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Business News/ Weekend / Mint’s finest narrative journalism from this year
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Mint’s finest narrative journalism from this year

15 of Mint's best Long Stories from 2023

Some of our best Long Stories from 2023.Premium
Some of our best Long Stories from 2023.

This is a special edition of this newsletter that focuses on our top long-form or narrative journalism pieces. To get to the list – The Best of Mint Long Story 2023 – skip the first section. But to know how we make this happen, read on.

Goutam Das, our editor who oversees Mint Long Story, can often be found having dinner in Mint’s newsroom as he mulls over copies on his screen. Perhaps in pursuit of being a top editor of narrative journalism or merely as a person of fine taste, his dinner is usually sourced from one of Delhi’s finer, avant garde restaurants. However, I see it as no coincidence that our resident editor of long form narratives is a curious soul, who obsesses over details and enjoys nuance. Let me explain.

When you have a meal at a fine dining restaurant, you don’t want to be rushed. On the contrary, perhaps you would like to be fussed over by the staff; indulged by the kitchen. You want the menu to appeal to your senses. You may yearn for a stimulating ambience. The meal should have well-rounded courses, and it should (hopefully) become something memorable. Of course, there are other elements that master chefs and restaurateurs work towards that give you your fix. These may or may not be visible to the untrained among us. But it doesn’t get in the way of enjoying a good meal.

What is he cooking?
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What is he cooking? (Mint)

Long-form writing or narrative journalism is, in a lot of ways, quite similar.

A long-form writer needs to have a story or idea powerful enough to engage a reader for a longer period of time. The piece needs a well-defined beginning, middle and end – the narrative arc. And it needs to be tightly-edited, with each word doing something for the reader — without hanging on in vain.

The story may also be embellished with a bold visual element (think of a powerful photograph or artful illustration) that draws the reader in, getting them to commit to reading it over the next 10-15 minutes. Of course, it could get them to think about it afterwards. Food for thought?

I understand that narrative journalism is not for everyone. Like fine dining, it is for those who want to push the boundaries of their thinking — for the worldly-curious. It is for those who have the patience to consume in courses. And it is for those that seek new tastes and experiences, yet in a balanced way. But make no mistake, those that seek and savour narrative journalism expect to be served well. A poor long-form piece has the power to turn a reader away forever. And that’s why narrative journalism is hard. Just ask Goutam (goutam.das@htlive.in).

Do you think it is possible for this enterprise to get harder in any way? Well, add investigative elements to a long-form narrative and there you have it – arguably one of the most difficult areas of professional practice in our trade.

Investigative journalism is also fraught with risks. The first risk is the process itself. As I heard Ravi Krishnan, Mint’s editor-in-chief, explain to a colleague this week: “A reporter could spend days going down a rabbit hole [chasing a lead] with nothing to show for it at the end of that effort." That’s because an investigative story starts out by being a hypothesis that eventually needs to be proven. To achieve this, a reporter needs corroboration from multiple sources or material evidence, which could take time to source or not end up happening at all.

Come to think of it, Woodward and Bernstein were chefs too
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Come to think of it, Woodward and Bernstein were chefs too

Riskier still, is that it could also take a reporter (and their sources) into dangerous territory because at the heart of it, investigative journalism is about exposing wrongdoing. This often involves people in positions of power. The repercussions of reporting and subsequently publishing are fraught with risks such as defamation suits, physical threats, and even smear campaigns.

However, like all things that have high risk associated with them, investigative stories (when they work out) reward us handsomely. Not only do we see impact, we also see significant engagement from you, our readers. And then coverage from other news outlets follows — we call this agenda-setting journalism.

