There are few things more centering than a fresh reporter’s notebook.
As I write my name and the 1/1/2024 date on the cover of a new notebook, I wonder where this new year will take us. It will almost certainly be a fateful year ahead in global politics with the American presidential primary season about to get underway and deeply divisive elections looming not just here but in many other corners of the world, notably in India and Indonesia, to name just two of the 60 national elections unfolding this year.
There are at least two major wars raging. The conflicts in Ukraine and Israel/Palestine both represent existential threats for the people who live there, and to global security, and specifically to press freedom, in ways we have not seen in a very long time. Simmering tensions in the Taiwan Strait raise persistent questions about the specter of a China/U.S. war.
And the ubiquitous peril of unrelenting extremes in weather due to climate change continues to pose extraordinary challenges to the human race. The destructive forces across so many fault lines of disparity in health, wealth and justice continues to erode the bonds that hold us together.
In a year that poses so many fateful challenges to democracy and peace, how will the world’s journalists enlighten and inform? At a time when journalism is at risk and under attack, how will reporters persist in the vital work we need to navigate the future?
At the end of 2023, GroundTruth stepped back and reflected on the outstanding work that our Report for America and Report for the World corps members published throughout the year and I can’t help but feel encouraged about the state of journalism, and sense that there is a rekindling of faith occuring in a rising generation that believes in truth to power as the best way for us to navigate our futures. And not just questioning authority, but a new generation that is also practicing the craft of powerful and poignant narrative storytelling that can offer the context we need for the biggest stories of our time. In short, the stories of 2023 have made me hopeful for 2024.
This week we are sharing the third and final look at the stories that our team believes capture the mission of GroundTruth, the idea that the best journalism is from those reporters who are there living, working and serving in their own local communities. You can follow the year in photography here and the year in stories here, and this week you can tune in to the year in audio reporting. Our corps members who work in public radio constantly have their ear to the ground for important stories, and we hope you can take the time to put in your ear buds and listen to all of this outstanding work.
You’ll take a journey in sound through from Marfa Texas and the challenges in maternal health to the echoing history of the Civil War and its aftermath. We’ll take you from a small town in Alaska, to Tulare Lake in California and from a solar farm in Ohio to a kitchen in Massachusetts and beyond. All of these are worth taking the time to hear, and we hope they will inspire you and give you hope in the challenging year that lies ahead.
Annie Rosenthal – West Texas
Isolation is part of the charm of living in the Big Bend in West Texas, but when it comes to reproductive health, it can be scary. Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, women in this region have had to drive hundreds of miles to access abortion services, but as Report for America corps member Annie Rosenthal explained in So Far From Care, a podcast series for MarfaPublic Radio, that is just the tip of the iceberg.
Rosenthal and her colleagues chronicle how isolation affects all maternal care: from the consequences of the closure of the only maternity ward in hundreds of miles, to the cost of raising a child where there are no daycare facilities and the challenges that couples who undergo fertility treatments face.
Laura Kebede-Twumasi – Memphis, TN
In May of 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War, white mobs unleashed a violent assault against Black residents, killing at least 46 men, women and children, injuring 75 others and burning homes, churches and schools. The Memphis Massacre, as it was named, triggered an investigation in Washington that led to the passage of the 14th amendment and increased civil rights protections. However, this key part of history isn’t well known.
Report for America corps member Laura Kebede-Twumasi and her team explored this pivotal moment in civil rights history in the second season of the Civil Wrongs podcast for the Institute for Public Service Reporting, explaining the factors that led to the massacre, its legacy, how it connects to the episodes of police brutality we see today and why most people don’t know about this historic event.
Nirvani Williams – Greenfield, Mass
Massachusetts has received thousands of migrants who have arrived during the summer, causing tensions in some communities, but also providing opportunities for kinship. Report for America corps member Nirvani Williams, for New England Public Radio, shares the story of Chef Tina, a Haitian immigrant who was able to open a pop up kitchen at a local Mexican place in Western Massachusetts to offer the food of her homeland and provide some relief to other migrants.
Jeniece Roman – Southampton, NY
Growing up, Denise Silva-Dennis never learned that children of her tribe, the Shinnecock Tribal Nation, were sent to boarding schools, where they endured hunger and abuse. Now, as an artist, she and some of her colleagues unearthed this painful part of their history to come to terms with it, help the community heal and allow younger members of the tribe to know their history.
For WSHU, Report for America corps member Jeniece Roman spotlighted “We Were at the School, We Were There, We Remember,”the exhibit Silva-Dennis and her fellow artists curated, explaining the challenge of confronting the trauma many of the tribe elders experienced and why is it important to acknowledge it.
Gabriella Paul – Dade City, Fl
A Florida law that gives mobile home park owners the right to evict tenants who break their rules is putting those who are evicted in a position where they’ll lose all of their property. For WUSF Report for America corps member Gabriella Paul explained how the little time allowed by the law to vacate the premises and the high cost of relocating or selling a mobile home leaves owners with no option, but to lose their mobile home.
Alejandro Figueroa – Hillsboro – Ohio
At first glance, sheep and solar panels seem like an odd pairing, but in Ohio they have developed a mutually beneficial agreement. For WYSO, Report for America corps member Alejandro Figueroa reports how solar farms are hiring sheep herders to keep in check the weeds that grow under the panels and could damage them if not controlled. “Solar Grazing” as the practice is known, provides sustenance for the herds of sheep and allows solar producers, an industry that has been booming in the state, to expand in an environmentally friendly way, without greatly increasing its costs.
Theo Greenly – Cold Bay, Alaska
Back in April, Report for America corps member Theo Greenly reported for KUCB how Cold Bay, a small city in Alaska with about 50 residents had been consuming state-provided bottled water for more than 10 months after the water in their only well tested positive for PFAS, the so called “forever chemicals” linked to cancer.
Greenly chronicled how life had changed for the residents of the city and traced the contamination to a firefighting foam used in the city’s airport, giving voice to the people who wondered when the state would intervene to restore their drinking water access.
Greenly’s work and experiences in Alaska were also featured in this interview for Transom.
Jose Davila IV – Reno, NV
Also in April, corps member Jose Davila IV called attention to the struggles of Latino students to access or remain in public colleges in Nevada in a story for KUNR. Davila explained how the pandemic strained the finances and mental health of students, forcing many to choose between staying in school or helping their families.
Through multiple testimonies, Davila shows how colleges are not providing enough support for Latino students, many of whom are the first to attend college in their families, to help them remain in school and graduate.
Joshua Yeager – Tulare Lake, CA
Reporting from Tulare Lake in California, corps member Joshua Yeager raised awareness about an epidemic of avian botulism that is affecting thousands of birds in the lake. Speaking with veterinarians who are quarantining and treating the infected birds in a story for KVPR, Yeager explains how the disease affects the birds, how it is connected to the reduction of wetlands in the state and why is it important for the ecological balance to stop the disease before it decimates the bird populations.
Srishti Prabha – Sacramento, CA
At a time when many public schools have reduced their investment in arts education, particularly for students of color, the schools that offer culturally reflective arts education are showing that these classes can help improve students’ grades and attitudes across the board. Corps member Srishti Prabha spotlights for CapRadio the impact of these programs in Sacramento Country through the testimony of students, teachers and education experts, highlighting how they foster belonging, unity and resilience.