Perhaps the best thing we can say about 2021 is that it wasn’t 2020.
And while COVID-19 continues to impact everything we do, in many respects we have adapted and learned to live our lives in a new way.
This past year has been interesting – aren’t they all? It started with Joe Biden being inaugurated as president and is ending with COVID infections spiking yet again, stressing hospitals and health care workers.
In between, there has been a lot of great work done by the journalists at Delaware Online/The News Journal. What follows is their favorite stories of the year. In most cases it is stories they wrote, in some cases it is just their favorite story.
In every case, they are stories only they could bring you, thanks to your support and that of the thousands of new people who subscribed in 2021.
We can’t do it without you. And we look forward to 2022 and sharing more of the stories no one but Delaware Online can tell.
Enjoy these stories again and have a great holiday season and new year.
The Delaware photo that went viral
I had no idea a photo I snapped quickly in a Greenville cemetery and tweeted out on Jan. 20, 2021, just as the 46th president of the United States took his oath of office, would go viral and receive national and international attention.
But it did. And even a year later, the photo of a lone uniformed person at the grave of Joe Biden’s son Beau Biden, on the day of the president’s inauguration, is still being retweeted.
The moment, to me, seemed poignant and solemn and rather than approaching the person in uniform, I thought it best to be respectful. I walked away and let the person be. It was hard to do as a journalist, but it also seemed to be the right thing to do at the time.
The reaction to the photo was overwhelming. I had dozens of requests from media to talk about it, as well as hundreds of emails and thousands of retweets. And, most everyone wanted to know who the person was at the grave of Beau Biden.
In the end, Delaware Online/News Journal editors and I decided I should write a first-person story about why I took the photo and then move on. So I did.
Later, I had a few sleepless nights wondering if I should have even taken the photo in the first place, but I have never regretted letting that uniformed person have their privacy.
– Patricia Talorico
Twice as many women shot in Wilmington
Covering shootings and homicides can be monotonous task that results in stories reading the same: “Man shot on such and such a corner” or “Man killed in the early hours of such day.” This type of reporting only serves to scare and numb readers and not inform them as to what is going on in communities where this violence is prevalent.
It helps to step back and look at trends that explain a little more, such as where these incidents are occurring, who these victims are. It’s an attempt to humanize a tragedy, to show that these victims are more than a statistic, they are people who leave behind loved ones and unfulfilled promise.
It’s also important to look for trends, such as where these incidents are occurring or who the victims are. One case where you see our deeper dive is my Oct. 22 story that asks why more women are being shot in Wilmington this year. This story provides an example of who these shooting targets are and some possibilities of why there has been an increase.
– Esteban Parra
Stories of hope in Dover
For the last several years, gun violence in Dover has steadily gotten worse. Like Wilmington, the majority of victims are young Black men, though the violence affects every age and race.
Yet unlike Wilmington, Dover’s problems – and the deep issues that lead to the violence – have not gotten the same attention as Delaware’s largest city. These stories, which my coworker Emily Lytle and I spent months reporting and writing, shine a light on what is plaguing Dover and what can be done to combat the violence.
And, while I didn’t know what to expect when I went back down to Delaware’s capital for a mid-year follow-up on Dover’s efforts, I came back with a feeling I didn’t have when writing the first two stories: Hope.
– Isabel Hughes
Wait, who used to live in Wilmington?
When Delaware Online/The News Journal Executive Editor Mike Feeley came to Delaware a few years back and found out Bob Marley had roots in Wilmington, he wanted to know all about it and asked me to write a story.
I had written about the reggae icon’s time here in Delaware before, but it was time for a fresh crack at an old story. This time, I had the digitized archives of The News Journal via newspapers.com to assist and I surprisingly found only two articles about Marley during his time here.
One was an interview with his mother in her Wilmington home. The second came a little later when a News Journal reporter was at a community event along the Christiana River with Marley in attendance.
I was able to track down both of the former News Journal reporters who wrote those stories and include their firsthand memories. They helped fill out the sometimes still-hard-to-believe true story of Marley living (and writing songs) for years in Wilmington with very little fanfare.
– Ryan Cormier
The new impossible dream: Buying a home
For many, buying a home is part of the American dream. When you’ve saved the money and you feel fairly secure you can afford the home you’ve picked out, what happens when the price suddenly escalates to thousands more than was listed and several bidders are scrambling for the same property?
