A Look At Our Favorite Stories Of 2020

Dec 23, 2020

Credit Graphic Natalie Dudas-Thomas / WUNC

As 2020 draws to a close, WUNC staffers took a look at some of the stories and interviews of this unprecedented year that pushed our team toward more nimble and creative ways of telling stories.

Some of these helped us understand the big and small moments that happened as the pandemic, protests for social change, and a presidential election dominated the headlines. These stories often made us reflect on the world around us and introduced us to interesting people and places across the state. We hope you enjoy a selection of our favorite stories from the past year.

Where We Live: Exploring The Housing Crisis In North Carolina

Two homes at the end of east Jones Street in Raleigh exemplify the rapidly-changing neighborhoods in southeast Raleigh and across the Triangle.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC

"I'm proud of the work we did and grateful to WUNC for giving me the time to work on the project. Importantly, I think we did a good job of explaining that the home-buying choices that upper-middle class households contributes negatively to the home-buying options for low-middle and low income households." - Jason deBruyn

What I Am Missing

Western Guilford High School's chorus class.
Credit Courtesy of Shayla Stewart

"My favorite story I reported this year was actually a series of stories, all with the same focus: How are high school seniors feeling about the final performances, sports seasons, proms and graduations they missed that they will never be able to get back? All of the students I spoke to were sad, but many also expressed resilience and hope. In a year in which so many have lost so much, it's important to remember those who are affected more than we are. Take a listen, and I think you'll be inspired by some of our future leaders." - Cole del Charco

Whose Story Gets Told In The Abortion Debates?

Abortion is a heated debated in the U.S. But the policy debates and political talking points can overshadow the experiences of real people.
Credit Credit Flickr/CC

"To be honest, producing this segment was scary. Abortion is an emotional topic, and it's a highly politicized one. Figuring out how to frame the conversation to avoid rehashing the abortion debate and playing into 'bothsidesism' was tricky, but it was something I felt strongly about, and it paid off. I'm so grateful to the guests we had, especially the two women who shared difficult, painful experiences about terminating wanted pregnancies. I'm also proud of how we incorporated a new angle into the conversation by talking about how popular media influences our understanding of abortion. Most of all, this segment is my favorite because it reminded me why I do this work. We received an email after the show from a listener thanking us for the segment ― she can't/doesn't share her personal experience with abortion because of stigma, and she felt that this show was much needed. If a segment makes a difference to a listener, even just one, that segment stays with me." - Kaia Findlay

"I Sleep, Eat, Live, Breathe Activism": Kerwin Pittman Advocates For Prison Reform

Kerwin Pittman, 33, of Raleigh, NC, is the founder of Recidivism Reduction Educational Program Services and a field organizer with Emancipate NC.
Credit Kate Medley / For WUNC

"Kerwin asked to meet me in Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Gardens in southeast Raleigh. It seemed like the perfect spot, because it was close to where he grew up, and just a block away from Wake Correctional Institution. It was just one of the places he had been incarcerated in the previous 11 years. I set up a microphone on a picnic table in front of him, and ran the cable to another table, where I interviewed him — face-to-face — from 8 feet away. Kerwin speaks passionately about court and prison reform and social justice to anyone who asks. But when I asked Kerwin about his own carceral history — his charges, his gang affiliation, the series of prisons in which he was incarcerated during his sentence and the conditions therein — he softened and shared openly about those experiences. He said no one in the press had asked him to talk about those things before, but he appreciated the chance to show that he comes by his experience honestly." - Rebecca Martinez

WUNC Presents: CREEP

"I started the year hoping to work on longform stories that bring together science, history, creatures and the unintended consequences of human behavior, but by mid-March it looked like COVID-19 would put all that on hold. Launching a nature special while still in the early days of pandemic panic seemed both ludicrous and irresistible. But in practice, it was delightful. Finding new ways to get tape, exploring the outdoors with my daughter, interviewing the dog and racing out the back door to record the unearthly howls and yips of neighborhood coyotes were some of the best parts of 2020." - Elizabeth Friend 

'Working In Fear': Meat Processing Plant Employees Say Protective Measures Came Too Little Too Late

A North Carolina National Guard Soldier with the 42nd Civil Support Team works with local health and emergency officials to conduct drive-thru and walk-up COVID-19 testing for employees of the Mountaire Farms Chatham County food processing plant on April 23, 2020.
Credit Credit Staff Sgt. Mary Junell / U.S. Army Photo

"This story shows the devastating and real human impacts of the pandemic and tries to hold officials accountable for their responsibility to keep workers safe. I spoke to immigrant workers in Spanish to tell their stories and, especially considering this was my first radio feature, I'm proud of the work I did to share this important issue that particularly impacts my Hispanic community." - Celeste Gracia