We found this and a few more insights when compiling our best articles from 2023. Many of our top pieces from this year were great pieces of investigative work. Here’s thanks to you good folks, who read these articles with enthusiasm and fervour. You’ve provided us with a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

~~~

Here are the 15 top Mint Long Story pieces from this year:

Tale of two states: What numbers tell us about AP, Telangana

A decade ago, Telangana was carved out of Andhra Pradesh. This bifurcation seems to have worked quite well for Telangana, which has developed its power and water supply systems. Multiple new schemes have also helped growth in the area. But since the new state also received Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh is caught with the raw end of the deal. Read N. Madhavan's on-ground report on the trials and tribulations between the two states, and why one is doing much better than the other.

Running from cover: Why Star Health is under fire

This is not a story of a startup, but a well-established and highly regulated insurance company that started rejecting claims of its customers on flimsy grounds. Star Health is a top health insurance provider in India. However, its claims to settlement ratio had gone awry. Aprajita Sharma from Mint Money pieced together this probing story into the company’s practice by speaking to several of its customers.

Akasa vs pilots: The inside story [Free to read]

Ever been on a flight where the engine fails mid-journey? I hope not. But that's how officials at Akasa Air must have felt when shortly after completing a year of operations, 10% of their pilots quit in one go. Flight cancellations and widespread chaos followed. Mint's aviation reporters Anu Sharma and Mihir Mishra spoke to sources and uncovered a deep-seated tussle between the management and pilots, which put the brakes on India's youngest airline's ascent.

Inside the chaos at Pristyn Care [Free to read]

This is an investigative deep dive about an emerging healthcare company that raised nearly $180 million from marquee global investors. Pristyn Care, a venture-backed startup that offered elective surgeries, got in trouble when one of its patients died due to its negligence and cut-throat practices. Ranjani Raghavan blew the lid on the unethical goings on at the company and why its business model and governance processes were actually working against the interests of its customers. An essential piece of reportage on a new economy business that had it all going well for itself, until it didn’t.

Get ready to see a lot more of these around
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Get ready to see a lot more of these around (Bloomberg)

Meet the 12,000-crore home sales club

Madhurima Nandy, Mint’s resident real estate expert, profiled the four leading companies in residential real estate – Gurugram-based DLF, Bengaluru-based Prestige Group, Mumbai-based Godrej Properties and Macrotech Developers. Her piece captures the frenzy around home buying post the pandemic, especially at the more luxurious end of the spectrum. This is reportage that unpacks the trend around one of India’s most loved asset classes, that saw a zesty return to life, and forecasts what will happen in the year ahead.

Does the Tata Group still need TAS?

The legendary Tata Administrative Service (TAS) is an in-house elite management training facility of the Tata group, India’s largest conglomerate by market value. The 67-year-old institute has been the nursery for the group to nurture many of its senior executives, including CEOs of its group companies. However, in recent years observers have questioned whether it has led to a blue blood syndrome among its graduates and if TAS even meets the changing needs of the Tata group. This deep dive by Devina Sengupta explores the work and institutional culture of the Tatas (no less) but in a manner that spurred conversations on the subject both within and outside it.

Ouch.
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Ouch.

How Ola wilfully endangered its riders [Free to read]

The electric vehicle segment, especially for scooters, has seen tremendous interest from investors and consumers alike. However, one of the models from Ola Electric, the S1 Pro, was causing riders problems. And in many cases it was leading to serious accidents. An investigation by Alisha Sachdev, our auto correspondent, revealed a faulty design and weak strength of the scooter’s front suspension, a well-known problem that the company chose to ignore. A day before our story was published, Ola announced the recall of thousands of scooters. Eventually, the company was forced to admit its fault and add a reinforcement to the scooter’s suspension. More importantly, the new model of the S1 Pro comes with a much safer twin fork suspension. Here’s an investigative story that held a powerful brand to account, while achieving our intended impact.

Why Pramila Devi uses her slippers sparingly

To understand what’s really going on in an economy, one needs to take both, the bird’s eye view and the worm’s eye view. In other words, the most complete picture emerges from both the macro and micro perspectives. This is exactly what Sayantan Bera did by focusing on the sales of specific types of footwear in India and juxtaposing it with a detailed profile of Pramila Devi, a resident of Methi in Bihar. Using this example, along with plenty of macro economic data, Sayantan illustrates the often-discussed K-shaped economic recovery – a fine piece of reportage combined with economic analysis that explains what really is happening in India’s post pandemic recovery.

Then, now, forever.
