberto Estrella (38.6K followers). The audio version of the story, produced by Audm, is one of the most played stories on the Audm audio platform. The author, along with Josh Damigo, the main source for the story, were interviewed for Oregon-based Jefferson Public Radio. The story's long life on Digg, its life as an audio story and a radio story, and the thoughtful responses it provoked from readers all indicate that this story centered on something in the culture that is prevalent, complicated, and not easily resolved.

Classroom Use

  • A Pacific Standard story on American diners, written by Max Ufberg, was included in the Fall 2017 syllabus for a creative non-fiction class at the University of Texas–Rio Grande Valley. Why This Matters: Given our close ties to research and academics, it's encouraging to see our work appear in more general education classes, not just niche journals.

  • Jonathon Free, a professor at Duke University, includes "'The Ocean Is Boiling': The Complete Oral History of the 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill," on the syllabus for his class on energy and society.

Direct Reader Feedback
This past February, we ran a story about mounting research showing that instant test strips help people use drugs more safely. Staff writer Francie Diep had first written about the strips in 2016. While speaking with a Johns Hopkins scientist for her February story, Francie learned that an assistant of hers had found our 2016 story, that it was the first United States-based news report they had seen about the strips, and that they subsequently used our data in their own work. Francie's story helped spread knowledge about this life-saving overdose-prevention technique from Vancouver, British Columbia, where it originated, to Baltimore, Maryland.

I wanted to reach out to thank you for your recent article on the use of fentanyl strips to prevent overdose and promote safer drug use. I work in harm reduction and am regularly frustrated by news coverage that sensationalizes death and pain without providing new or actionable information. The power of drug user organizing and the deep compassion and ingenuity they bring to this work should be elevated and modeled for others. It is also so disheartening to see writers use language that we know to be hurtful and counterproductive, particularly because people who use drugs have so few opportunities to speak out for themselves. Thank you for treating our work with respect and thoughtfulness.

Lillie Armstrong, MPH
NC Division of Public Health

Larry Bishop, a Buellton, California, resident and member of Safe Energy Now, linked to staff writer Kate Wheeling's coverage of a recent Oil Change International report on how oil production in California undercuts the state's efforts to combat climate change, in emails to all of the Santa Barbara County supervisors asking them to deny permits for new oil wells in the county. The county's planning commission is considering three projects that would drill over 750 new wells in north Santa Barbara County, and the board of supervisors is expected to make the final decision on appeal. The California Sun newsletter also featured this story on the top of the May 23rd edition.

Despite Santa Barbara's reputation as environmentally friendly, it's not at all a given that the supervisors will block the new projects. The county's budget is hurting after last year's wildfires and mudslides, and the oil companies are promising to bring a lot of money and more jobs to the county if these projects are approved:

I am very concerned about the health and environmental effects of the upcoming AERA and ERG proposed expansion of old oil fields. Squeezing the last bits of oil and gas out of these old fields has become much more dangerous and harmful with the ever expanding use of extreme extraction techniques. These include cyclic steam injection through the Santa Maria groundwater table and disposal of toxic oil wastewater into shallower "non-beneficial" aquifers that are adjacent to usable drinking water aquifers.

In addition to these health and safety hazards, expanding these dangerous oil extraction processes runs counter to California's legislated goal of minimizing the effect of climate change by reducing our production of fossil fuel. Please read the attached link below which details the contradiction of California both minimizing fossil fuel use and increasing fossil fuel production. Thank you for your attention to this vital health and safety issue.

Days after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, staff writer Francie Diep wrote about how non-English-speaking communities in Houston were faring. (One in five Houstonians report speaking English less than "very well.") After our story published, the founder of a medical translation service reached out over email and we connected the volunteers with the communities we were directly reporting on:

We just read your article that came out yesterday about immigrants. ... There is a large community of volunteers in place, with access to a phone system also, ready to assist victims. We're comprised of bilingual volunteers and professional interpreters, with the support of multiple agencies and system developers for the sole purpose of helping. This support has allowed us to successfully work in the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston for a few days now. … Would you be able to provide any contact information for the centers and the people you interviewed for your article? We want to lend a hand, but we have to get to the right people.

Staff Appearances / Commitments

  • Nieman Storyboard: The Pitch: Pacific Standard's Executive Editor Shares Some Do's and Don'ts: Jennifer Sahn also mounts a defense of the overwhelmed editor, and why you might not hear back right away when you email.