Black Funerals, COVID-19, And The Importance Of Saying Goodbye

Nina Jones Mason, the manager of Ellis D. Jones & Sons Funeral Directors in Durham, NC, seats funeral attendees with six feet distance as a precautionary measure during COVID-19.
Credit Kate Medley / For WUNC

"Black funerals and Black people dying at a disproportionate rate during the coronavirus pandemic kept me up at night. You see, my mother, Saundra Jean Roland Inge, died in July and many people were sad they were not able to mourn her death with joy and celebration and food at a repast or at a formal funeral service. My mother died of cancer, not COVID-19, but still, one’s ability to gather was not happening. Historians tells us Black Funerals or 'Homegoings' have been important to Black Americans for generations. There were many restrictions on what enslaved people could do, but slave masters would allow gathering for a funeral. So, how were Black people celebrating and mourning during the pandemic? I reached out to Funeral Director Nina Jones Mason in Durham to see how much her job has changed in such trying times." - Leoneda Inge

Is The American Dream Out Of Reach For Millennials?

Credit RISMedia

"It was hard to choose just one show, but this particular story made the cut because it was very personal. I was dipping my toe into real estate for the first time as I produced this show and speaking to the many experts and other voices featured help me feel less alone in the process. I spent A LOT of time connecting with different people on Zoom, and I'm grateful to all the homeowners, realtors and experts who helped me understand the larger forces at work in the housing market, particularly for my generation." - Amanda Magnus

'The World Is Watching': Durham Activist On Why He Is Camped Out At Police Headquarters

In this Sunday, June 21 image, a message of 'DEFUND' points to the Durham Police Headquarters. The street art was painted as part of the Black Lives Matter protests in the city.
Credit Chuck Liddy / For WUNC

"It's rare that we get seven or eight minutes to report on one subject and rarer that it's mostly centered around one person while breaking the traditional format of a feature story. When protests started this summer after George Floyd was killed, the demonstration in downtown Durham stood out because it was a month-long campout in front of police headquarters. Activist Skip Gibbs talked with me for more than an hour about why he was calling for the city to redirect funding from the police department to social services. At one point, when I followed up with him later, I was surprised to hear him say he was embarrassed about leading some of the marches in Durham. But it led to another eight-minute story about why. Now, a lot of his time and energy is going into building a self-sustaining community for Black people called Brightwood. Documenting Gibbs' 'evolution' of thinking ― if you want to call it that ― when it comes to activism was my favorite reporting experience of 2020." - Will Michaels 

Next Generation: Duke's Kara Lawson Part Of New Era Of Basketball Coaches

Duke women's basketball coach Kara Lawson, arrives on stage to speak to the crowd before Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden speaks during a campaign event at Riverside High School in Durham, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 18, 2020.
Credit Carolyn Kaster / AP

"My profile of Duke head coach Kara Lawson was my favorite for a few reasons. First, Lawson is an incredibly accomplished person who took an unorthodox path to leading the Blue Devils. Second, it allowed me to shine a light on women’s college basketball, a sport that ― far too often ― doesn’t get the coverage it deserves. It’s also a story that intersects with politics and race, adding more interesting layers. Unlike most college basketball coaches, Lawson appeared at campaign events for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris this past election season. She's also just one of three Black women coaching in the ACC this year. I also got to talk about this story on the air, which was pretty cool for a radio rookie like me." - Mitchell Northam

Lumberton Undeterred: Recovery and Resilience In A City Facing Multiple Crises

On a calm day, the Lumber River provides a scenic landscape to fish or paddle.
Credit Ben McKeown / For WUNC

"Our longform digital-first project 'Lumberton Undeterred' easily stands out as my favorite piece I produced all year. For this story, I was gifted the rare journalism commodity of time ― time to get to know my sources like Billie Thompson and her family, time to get to know the landscape of Lumberton, and time to partner with brilliant visual storytellers. I continue to be in awe of the resilience of the Lumberton residents I got to meet. They're fighting for the survival of their communities, like Spearman Street, and the rich stories and family histories that are tied to these places." - Laura Pellicer

A Military 1st: A Supercarrier Is Named After African American Sailor

U.S. Navy Mess Attendant First Class Doris Miller speaking during his war bond tour stop at the Naval Training Station, Great Lakes, Ill. on Jan. 7, 1943.
Credit U.S. Navy photo courtesy of the National Archives

"My favorite was the story of Dorie Miller, a nearly-forgotten World War II hero who will be the first Black man to have a supercarrier named for him. These massive ships, which are used to project U.S. power around the globe, have mainly been named for presidents. But not this time. I was interviewing the acting Secretary of the Navy about another matter, when he mentioned his plan to do this, and I knew immediately that I wanted to tell Miller's story, which was pivotal to undermining the systemic discrimination within the U.S. military, and is tied to key moments and figures in U.S. history, and with key institutions, like the Black newspapers of the day, which were near their peak of influence." - Jay Price