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Then, now, forever. (Mint)

Amidst an onslaught from SUVs, an old favourite stands tall

This auto industry article unpacks consumer behaviour to explain the choices of India’s middle class. Sumant Banerji reports on the success of the Maruti Suzuki Wagon R, an iconic car model that continues to hold its own for a variety of reasons. It is precisely these reasons that Maruti leveraged to drive Wagon R’s performance. But the company was surprised by how much the model, its positioning and pricing, continues to influence the buying decisions of Indians.

The man behind the $50 billion sell-off

We began 2023 with a short-seller attack on the Adani group. The conglomerate, whose owner Gautam Adani was Asia’s richest man till that point, eventually saw about $107 billion of its market value being eroded. The report, titled “How The World’s 3rd Richest Man is Pulling The Largest Con in Corporate History" was published by Hindenburg Research, a New York-based firm. It made allegations of corporate fraud, stock manipulation and insider trading. Given the impact it made on one of India’s largest conglomerates, we decided to peel the layers of the onion of who exactly is behind Hindenburg Research. Here’s the story of Nathan Anderson, the founder of Hindenburg, by Varun Sood.

An IIT degree guarantees a great pay cheque, right? Wrong

For decades the idea of graduating from one of India’s prestigious government-run professional institutes, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) meant that one could look forward to a successful career, deeply correlated to earning well. However, Devina Sengupta gave this long-held notion a reality check. Her piece explores the two tiers that plague the IIT brand name, the difficult choices of taking student loans to attend coaching classes and IIT itself, and what the majority of fresh graduates earn across various industries. The reality is many graduates, especially for the perceived lower tier, do not get a job on campus.

New lottery: The human cost of F&O trade

The stock market has long attracted people who want to increase their wealth by leaps and bounds. Traditional wisdom and past data will show you that this takes a lot of patience, but that doesn't deter investors. This past year, futures and options (F&O) trading seemed to be the new big thing among those with huge risk appetites. But only 10% of investors in F&O trading make any money at all — despite this startling statistic, F&O trading volumes increased by leaps and bounds. Jash Kriplani and Aprajita Sharma spoke to people who had suffered huge losses, and their experience with this kind of trading. Treat this as a cautionary tale, contrasting against quick-rich schemes.

The ugly underbelly of BoB’s app usage fiasco

What happens when there's high stress at work, and the boss is unrelenting? Employees start to take shortcuts. Temporary reprieve is followed by pats on the back, but all of them ultimately lead to a disaster. That's what happened with Bank of Baroda when they launched their new app, ‘bob world’. Under pressure from senior officials to increase download and subscription numbers, India’s second-largest state-owned lender crossed many red lines to boost its banking app’s user numbers. Shayan Ghosh details these many misgivings in his excellently reported piece.

Deciphering Rashmi Saluja’s success: The doc with a magic wand

Religare, the financial services group, was in trouble post the exit of its jailed founders some years ago. It has had a remarkable turnaround. This came on the watch of Rashmi Saluja, a medical doctor, who became the chairperson of the group in 2019. Religare, who’s subsidiaries include Care Health insurance received an open offer to be acquired by the Burman family (Dabur Group). However, Saluja and her board rejected it. She is now embroiled in a battle with the Burmans. But who really is she? And how did she manage to architect this revival in a business that she had no training or background in? Ranjani Raghavan attempts to answers these questions in this profile of the enigma that is Saluja.

Inside the nightmarish ethics breach at TCS

Perhaps the last place one might imagine a bribery scandal taking place would be within the Tata Group, which built its reputation in this way. And within the Tatas, TCS, India's largest exporter of software services, was arguably the epitome of clean business practices. That was until the ghastly jobs-for-bribes issue emerged in June. Temporary staffing firms enable large tech companies like TCS to execute their projects with speed. However, it was in the empanelment of these external firms that governance lapses emerged. As it turned out, the head of TCS's staffing group was taking bribes and promoting firms in which he had relatives at the helm. To understand exactly how greed undermined processes at a company with world-class governance, read Varun Sood and Devina Sengupta's deep dive, which followed the investigative break by the same reporter just two weeks prior.

That’s all for this week. We hope you enjoyed this special edition. Please share your feedback on our curation or about anything. You can write to me at nikhil.k@livemint.com or feedback@livemint.com.

Thank you for your time and here’s wishing you a merry New Year's weekend.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikhil Kanekal
Head of Subscriber Experience
Catch all the Business News, Market News, Breaking News Events and Latest News Updates on Live Mint. Download The Mint News App to get Daily Market Updates.
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Published: 22 Dec 2023, 11:13 PM IST
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