This story showed a few examples of the ultra-competitive housing market and the difficulty some first-time buyers are having when demand far exceeds supply, leading to a feeling that home ownership is out of reach, at least for now.
– Ben Mace
In their own words
A lot of the time, we are guilty of writing or talking about a shooting when it happens and then letting it fade into the background as soon as there’s other major news.
The opportunity to talk to and hear the stories of people who are still impacted by these shootings every day – even years later – was truly moving.
– Hannah Edelman
Investigation shows frightening details
Four people were killed by poison gas in their apartment and everyone was pretty much content regarding it as a sad accident.
But court and other public documents – information we really had to fight for – showed the situation was not as innocent as everyone thought it was.
The documents revealed significant shortcuts taken by the apartment complex owner that likely contributed to the deaths. The information needed to be out there.
– Xerxes Wilson
Can Delaware’s farmers survive?
Almost exactly two years before I published this story, I remember talking to my editor about how I wanted to help tell the stories of farming families.
Some of my proudest moments as a writer have been talking to my own grandfather about his family and their long history of farming in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and I knew I wanted to share more stories like that.
This project was a manifestation of that passion. I thoroughly enjoyed reporting about farmers and their will to preserve farmland, despite ongoing pressures to sell. This was a multi-story series that was the result of about four months of work, and I was really proud to share it with readers.
– Emily Lytle
Impactful road project
Millsboro Pond is invaluable. Kayaking it and its branches, you’ll see river otters, barred owls and rare species of dragonflies, not to mention hundreds, if not thousands, of turtles.
It’s adjacent to the Doe Bridge Nature Preserve, one of the last vestiges for wildlife in Sussex County. Yet, with traffic and population in Sussex County at the level it is, the powers that be feel they have no better option than to build a bridge across it.
– Shannon McNaught
Lacrosse kept him going
It was an honor to meet and write about Caravel’s Brett Kaden, who loves lacrosse so much he went straight to practice last spring following a chemo treatment for leukemia.
Brett said looking forward to lacrosse season and being with his friends helped get him through some of his darkest days, a great example of the positive role sports and being part of a team can play in our lives.
– Brad Myers
Delawareans real focus on the NFL
I liked this story because it depicts two football players who grew up in Delaware and knew each other well ever since they starred for their high school and 7-on-7 teams.
Here they were going against each other – literally – in the NFC Championship game for the right to go to the Super Bowl.
The matchup between Tampa Bay wide receiver Chris Godwin and Green Bay safety Darnell Savage wasn’t as talked about as the one between the star quarterbacks Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, but one could argue that it was just as important in determining which team would reach the Super Bowl.
– Martin Frank
How Frank got his name
Frank Yea goes by many names – Sung Gu Yea, in South Korea, and “Pascual” in Venezuela – a testament to the many lives he’s led.
His “real” life, however, began on a corner of the bustling West Fourth Street corridor that runs through Wilmington’s Hilltop neighborhood.
His adoptive name of “Frank” has come to represent his progress in the community that he has come to care for.
While the profile told the story of Frank, it also detailed the everyday nuances of the neighborhood that he has grown to be a part of. I love this story because it tells the story of a community through the life of one man.
– José Ignacio Castañeda Perez
Condo owners left with few options
My story on the Le Parc Condominiums and the buildings’ history of structural issues was by far my favorite story to report and write in 2021.
It has all the elements of a great investigative piece that, for me, immediately drew me in.
There were the obvious structural issues – the bowing windows, the condemned balconies – and then there were the reports that were a gold mine of information to show that the structural issues have been longstanding.
There was also the drama between the residents and the homeowner’s association. But, the best part about this story was the appreciation so many had for its telling.
For the first time, residents felt like their concerns were being heard, and our readers were made aware of a problem property that has flown under the radar for far too long.
It’s these stories that I always hope will make a difference and spark change. At the very least, my coverage prompted New Castle County to take a closer look at the buildings, and hopefully, additional digging will prompt more action in the future.
– Amanda Fries
Community lifts state champ
High school wrestlers face demanding physical and mental challenges on a daily basis, and it’s those who embrace the “toughest six minutes in sports” mantra that are often the most successful.
Smyrna High state champion Joey Natarcola had been one of those kids, lauded for his competitive verve since his early days in the Smyrna Little Wrestlers youth program. But the death of his father brought additional challenges.
That’s where Drue and Heidi Matthews and their six children stepped in. They welcomed Natarcola into their large and loving family, which helped him navigate the emotional struggles he encountered but also successfully handle the unprecedented tests he faced in becoming a three-time wrestling champion.