For One Greensboro Student, Life In Honduras Helped Him Accept His Identity

Brayan Guevara poses for a portrait in front of Irving Park Elementary School, in Greensboro, where he is a teacher's assistant.
Credit Lynn Hey

"This was my favorite story of 2020. I loved speaking with Brayan all year about his thoughts on politics and his journey to the polls. But I really liked this story because we really got to learn how he learned to love his Afro Latino identity. His personality is so infectious throughout this story about learning how to dance in Honduras. Also, the music just makes you want to get up and dance. It was experimental for me as I've never done a non-narrative story, but I'm glad I did, because there's no way I would've done Brayan's summer in Honduras justice. You just have to hear him tell you about it." - Naomi Prioleau

Embodied: Sex And Dating With Physical Disabilities

D'Arcee Charington shares the importance of verbal assertiveness for healthy and pleasurable inter-able romance.
Credit Courtesy of D'Arcee Charington

"The highlight of my year was growing the 'Embodied' series, a project that launched in 2019 to talk about sex, relationships and health on the radio. There are so many moments from this series throughout the year that stand out, but our conversation about sex and dating for folks with physical disabilities stands out in my mind. The guests were fantastic and shared a blend of personal stories and reflections that were emotional and evocative. One quote that stands out to me is from Julie-Ann Scott-Pollock who said: 'All of us who live long enough will learn to experience what it's like to live in a disabled body.' This segment is one that is so representative of what we're trying to do with this series: create space for a diversity of voices to talk openly about the things they hold closest with the hope that engaging in these conversations will help us all develop more empathy for one another. I am thrilled that this show will continue on WUNC next year and hope you all will join me live on Fridays at noon to hear more intimate and thought-provoking conversations." - Anita Rao

'This Is Not Nursing': NC Nurse On The Chaos And Emotion Of Working In An NYC Emergency Department

North Carolina-based nurse Bevin Strickland traveled to New York City to help in the coronavirus efforts.
Credit Courtesy Bevin Strickland

"When the pandemic first hit, nurse Bevin Strickland felt a call to help. She transitioned from her life as a doctoral student at UNC Greensboro to serve as a critical care nurse in New York City. We had some emotional Zoom calls, sometimes just after she got off a long shift. She described the chaos of an overwhelmed hospital and how limitations kept her from giving patients the attention they deserved. She dug up my own memories of watching my dad die in an ICU and helped me reconsider what it means to give patients and families critical care. This story changed how I thought about the pandemic, back when all those thoughts and feelings were new." - Liz Schlemmer

Fighting For The Right To Vote

"My favorite story from this year was one Jeff and Leoneda reported on together for the Politics podcast and Tested. It featured the experience of Lanisha Bratcher. I appreciated producing it because I feel it provided an informative insight on how longstanding voter discrimination norms (both de factor and de jure) are still harming certain folks right to vote." - Charlie Shelton-Ormond

WUNC Presents: CREEP

"This was a tough choice. There was so much good podcast content from WUNC this year. But my absolute favorite project from 2020 to work on was CREEP, the audio documentary about wildlife behavior during the first months of the pandemic that WUNC produced over the summer.  I think it stands out because CREEP pushed everyone on the production team to challenge themselves ― we researched, scripted, recorded, assembled, edited and scored a 30-minute special from scratch in an impressive amount of time, all working remotely. But it was the strong, creative vision of hosts/creators Elizabeth Friend and Laura Pellicer that made it feel like we barely even broke a sweat. The mix of animal experts, mysterious narration and voices of regular folks who noticed animals acting differently make for a unique storytelling approach. I knew very little about invasive species, and even less about coyotes, before working on CREEP, but now that I’ve heard it, I take in the world around me in new ways and pay closer attention to what’s going on with my animal neighbors as much as any member of my community.  It’s a brilliant show and I can’t wait until we make more episodes." - Lindsay Foster Thomas 

What It's Like To Lose On Super Tuesday

"We launched the WUNC Politics Podcast almost five years ago. When really clicking, the pod is some combination ― or cross-section ― of lively political discourse, historical context and honest reflection. One of my favorite episodes from 2020 aired back in March, following the primary. Greg Gebhardt was seeking the Republican nomination for Lieutenant Governor. He was defeated, but not before he and his wife, decided to use their own money for the campaign. Greg called the discussion with his wife one of the hardest of his marriage. The episode was personal, included a dose of vulnerability, and offered a perspective we seldom hear about in politics. As an aside, it remains one of the last extended face-to-face interviews I've done." - Jeff Tiberii