There used to be a time in journalism when certain points on the calendar were known as “slow news” periods. The middle of the summer. The end of the year. Many newsrooms had skeleton staff during those times. But the public’s demand for instant news – aided and abetted by the explosion of online journalism – means there are no longer any “slow news” cycles.

The recent late-December-early-January period exemplifies how major stories ignore the calendar: the deaths of soccer superstar Pelé and Pope Benedict; the ongoing dysfunction of the U.S Congress and the horrifying near-death experience of NFL player Damar Hamlin. All four stories have dominated the news cycles of early 2023 – and The Conversation global network has provided some great analyses and explanatory stories on these topics.

For your reading pleasure on the first weekend of 2023, I’ve assembled a collection of stories that will give you some much-needed insight into the issues behind the top stories of the new year.

Have a great weekend – and we’ll be back in your Inbox on Monday.

Scott White

CEO | Editor-in-Chief

Weekend Reads: Behind the headlines of 2023's first major stories

Kevin McCarthy: why Republicans are preventing their own leader becoming US speaker

Richard Hargy, Queen's University Belfast

Breakaway Republicans are blocking the election of a new speaker of the US House of Representatives.

House speaker election: fight over Kevin McCarthy’s leadership has exposed limits of Trump’s power

Thomas Gift, UCL

The battle over the next speaker will not stop Republicans blocking Joe Biden’s agenda when it is over.

Ancient Greece had extreme polarization and civil strife too – how Thucydides can help us understand Jan. 6 and its aftermath

Rachel Hadas, Rutgers University - Newark

The insights of an ancient historian show that the causes of civil unrest are often the same over time and across societies.

Christian nationalism is downplayed in the Jan. 6 report and collective memory

Joyce Dalsheim, University of North Carolina – Charlotte; Gregory Starrett, University of North Carolina – Charlotte

Thousands gathered to express their collective identity and desire to preserve the nation’s political and religious heritage – and to uphold what they saw as the rightful outcome of the 2020 election.

Pope Benedict XVI: A man at odds with the modern world who leaves a legacy of intellectual brilliance and controversy

Mathew Schmalz, College of the Holy Cross

Pope Benedict XVI led the Catholic Church at a crucial time and had to confront a growing sexual abuse scandal.

Pope Benedict faulted over sex abuse claims

David Gibson, Fordham University

Pope Benedict XVI’s many years of wrestling with the abuse crisis highlight the Catholic Church’s broader challenges addressing it.

Damar Hamlin injury: Was it commotio cordis? How to prevent a potentially fatal blow to the heart in young athletes

Grant James Dickey, Western University; Haojie Mao, Western University; Kewei Bian, Western University; Sakib Ul Islam, Western University

Commotio cordis is the result of blunt trauma to the heart, and is one of the leading causes of sudden cardiac death in youth sports. Improvements in protective equipment may help prevent it.

Sports broadcasters have a duty to report injuries responsibly – in the case of NFL’s Damar Hamlin, they passed the test

Nicole Kraft, The Ohio State University

ESPN commentators avoided speculation and struck a compassionate tone as player received treatment.

Pelé was more than a great footballer – he revolutionised Brazil’s football industry

Christina Philippou, University of Portsmouth; Sarthak Mondal, University of Portsmouth

Pelé’s death in December saw the world mourn one of football’s all time greats, but his contributions to the business of football were by no means less great.

Pelé was ensnared by ‘Brazilian-style racism’ but stood firm as dictatorship tried to keep him playing

José Paulo Florenzano, Pontifical Catholic University of São Paulo

Pelé become a symbol of the Black diaspora, a pan-African reference point and cosmopolitan icon.