Help me find a long-form story to report for Slate.

Media criticism.
July 20 2010 6:00 PM

Pour Me a Fresca

I need your help finding a long-form story to report for Slate.

Can of Fresa soda.

If you haven't been following Slate's series of long-form journalism stories, dubbed "Frescas" by our editor, David Plotz, I hate you.

The Fresca series was birthed by Plotz two years ago when he decided to turn Slate writers and editors loose for a month or longer to report big, complicated stories that exploited the Web's horsepower. The pieces were called Frescas not because the Coca-Cola Co. agreed to underwrite them or because they reeked of no-cal grapefruit-soda awfulness but because Plotz had become habituated to the beverage and had taken to issuing chiding, all-office e-mails whenever someone drank the last cold Fresca and didn't replenish the stock in the refrigerator.

Advertisement

Hoping to bring the imperious Plotz down a peg, Slate Senior Editor Josh Levin referred to the monthlong rotations as "Fresca Fellowships" in a reply-all e-mail. Plotz adopted the phrase, and in no time even writers outsideSlate were calling the projects Frescas without breaking into a grin. Since Plotz announced the idea, we've published nearly a dozen excellent Frescas, earning tens of millions of page views and a much-deserved plaudit from the Nieman Journalism Lab.

Like puppies in a litter, every Fresca is wonderful, and I have no favorites (none that I'll confess to, at least). William Saletan did a series on memory, John Dickerson wrote about risk, Julia Turner explored the language of signage, Chris Wilson essayed on how social networking helped capture Saddam Hussein, Dahlia Lithwick wrote a chick-lit novel in real time with the help of Slate readers, and Josh Levin speculated on how the United States might end. Other topics treated to a Fresca bath: dentistry, laboratory animals, the absence of a 9/11 follow-up attack, a husband-and-wife swap of roles. This evening, the final installment of Emily Bazelon's bullying Fresca should be up on Slate.

But where is Jack Shafer's Fresca?

I must admit that I'm a half-dozen cans short of six-pack.

When Plotz came up with the Fresca concept, the first idea I threw at him was an anthology of the best and worst of yellow journalism. Thanks to W. Joseph Campbell's books Yellow Journalism: Puncturing the Myths, Defining the Legaciesand The Year That Defined American Journalism: 1897 and the Clash of Paradigms, I became enamored of the journalism published by William Randolph Hearst, Joseph Pulitzer, and others in the 1890s. Plotz gave the OK, but after a couple of weeks of spinning through microfilm at the Library of Congress, I realized that my enthusiasm for yellow journalism would not successfully translate into a Fresca. I feared that except for a couple of pieces, such as Winifred Black's coverage of the Galveston hurricane of 1900 and a couple of other pieces, the concept contained insufficient fizz.

The second Fresca idea Plotz approved was something about software development. I've already forgotten why I dumped it. The third was an examination of the pariah-making machine that the sex-offender registry has become. Alas, as I plowed through the literature, I found the story had already been told and told well, and I had no interest in transcribing the correct verdicts issued by many other juries. Then I geared up to debunk the pseudoscience of the polygraph, but I bailed on that idea before presenting it to Plotz. The big, definitive book has already been written.

Again and again, I pitched great ideas—a feature on the naval air station at Diego Garcia, for example—that I abandoned after a library visit convinced me that they had already been executed (another example: Wired's ship-salvage story). I'm content to wait for inspiration to strike, but Plotz isn't, which means that in coming to wit's end in my search for an original, potent topic, I've decided to turn to you, my cantankerous readers, to help me find a Fresca-worthy subject.

What kind of idea am I looking for? I'm not desperate to write about the press, but neither would I reject a good press idea. As I review my back pages as both a writer and an editor, I find that I enjoy starting fights, debunking myths, vilifying media moguls, and, of course, thinking about drugs. There's almost no story I wouldn't do—as long as it's meaty and hasn't been pecked to death already. Sports. Business. Crime. Politics. Policy. Nature. The arts. Biography. History. Physics. Ballistics. The Islets of Langerhans. Anthropology. Quality control. Edgar G. Ulmer. The Heaphy Track. Dressmaking. Nematodes. Real estate. Egos. Ids. Derivatives. Fashion. Baseball. Philately. I am an ocean that will refuse no river. Send your ideas to slate.pressbox@gmail.com and please put the word Fresca in the subject head so I can sort the e-mails.

This isn't a contest. No prize will be given to the reader who proposes a Fresca I end up writing. All ideas will become my property upon submission. On the upside, no salesman will visit your home. But remember, the bar is high, as the previous Frescas prove. If worse comes to worst, I'll write a Fresca about how bad your ideas are.

Like Slate on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
Damned Spot
Sept. 30 2014 9:00 AM Now Stare. Don’t Stop. The perfect political wife’s loving gaze in campaign ads.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 30 2014 10:44 AM Bull---- Market America is overlooking a plentiful renewable resource: animal manure.
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 30 2014 10:10 AM A Lovable Murderer and Heroic Villain: The Story of Australia's Most Iconic Outlaw
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal. But… What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 30 2014 7:36 AM Almost Humane What sci-fi can teach us about our treatment of prisoners of war.
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 30 2014 7:30 AM What Lurks Beneath The Methane Lakes of Titan?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.