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A look at our favorite stories of 2021

Pine Island Center Director Robbie Fearn
Jason deBruyn
Pine Island Center Director Robbie Fearn plays bird call recordings at one of the survey points on the Pine Island Reserve.

As 2021 draws to a close, WUNC staff take a look back at the stories that stood out during another remarkable pandemic year.

WUNC journalists produced sound-rich treks through nature, poignant memorials, and taboo-breaking conversations — and they found new ways to connect with sources and listeners as they navigated another COVID-19 year. We hope you enjoy a selection of our favorite stories from 2021.

Secretive Birds Are 'Canaries In Coal Mines' For Marshes In Outer Banks

Jason deBruyn, Reporter

"My favorite story this year was one that took me out to Pine Island and Corolla all the way out in Currituck Sound. I was able to follow some folks with the North Carolina Audubon Society as they surveyed secretive marsh birds. ... It's a really important story, of course, but it was my favorite because there was so much rich sound involved in that story."
Jason deBruyn

Yoshi Soto Morales, First NC Child To Die From COVID-19, Lived Life To The Fullest

Cole del Charco, Morning Reporter

"The family was very kind to speak with me and share their memories of their sister of their daughter. And I think it's a very powerful testament to their love for Yoshi that they wanted as many people as possible to know her story. Yoshi was an incredible girl and I hope you take the time to remember her and the other children we've lost during this pandemic."
Cole del Charco

No More Vigils: The Call For Sex Worker Protection In The Wake Of Atlanta Shootings

"We talked with Dia Dynasty who's an Asian American professional sex worker in New York City. And the interview with her really sticks with me because she talked about kind of what's missing from the conversation and how the focus on policing sex work really drives the industry further underground and really doesn't put the human rights and bodily autonomy of sex workers at the forefront of the conversation."
Anita Rao
Anita Rao, Host of Embodied

Remembering Chris Goeke, A Young U.S. Army Officer Killed In Afghanistan In 2009

Jay Price, Military Reporter

"My favorite story this year that I did was about First Lieutenant Chris Goeke, who was killed in Afghanistan in 2010. And to say that it was my favorite story doesn't mean that it was a warm, fuzzy thing. It was just unspeakably sad. ... But doing a story about him allowed me to figure out what it was about Chris that had caught my attention and gave me a chance to talk with his really extraordinary circle of friends and family about what it was that made him special and why they go they work so hard to try to keep his memory alive."
Jay Price

Behind The Lines

Jeff Tiberii, Capitol Bureau Chief & Host WUNC Politics Podcast
Jeff Tiberii

"Behind the Lines is a comprehensive look at redistricting in your state and why it matters and how redistricting has contributed to extremism and American politics. It was a lot of fun to do. It was a heavy lift. It was challenging to do. I was ultimately really proud of the work that Charlie [Shelton-Ormond] and I did."
Jeff Tiberii

Yes, Chapel Hill's Brooklyn Harker is a football player. Get used to it.

Mitchell Northam, Digital News Producer
Mitchell Northam

"Most stories about girls playing football are about them breaking barriers, but this one was more about acceptance. Brooklyn's teammates and coaches in Chapel Hill welcomed her with open arms and put her in the best position to help them. ... The story is also about a growing trend. Brooklyn is not an anomaly. More young women are playing football and the haters are just going to have to get used to it."
Mitchell Northam

Black Widow

Lindsay Foster Thomas, Content Director

"There was one episode of one show, in particular, a moment where when I first experienced listening, it really made me just sit in my car and, and cry like a deep guttural surprising cry. You may have guessed it was all thanks to the podcast, Great Grief. And the moment that I'm thinking of is in episode three, Black Widow. When Nnenna [Freelon] first expresses what she felt after her husband, Phil died. ... It was everything in her voice, just the timbre and the tone that really just moved me to tears."
Lindsay Foster Thomas

Hurricane Florence Devastated New Bern Three Years Ago. The City Is Prepping For the Next 'Big One'

Celeste Gracia, Environment Reporter

"I'm choosing this as my favorite story of this year because I was able to travel and do a lot of on the ground reporting, which is something I hadn't been able to do for a really long time. And before going to New Bern, I did a lot of research into the city's resiliency plan, just looking through public documents and watching public meetings. So there was a lot of legwork involved, but I feel like it really paid off."
Celeste Gracia

Fewer Cells, More Solutions

Charlie Shelton-Ormond, Podcast Producer

"Too often in this community, people are funneled into detainment and incarceration when they need more sustainable health care options for both mental and physical health. The story showed it isn't a black and white issue of activists versus law enforcement. Instead, it feels like many people in the community want to end up, you know, in the same body of water, but might be swimming down different streams to get there."
Charlie Shelton-Ormond

Have You Seen This Worm?

Elizabeth Friend, Producer

"One of my favorite things I worked on this year was probably that first episode of CREEP about these weird and wonderful flatworms. I've been obsessed with these Hammerhead flatworms since they first showed up in my yard in 2012. I was so excited to share this obsession with the world. It was like scratching an itch."
Elizabeth Friend

Pleasure By Design: The Art And Tech Of Sex Toys

Kaia Findlay, Producer Embodied

"My favorite story from the year was our one called Pleasure By Design about the art and science of sex toys. And it was my favorite story because it really stayed true to our motto of taking on the taboo. I think I've never really seen any content about sex toys before and it was stuff that I had a lot of questions about. And our guests were really cool, and it was awesome to learn about technology and design, but also accessibility."
Kaia Findlay

Community members in Southeast Raleigh find creative solutions to combat food deserts

Kamaya Truitt, Director of Youth Reporting, New Talent and Community Partnerships

"I enjoyed this piece a lot because it was my first real experience at solution-based reporting. I mean, I really felt like I grinded hard to get all the necessary voices on the issue and the efforts in the community to combat the food injustices that they were dealing with — from the youth at southeast Raleigh who were sustaining a community garden, to Jessica Peacock and her family community market, all the way to the council in charge of the zoning Jonathan Melton and his efforts to engage the community."
Kamaya Truitt

Remote Students Across North Carolina Return To School To Take A High Stakes Test

Liz Schlemmer, Education Reporter

"My favorite story from last year is actually a series of stories that I did between the 2020 and 2021 school year. ... And these stories were about Lakewood Elementary, in Durham, and how they were dealing with the pandemic. What I really loved about this is that it wasn't just a series of stories about the problems they were facing, but also how they were really facing them head-on, and taking care of their kids, and treating them like whole people."
Liz Schlemmer

Persevering Through The Pandemic: How A Refugee Family Built Community In Greensboro

Naomi Prioleau, Greensboro Reporter

"One of my favorite stories from this year was a story that I did on a refugee family dealing with the pandemic and the refugee cap at the same time. ... I was really happy to share that story because it just goes to show that these things that you think are happening so far away, 'Oh refugees, that's happening somewhere else,' — it's happening in your backyard. It's happening to someone that you maybe know and you haven't really heard their story."
Naomi Prioleau

Stories, features and more by WUNC News Staff. Also, features and commentary not by any one reporter.
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