This was a story I had yearned to tell for almost a year after first hearing of Joey’s plight. To then get to know and listen to Joey and the family that took him in, and calculate the historic magnitude of the wrestling accomplishment he sought, made for a captivating tale, especially in a close-knit community such as Smyrna with its rich wrestling history.
– Kevin Tresolini
Depth of nursing crises revealed
This is likely the most important story I published this year. Nursing staffing shortages at Delaware hospitals have greatly affected patient care, and nurses feared it would only continue to get worse as the pandemic rages.
I spoke to more than a dozen nurses, nearly all of whom were scared, exhausted and demoralized. Everyone I interviewed worried that talking to a reporter could affect their employment, yet they all agreed to speak with me because they felt the public needed to know what was happening inside hospitals.
After the publication of this story, many nurses reached out to me about how they finally felt “seen” and how some managers were finally addressing the issue. During a turbulent year, this story reminded me about the important work we do – and how our community is better because of it.
– Meredith Newman
Impact of Delaware’s low jobless benefits
This story highlighted an issue that many Delawareans may not have known about, which is that the state has the lowest unemployment benefit in the region thanks to low tax rates imposed on businesses.
It profiled four people who were struggling to survive on weekly unemployment checks – so much so that they faced eviction notices, threats of repossession of their car, paltry Christmases and homelessness.
The story raised awareness about the state’s policy, which officials appear to have yet to change in light of the story.
– Sarah Gamard
Mr. Deer’s wild ride
It’s common to watch deer dashing across the highway in Delaware. But it’s not normal to see them cruising in the passenger seat of a car on Instagram.
“Bruh really caught a deer and had [her] riding shot gun,” a commenter on Instagram wrote.
“Lol, how the [expletive] did u even get that deer in your car though,” another person asked.
“Bro, no way this [is] legal,” yet another said.
That’s only a fraction of the story behind a white-tailed deer named Bambi that befriended a young man from Newark at the start of this year.
– Andre Lamar
Write to your pre-COVID self
It feels out of place to call this one of my stories, but this is the package from the past year I’m most proud of.
The project allowed a wide range of Delawareans to share their own reflections on the first year we all lived with COVID-19. It broke the mold of a traditional story, spotlighting directly the poignant thoughts of everyone from a health care worker dealing directly with COVID-19 patients to a Lewes student who missed his 7th birthday celebration.
– Brandon Holveck
Teen’s project brings joy to sick kids
As someone with a family history riddled with losses due to cancer, I was immediately able to empathize with Nick’s purpose behind his organization.
Listening to him talk about his desire to help others, it was evident he is passionate about turning his grief into something greater and I was glad I could help him reach a larger audience.
While writing this story, I began thinking about the ways in which we handle loss and how we try to honor those we have lost. Whether it’s telling the stories of those we miss or creating something as a tribute to them, the goal is always to feel less alone and more tethered to the people around us.
As Nick said, it’s all about creating a connection. What better thing can we do for one another, as humans, than that?
– Krys’tal Griffin
It’s OK for guys to cry
As features editor, I get to read lots of fun stories. In 2021, I worked with reporters about our obsession with the HBO series “Mare of Easttown,’’ our cultlike devotion to Wawa, our nostalgia for the Dolles sign, our passion for drive-in movie theaters and our fascination with all things Joe Biden, including the candy he keeps in the Oval Office.
It would be tough to choose a favorite story, but one that has stuck with me is Ryan Cormier’s piece about a podcast hosted by two Delaware dudes who want to remove the stigma attached to male tears.
Reuben Dhanawade and Adam Cooke are old college buddies who reconnected during the pandemic. Their stereo-busting podcast is called “Guys Who Cry.’’
“We figured it kind of rhymes and gets the message across that we’re open to talk about anything,” Cooke, 34, said of the podcast name.
Cormier sums up better than I could why his piece resonates: “ [With] the country nearly a full year into the pandemic, emotion runs high for many as the stress of the seemingly never-ending disaster compounds. And perhaps that’s why it’s especially refreshing to hear a pair of straight Delaware dudes sharing vulnerable, intimate moments and talking it out for all to hear.’’
As NFL legend Rosie Grier once sang, “It’s alright to cry/Crying gets the sad out of you/It’s alright to cry/It might make you feel better.’’
– Tammy Paolino