A Look At Our Favorite Stories From 2017

Dec 27, 2017

As the year draws to a close, we take a look at some of the stories and interviews of 2017. Throughout the year, WUNC reporters, producers, editors and hosts worked on hundreds of these stories for both broadcast and digital publication.

Some of these help us understand the big and small moments that happened around North Carolina, make us feel something, and introduce us to interesting people and places across the state.

We hope you enjoy a selection of our favorite stories from the past year.

- Elizabeth Baier, Digital News Editor

The Rogue Scientist Who Solved A Civil War Mystery

Scientist Rachel Lance poses with a replica she created of the H.L. Hunley submarine.
Credit Courtesy of Rachel Lance

"One of my favorite segments from this year was the conversation we had with biomedical engineer Rachel Lance on her investigation into what sank The Hunley. The Hunley was the first combat submarine to successfully sink a warship, on a winter evening in 1864. But when it took down the ship, the Hunley sank too, and no one really knew why. Rachel got kind of obsessed with solving this mystery and she thinks she figured it out. It was not only really fun to hear her talk so animatedly about the case and the lengths she went to in order to solve it, but it was awesome to listen to such a confident female scientist hold up her theory and challenge everyone to take a crack at it!" - Jenn Brookland

Doctors Get Big Bucks From Drug And Medical Device Industries

North Carolina's doctor offices are awash in pharmaceutical and medical device industry cash. These financial relationships are starting to raise questions about prescribing habits and other conflicts of interest.
Credit Jason deBruyn / WUNC

"This was my favorite. I think it’s a really important story and one that people don’t pay enough attention to. It contributes greatly to high medical costs. Also, I really liked the graphics." - Jason deBruyn

Hiss Golden Messenger Sees 'A Different Kind of Light'

M.C. Taylor of Hiss Golden Messenger.
Credit Elise Tyler / Merge Records

"When you spend some time with a collection of songs, you do it because you want to. 'Hallelujah Anyhow' hit me right away and grew on me each time I listened.  M.C. Taylor talks about darkness as another form of light and makes the case for bringing down walls and barriers, both within and without. He does it by working with a community of musicians he calls friends. Phil Cook, Ryan Gustafson, Skylar Gudasz, James Wallace and Darren Jessee are neighbors and people he hangs out with everyday. They share meals, their kids play together. Sometimes, that kind of community can feel exclusive. But after seeing HGM at the Haw River Ballroom it is clear to me that with Mike it's inclusive. He's opening his arms wide to his audience and we return the honor. Celebrate this music and so much more that we have here in the Triangle. Hallelujah Anyhow!" - Eric Hodge

The Search For Susie Weaver's "Freedom In Chapel Hill"

Wanda Weaver holds a copy of her mother's record 'Freedom In Chapel Hill.'
Credit Leoneda Inge / WUNC

"I really love this story because I found in by accident. I was visiting the Southern Historical Collection at UNC Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library looking for North Carolina Civil Rights songs. That’s when I found out there was a woman  in Chapel Hill who was an activist, choir director and funeral home director and she wrote a Civil Rights song and recorded it!  Well, when we checked her name and file, we could not find the song. We only found a transcript of an interview with her. So the search was on for the song and for the record. I found it!" - Leoneda Inge

Death Penalty Debate Picks Up Steam

Alabama's lethal injection chamber at Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala., is pictured in this Oct. 7, 2002 file photo.
Credit Associated Press

"I had covered this issue extensively before I left radio for law school and then six years as a prosecutor with the Wake County D.A.’s office. It was interesting to see how things have changed and remained the same. Executions are still at a standstill but the legal arguments have shifted somewhat. It was also a challenging story to write. I had an abundance of tape and voices, too many to fit into one radio story. I wanted to make sure there was a balance of views on a very emotional, delicate topic. I also think it is interesting to see how criminal justice reform has played a part in reducing the number of criminal cases that result in capital prosecutions." - Rusty Jacobs

The Civilist: Live From Motorco

Chinyere Amanze, Matthew King, Steven Petrow, Rebecca Martinez at The Civilist Live Show at Motorco Music Hall.
Credit Courtesy of Dean Fitzgerald

"The Civilist live show came from a great year-long partnership with Washington Post advice columnist and Hillsborough resident Steven Petrow. The podcast concentrated on civil discourse and how to navigate social pitfalls in mixed company. Most of the episodes were recorded at WUNC's studios in Chapel Hill, but our last show was taped before a live audience in Durham's Motorco with Duke University students joining the expert panel. We shared the stage with other locally produced podcasts that night, including She+Her, Criminal and Scene On Radio." - Rebecca Martinez

Why These NC Republicans Oppose GOP Health Care Reform

At least three Republicans in North Carolina's Congressional delegation are not satisfied with the GOP's plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
Credit Jeff Tiberii / WUNC

"In March, I remember scrambling - along with reporters across the country - to figure out who in the U.S. House was supporting and opposing the American Health Care Act, the bill to repeal Obamacare. We were clear that every Democrat was going to vote against it and the leadership had lost some Republicans, too, but the question was how many? They could only afford to have about 20 "no's" in the GOP. We know now there wasn't enough support, Republicans had to try again in May, and still failed. But that day in March, I put out interview requests to North Carolina's Congressional delegation in our own attempt to get the tally, and Rep. Walter Jones' office got back to me. Looking back, this interview kind of captured that crazy process in real time." - Will Michaels

Inside The Future Of Artificial Intelligence

As developers design machines that teach themselves, important questions emerge over humans’ ability to effectively interact with artificial intelligent computers.
Credit École polytechnique / Flickr - Creative Commons - https://flic.kr/p/UBfMcH

