In the beginning...
The very first time I tried to explain what Understandably was about. Also, 7 other things worth your time.
I hope you’re all enjoying vacation! Wait, I’m the one on vacation. Well, I hope you’re enjoying the day nonetheless.
I wanted to take the opportunity to share something that I consider to be part of the origin story of Understandably. It’s the original Volume 1, Post No. 1 email that I wrote in 2019.
This was so early, in fact, that I don’t think I even sent it to anyone. But it’s what I thought this whole thing was going to be about back then.
It’s interesting how it’s changed—but also hasn’t. Here’s what I wrote way back in September 2019:
Hey there. I’m Bill Murphy Jr. I’m the guy responsible for Understandably. Good, bad, or indifferent, it’s all on me.
This is a brand-new website/email/media thingy. I haven’t 100% figured out how to define it, but I think it’s about “the story behind the story.”
Here’s an example. I read a great article in The Atlantic by Rachel Monroe.
She tells the story of Matthew Cox, who was convicted of fraud and sentenced to 26 years in federal prison, where he turned his life around—well, maybe, that’s a big part of the story. He’s now trying to become a true-crime writer, based largely on the lives of all the other criminals he was locked up with.
That’s a pretty wild story, but what I’m getting at here is why she’s writing about him.
How did she even know about this prison inmate doing two and a half decades?
Did she hear about him while writing another story? Did she go to college with his cousin? Did she see a quick story about him on some blog somewhere, then dig deeper?
Nope. He cold emailed her. She was fascinated. (“I am an inmate at the Coleman Federal Correctional Complex in Florida,” she says he wrote. “I’m also a true crime writer.”)
Hmmm. I’ve been a writer for 20 years, one way or another—from my early days in college and at the New Haven Register up to my work these days as a contributing editor at Inc.com, with a lot of stops in between.
Let’s just say: I get pitched all the time.
It’s not that all pitches are horrible. Occasionally, someone pitches me a story and I love it, and I run with it—though sometimes I pursue a different angle—but it does well. (This one was like that.)
But I usually find my own ideas and dig up my own interviews. It’s very rare that I even have time to respond to pitches—never mind take the nugget and wind up writing an entire article.
But then this guy, Cox, from a prison cell(!), writes an email to a writer for The Atlantic and gets a 5,800-word profile out of it.
(By the way, he got his sentence reduced and he’s out now. Check out Monroe’s article if his story sounds interesting.)
We’ll talk about other “behind the scenes” factors in different contexts, too.
Why do a group of companies all make the same odd strategic decision at the same time? Why does a pretty ordinary social media post blow up and drive tons of engagement (and millions in sales)?
And even though most of what I write about these days is either business or media-related, I’m sure a lot of other topics will come up, too.
I’m writing this on the first day, so I’m sure it will evolve. I hope you’ll check it out and keep me honest. Sign up for it here, or click the button below.
Anyway, that’s what I set out to do when I began: Write about stories behind other stories. I think that’s still part of my goal—but only part of it. As for articulating more of it?
Maybe that’s some of what I’ll figure out while visiting the beach with my family this week.
If you missed the comments answering Friday’s open-ended questions, I think they’re worth checking out. Pick a question, answer it yourself, and join in!
7 other things worth your time
The top doctor at a Florida hospital made an emotional plea for people to get vaccinated against COVID-19. "We are not fearmongers, we are not trying to scare you,” said Dr. Timothy Regan, chief medical officer for Polk County's Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center. “But here is reality … [W]e are bringing eight- and ten-year-olds to the bedside of their parents to say their last goodbyes. We are having teenagers in the ICU say goodbye to their parents.” (Disclosure: Dr. Regan is my sister-in-law’s brother, so the fact that he was quoted like this jumped out at me.) (Newsweek)
The pandemic-delayed 2020 Tokyo Olympics closed out on Sunday after a challenging run, with the US topping the medals table at the last minute, earning 113 medals, of which 39 were gold. (USA today)
Reconsider your summer festival plans: Experts are tracking potential COVID superspreader events linked to huge outdoor concerts in Michigan and Oregon, indicating packed outdoor gatherings may not be as safe as previously thought. (Rolling Stone)
A Black Realtor and his clients, including a 15-year-old boy, were surrounded by armed officers and handcuffed during a house showing in Michigan after a neighbor called the police. They were freed after the “misunderstanding” was resolved. (CNN)
The Biden administration is considering withholding federal funds from various programs to spur more Americans to get vaccinated. (WashPost)
According to the US Department of Labor, there are almost 1 million more open jobs than there are job seekers right now—and workers aren’t in a rush to get back to low-paying jobs with little stability. (CNBC)
Restaurant chain Applebee’s is seeing a boom thanks to a viral song, “Fancy Like” by Walker Hayes, which waxes poetic about date night: "We fancy like Applebee's on a date night, got that Bourbon Street steak with the Oreo shake." (CNN)
Thanks for reading. Photo credit: Pixabay. Want to see all my mistakes? Click here.