The biggest perk of my job is that every day I’m surrounded by brilliant, dedicated editors, writers, and reporters, people who despite being overworked and underpaid pour their hearts and souls into the stories they tell. We’re by no means perfect, nor do we have the resources to cover everything we want to cover. But I’m enormously proud of the work we do week in and week out, and as the calendar turns, I wanted to take a moment to look back at some of my favorite INDY stories from 2018.
So here they are, in no particular order (and certainly leaving some great stuff out):
1. Durham’s Foster Care System Is in Crisis.
Sarah Willets spent the better part of the year reporting on this story, which explores the central problem plaguing the county’s foster care system: There are too many kids and not enough people willing to foster them.
2. Why Is Ronnie Long Still in Prison?
In February, former staff writer Erica Hellerstein—who has since left us for her native California—told the story of Ronnie Long, a man who has spent more than four decades in prison for a rape he quite possibly didn’t commit. The piece was the culmination of months of digging into old case records and interviews, and it held the injustices of the justice system up to a very harsh light.
3. Thomas Farr, Jesse Helms, and the Return of the Segregationists.
In our first long-form feature of 2018, Hellerstein and Thomas Goldsmith take a deep dive into the career of Thomas Farr, the former Jesse Helms campaign attorney whom Donald Trump nominated for the federal bench. In December, Farr’s nomination was derailed over concerns about his knowledge of the Helms’s campaign’s voter intimidation tactics.
4. How I Learned to Make My Clothes Speak My Truth.
I loved just about everything in our annual Style Issue, but for me, the standout was Allison Hussey’s essay on making peace with her body and developing her own sense of style. It’s raw and personal, and it’s a damn good piece of writing.
5. What’s Pedro Salmeron’s Life Like Now, After He Was Deported to El Salvador From North Carolina?
Thanks to the International Women’s Media Foundation, we were able to send Victoria Bouloubasis to El Salvador to catch up with Pedro Salmeron, one of the so-called NC6, Central American youths who were detained in North Carolina by immigration officials in 2016. Salmeron was subsequently deported back to a country filled with gangs and violence.
6. Should a Triangle Woman Qualify for Asylum Based on Domestic Violence?
Thanks to another partnership with the IWMF, Hellerstein went to Honduras to explore the case of a woman named Isabel, who had fled an abusive relationship in that country—which is known for its violence, and especially violence against women—and settled in the Triangle. Isabel was seeking asylum on the grounds that she was fleeing domestic violence, which former attorney general Jeff Sessions had argued should not apply.
7. Young Dolphgate.
By far our clickiest story of the year, Katie Jane Fernelius’s report on a Duke VP who walked into a campus Joe Van Gogh, heard a profane rap song he didn’t like, and got the two baristas fired, went viral and had legs for days.
8. Eat Your Way From A to Z With 100 Local Dishes You Can Have Right Now.
For our summer ode to gluttony, I asked a bunch of our scribes to write about their favorite local dishes—apps and desserts and entrees and everything in between. We ended up with an even hundred and organized them in alphabetical order. Read, then eat your way through.
9. The Backlash Against Kehinde Wiley / What to Make of Hamilton
I’ve met few writers anywhere who explore fraught cultural subjects with more thoughtfulness, grace, and insight than Brian Howe. I grouped together two of his columns from this year on this list, as both tackle the issue of race in art: first, the backlash against a painting of Kehinde Wiley’s at NCMA that showed up a black woman holding the severed head of a white woman; second, his discomfort upon seeing the admittedly spectacular Hamilton, which nonetheless appropriates the culture of the oppressed for a mostly white, mostly affluent audience. I don’t always agree with Brian’s takes on these sorts of things, but damned if they’re not worth reading.
10. Bail for the Rich, Jail for the Poor.
In February, Willets reported on the growing movement to end the cash-bail system in Durham, which penalizes those without the resources to pay bail and sometimes keeps people in jail simply because they can’t scrape together a few hundred bucks.
11. An Alleged Predator. A Precedent-Setting Prosecution. A School on the Edge.
Cole Villena—now our editorial assistant—spent a good chunk of his summer internship helping me report this story, about the aftermath of a sexual abuse scandal at the Montessori School of Raleigh. In 2017, a teacher named Nicholas Smith was charged with abusing two middle-school students in 2012–13 and 2015–16—they were sisters—and in May 2018, the head of school, Nancy Errichetti, was charged with aiding and abetting that abuse, a first-of-its-kind prosecution anywhere in the country, so far as we could tell.
12. The Decline and Fall and Possible Reinvention of Northgate Mall.
With the venerable mall on the verge of foreclosure, Fernelius took a look at its history and its place in Durham’s culture—and whether there’s any place left for the mall in modern American commerce.
13. The Cave Is Closed / The Cave Is Being Rebooted / The Cave Is Open Again.
The Cave was one of the local music scene’s more interesting sagas—first closing after fifty years in Chapel Hill, then being sold and reopening—and Hussey covered it from beginning to end, first writing a beautiful (if, as it turned out, premature) eulogy for the venue and then digging into the new owners’ plans.
14. Durham’s Gentrifiers Aren’t About to Apologize.
In January, Amanda Abrams took something of a counterintuitive look at development in Durham’s gentrifying East End neighborhood—from the developers’ point of view. While housing advocates often paint them as greedy, they think they’re doing a public good. Or at least, they say, not everything’s so cut and dry. It’s a really interesting exploration of an exceedingly complex issue that is all too often overly simplified.
15. The Sudden Collapse of All About Beer.
For almost forty years, the Triangle-based All About Beer was on the cutting edge of the American craft beer scene—until it rather suddenly fell apart. In this deeply reported story, Michael Venutolo-Mantovani explores what happened.
Bonus: Why These Triangle Teachers Marched on Raleigh.
I really wanted to highlight this story—a photo essay that features interviews with nine teachers who joined twenty thousand of their colleagues and supporters in May to rally in Raleigh demanding better pay and more respect—in this list, but there’s a problem: When we switched our website’s content management system in October and exported all of our old stories, this one’s formatting went sideways, and I just noticed right now. I’ll try to fix it, but for now, check out the PDF version of that week’s paper here (the story starts on page 8).