  • The Open Notebook: A Day in the Life of Max Ufberg: Max Ufberg is the digital director of Pacific Standard, where he oversees the magazine's online editorial operations. He joined the magazine in 2015 and has since written about a range of topics including addiction, the alt-right, and Big Oil. Most of his time, of course, is spent editing, and he’s edited stories that have appeared in the Best American series and have been finalists for national awards.

  • Judging and Nominating Committees: The American Society of Magazine Editors' National Magazine Awards (NJ), The Society of Publication Designers' 53rd Annual Design Competition (TL), The Heising-Simons Foundation's American Mosaic Journalism Prize (NJ), The National Association of Science Writers' Science in Society Awards (FD), The National Association of Science Writers' Diversity Fellowship (FD).

Attention to New D.C. Reporting Efforts
Since opening an office in the Watergate in early 2018, we've covered a number of stories that have benefited from our presence in Washington, D.C., including pieces on Facebook's new social science initiative, the development of a Freethought Caucus, and a National Academies panel examining whether there's a reproducibility crisis in climate science. People are paying attention. These stories have gained traction, with mentions by New York magazine's Daily Intelligencer, Retraction Watch, the Knight Foundation, the American Sociological Association, and JSTOR, among others.

Contributing Writers
David Perry has made consistent waves beyond our core readership: He represented Pacific Standard on the CBC to talk about Gerber's marketing of Down syndrome; he went on Ohio public radio t0 discuss the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA); his reporting in 2017 on Medicare and the ADA were must-reads in the disability community and beyond; he made the decision to appear on Fox Business to discuss the Second Amendment; in some cases, his discussions of #MeToo in the lit community broke new ground; and the national and regional teacher's unions disseminated his coverage of their strikes widely. His piece, "No, #MeToo Is Not a Witch Hunt," was widely cited and aggregated by journalists (e.g. Rebecca Solnit) and shared by prominent #MeToo advocates, including Rose McGowan herself. And "How White American Terrorists Are Radicalized," was cited by Clive Thompson, BoingBoing, Anil Dash, Piper Kerman of Orange Is the New Black, Jamelle Bouie, the Southern Policy Law Center, and many others.

Regular Web Aggregation

  • Pacific Standard stories frequently appear on the Aspen Institute's “Five Best Ideas of the Day” newsletter. Recent examples include Tom Jacobs' "Art Can Help Reduce Prejudice," Ashley Hackett's piece on how restorative justice can prevent violence, and Kate Wheeling on how taste buds may be the tiniest victims of the obesity epidemic.

  • The Washington Post's Plum Line blog finishes each day with a round-up of links, where Pacific Standard's political coverage often appears. Tom Jacobs was recently featured for his quick study write-up of new research showing that President Donald Trump may be doing long-term damage to the GOP's image.

  • Arts-oriented studies covered by Pacific Standard are regularly featured on Arts Journal, a 20-year-old aggregation site widely read by arts lovers and arts professionals.

The Department of Education Is Trying to Promote Native Language Learning
In March, we published a quick hit on the Department of Education's efforts to promote language learning, in both Native dialects and English, among Native Americans. The widely shared post shed light on an under-covered cultural issue—language loss in Native American communities—and highlighted a little-known aspect of the Department of Education's work that affects Native people nationwide. It was shared twice on social media by the Aspen Institute's Center for Native American Youth, a leading organization working on these issues—the exact sort of audience we want endorsing and benefiting from our coverage in this space.

Driver's Ed Is Becoming Harder for Poor Kids to Afford
Kathi Valeii's smart reported piece about the class barriers to a driver's license got picked up by a number of outlets, including a radio segment where Kai Ryssdal interviewed Kathi on Marketplace.

How Women's Studies Is Helping Rural Teens Fix Their Social Culture
Sarah Fuss Kessler's short culture scene from the May 2018 print edition was shared and retweeted widely, including by Arthur Chu and former Canadian Prime Minister Kim Campbell.

A Look at the Education Labor Movements Emerging Across the Country
Our April round-up and analysis of the teacher strikes that have rocked public school districts across the country was recommended by The 74 Million, a well-respected non-profit education site, showing that the right outlets are paying attention to our education coverage.

Stalled Out: How Social Bias Is Segregating America's Bathrooms
A Know It All column from 2017 that traces the history of segregated restrooms, was cited in a Chicago Kent-Law Review article published in March of 2018, titled "Sick and Tired of Hearing About the Damn Bathrooms." Bathrooms have become a battleground for transgender rights, and courts throughout the United States have thus far been inconsistent in their decisions about whether or not Title IX's ban on sex discrimination applied to transgender students. The review article, which makes the case that it does, could influence the future of the debate in both public and legal spheres.