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The stories that captured your attention in 2021

The Old Well on the UNC- Chapel Hill campus.
Brian Batista
The Old Well on the UNC- Chapel Hill campus.

This past year was an eventful one. Between developments around the pandemic, racial justice, redistricting, education, sports, and more, WUNC journalists tracked the stories that mattered to our audience.

Vaccines began to roll out globally, but pandemic-related challenges continued as we grappled with deaths and the long-term impact of COVID-19.

Across the country, monuments to the Confederacy kept falling, and a spotlight on racial injustices and police violence remained. The nation turned its attention to North Carolina a few times – from the killing of Andrew Brown Jr., to coverage about gerrymandering and redistricting in the state, to the retirement of longtime Tar Heels’ head coach Roy Williams.

Some of you were struck by our podcast episodes, on topics ranging from why some faculty of color were leaving UNC-Chapel Hill, similarities between Nikole Hannah-Jones and Pauli Murray’s battle with the school, and Embodied’s installment on couples who stay together despite being separated by prison walls.

With the year coming to a close, we’re looking back on WUNC-produced stories that captured your attention, according to our data. Here is a selection of the stories that were our most-read in 2021.



Judge orders NC to spend $1.7B more on public schools, in Leandro case milestone

“The Leandro case dates back to 1994 when families and school boards in five low-wealth counties sued the state of North Carolina arguing that their children's educational opportunities were not the same as children in wealthier districts.”

Monday marks the return of in-person teaching at Wake County Public Schools. Students arrive at Davis Drive Elementary to temperature checks and health screenings in the carpool line.
Kate Medley
for WUNC

What’s in the state budget for teacher and school employee pay?

“The state budget Governor Roy Cooper signed into law Thursday spends hundreds of millions of dollars to increase educator pay and compensation over the next two years.”

Alice Vergueiro/Abraji

UNC Board Of Trustees To Meet Wednesday Amid Calls For Nikole Hannah-Jones Tenure Vote

“She signed a contract to start work as a professor in the journalism school this week but has said subsequently she will not accept the position without tenure.”


Joann Anderson
UNC Health Southeastern
UNC Health Southeastern
Joann Anderson is the CEO of UNC Health Southeastern in Robeson County

‘We’re In A Dire Situation:’ NC Hospital CEO Sounds Alarm On Spike In COVID Cases

“Chaos is about the only thing I can say. I know that's a horrible word to use for hospital. But right now there's a high level of stress. There's a lot of anxiety from the staff. People are tired.”

Wes Martin in the hospital
Jeri Martin
Wes Martin in the hospital. Martin has been vaccinated and regularly wears masks, but when he had to go to the hospital for a non-Covid-19 related illness, he faced long wait times because of unvaccinated Covid-19 patients in the hospital.

Unvaccinated Covid Patients Are Taking Up Hospital Beds. Now, Vaccinated Patients Are Getting Frustrated

“But for many vaccinated people, images of crowded emergency rooms have invoked anger. Some would like to see people who have been vaccinated and wearing masks get priority medical treatment at hospitals. They say just as hospitals routinely triage patients, why not include vaccination status as one of the factors in that triage?”


The 2020 NWSL Draft
Mitchell Northam
The new 2020 NWSL game ball sits on the stage at the league’s college draft in Baltimore on Jan. 16, 2020.

Commissioner resigns, NWSL postpones games after accusations against former NC Courage coach Paul Riley

“Baird was the subject of criticism because it was revealed in the Athletic story that players contacted the commissioner directly earlier this year with their concerns about Riley.”

Army Duke Basketball
Ben McKeown
Duke Head Coach Mike Krzyzewski awaits the start of an NCAA college basketball game against Army in Durham, N.C., Friday, Nov. 12, 2021.

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski To Retire After Upcoming Basketball Season

“Coach K’s retirement announcement comes just two months after his longtime local rival – UNC’s Roy Williams – announced his retirement after 33 seasons on the job. Krzyzewski, 74, has been the head coach of men’s basketball at Duke since 1980.”


Laurir Paulik
In Sampson County, frequent hog sightings and significant crop damage have prompted federal and local government groups to launch a new pilot project to tackle the problem in the area.

Sampson County Is The New Testing Ground For A Plan To Root Out Feral Swine

“In Sampson County, frequent hog sightings and significant crop damage have prompted federal and local government groups to launch a new pilot project to tackle the problem in the area.”

Pierre Gros
The invasive New Guinea Flatworm, originally from Papua New Guinea, has a dark-colored body and a pale stripe down its back.

The Predatory New Guinea Flatworm Is In North Carolina: Here’s What To Know

“It’s dark, slimy, and one of the world’s worst invasive species. And it might be in your leaf litter.”

More Top Stories

 Army private Sarah Keys
U.S. Army
Public Domain, Wikimedia
In 1952, 22-year-old Army private Sarah Keys was jailed after refusing to give up her seat for a white Marine.

Overlooked trailblazer: Before Rosa Parks, Sarah Keys refused to back down

“I like to be remembered as someone who helped somebody along the way. I like pioneer, trailblazer, you know? For me, I like those terms."

NC General Assembly

Here’s a breakdown of NC Republicans’ $25.9B state budget plan

“The proposed spending plan is $25.9 billion, which represents a little more than a 4% increase compared to current spending levels. It includes raises and bonuses for nearly all state employees.”

 1st Lt. James “Dick” Wright shown in uniform during World War II.
submitted image
1st Lt. James “Dick” Wright shown in uniform during World War II.

77 years later, a World War II soldier is brought home to Robeson County

“Wright’s mother couldn’t know that it would take 77 years for his remains to come home – and after stops in a French river, two graves in Luxembourg, and years in a Nebraska military identification lab. It took help from a gifted amateur historian. And a big measure of luck.”

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