"This one was a blast to put together. I feel like we assembled some of the brightest futurists in the country in our studio, people who could potentially take over the world with the power of AI. But thankfully for the future of humanity, instead of plotting a robot takeover they are engaged in deep thinking about the many moral and philosophical implications of artificial intelligence." - Laura Pellicer

A Year Later, Lumberton Students Still Coping With Matthew's Destruction

A sign in front of West Lumberton Elementary, the only Robeson County school that remains closed a year after Hurricane Matthew. The storm dumped about three feet of standing water into the building, and destroyed many of its students' homes.
Credit Lisa Philip / WUNC

"The people in this story, especially the staff at West Lumberton Elementary, made this my favorite story to work on this year. At one point during my visit, a few teachers were gathered in the hallway outside their makeshift front office, waiting to go into a meeting. The special education teacher started telling me about how she and her husband had to completely redo their house after the storm. She said she would help all her students cope with this natural disaster during the day, then go home and work on her own house until about 11 at night. And some of the other teachers at the school would come over and help. Principal Tara Bullard was over there one day working on the first floor when the couple’s printer came crashing through the second floor of the house. And the teacher’s telling me about this very tough situation, and she and the other staff members, including the principal, just start laughing and laughing. Principal Bullard said something along the lines of, “You have to laugh at the situation, otherwise you’d just be crying all the time.” That moment didn’t make it into the story, but I will never, ever forget it." - Lisa Philip

The 82nd Airborne Division, Now 100 Years Old, Does More Than Jump From Planes

Paratroopers with the 82nd Airborne Division wait after being fitted with parachutes for an upcoming training jump at Fort Bragg, N.C. on July 26, 2017.
Credit Matt Couch / WUNC

"I think mainly because it was such a challenge to give a sense of the sweep of history the unit has been involved in, some of it key domestic moments as opposed to war...trying to boil that century of service down without shortchanging it, and also of giving a sense of what the job of being a paratrooper is really like… And simply the field recording in the aircraft was challenging and educational for me, too." - Jay Price

Mobile Food Market Feeds Thousands In The Triad

Volunteers and staff work during a fresh mobile market organized by Out of the Garden Project, a nonprofit food assistance program for Guilford County families in Greensboro, N.C. on Oct. 18, 2017.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC

"It’s my favorite because it’s very sound rich and I had a great time following my sources around. I got to go to a food distribution at a school, then I got to go to the warehouse and see how the 'sausage is made' in terms of loading the truck with food and going to another school. Also, talking with the families who received their food and the school officials who help was really great as well. I had a lot of fun mixing this story and playing with [ambient sound]." - Naomi Prioleau

Fixing What’s Not Funny: Creating Safe Spaces In Theater And Improv

Two Catharsis Production Educators
Credit Courtesy of Catharsis Productions

"This interview resonates even more now than it did when it first aired. We initially recorded this conversation in the wake of assault and harassment allegations against the founder and director of a Triangle-based comedy theater. The allegations had sparked a conversation about how to maintain safe spaces within improv communities, in particular, where the cardinal rule of operation is 'Yes, And...' I love how Stern articulates thoughtful and complex critiques and guidance while still speaking in an accessible and humorous way. This interview is a must-listen for anyone witnessing the #MeToo movement who wonders, 'What could I do to help'?” - Anita Rao

Gen Z Students Ditch Lockers in the Age of Digital Learning

Sophomore Cameron Harris is one of just eight students who has a locker at Granville Central High School.
Credit Liz Schlemmer / WUNC

"This story was a fun way to think about how state policy is changing the cultural landscape inside schools. The state's Digital Learning Plan is getting schools to transition to digital materials, and with few books and long hallways, it's not uncommon for today's high schoolers to ditch their lockers all together. Students had all kinds of ideas about why this was and what they thought of switching to laptops, and they gave me plenty of funny looks for asking! The hardest part of this story was tracking down a student who had even signed up for a locker -- that she rarely used. Now I pay attention every time I go into a new school -- is locker culture alive and well there, or an artifact of the past? And is not using lockers a marker of progress?" - Liz Schlemmer

#BackChannel: Rapsody Talks ‘Laila’s Wisdom’ And The NFL Greenlights ‘Take A Knee’ Protests

Marlanna Evans, aka Rapsody, discusses her new album, 'Laila's Wisdom'.
Credit FortyOnceGold

"This was my favorite segment because #BackChannel is always exciting to put together, but this installment was exceptionally special because we were able to chat with Triangle-based rapper Rapsody. This September she released her album "Laila's Wisdom" to much acclaim. The album is nominated for "Best Rap Album" in this year's Grammy's, so to hear Rapsody talk about the process for putting the project together was an engaging and insightful opportunity." - Charlie Shelton-Ormond

Honoring The Late Journalist Mark Binker

Journalist Mark Binker died April 29, 2017.
Credit WRAL TV

"My favorite piece from 2017 is also my least favorite. It's a piece I never wanted, or even imagined doing, but when the moment happened, it needed to be produced. In April, Mark Binker died unexpectedly. Binker was a member of the Capitol Press Corps and a newspaper man at heart. Covering state government is challenging and at times overwhelming. When I arrived at the legislature in early 2015, it was quickly evident Binker provided a standard to follow. He was widely respected in the building, had an uncanny delivery of puns, and was someone I looked up to. This piece is a collection of memories from the people who worked with him over the years. Of all the pieces I've ever produced, this might be the only one that triggers laughter and tears when I listen back." - Jeff Tiberii