Now that 2021 is winding to an end, I can’t imagine many people are holding vigils for its demise. The year was tough. For news people hardly got a break. I wrote about the first half of the year below. The second half got even busier.
Late this year I was in the courtroom for the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse, the Illinois teenager who fatally shot two people and severely injured a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin. There’s no need to rehash what we already know — and what I wrote the case extensively for the Washington Post starting the night the violence took place. Go to the full archive and type “Rittenhouse” in the search bar and you’ll get the full gamut. Meanwhile, check out my piece about the two lawsuits leveled, not against Rittenhouse, but against the city of Kenosha for creating a situation they say allowed the violence to take place. Expect big news about both lawsuits in 2022.
Outside Rittenhouse, I managed to get a few words in the Post on some other issues. First, a new report shows that life expectancy among the poorest Blacks in Chicago has jumped significantly within a decade. Here’s a Post story I wrote about what the city plans to do about it. In July, I wrote about a historic victory for police reform advocates: Oversight of the Chicago Police Department is being handed to an elected board of community members. This fall I wrote about the city’s plan to become the largest city in the U.S. to offer a guaranteed income. The program is a pilot and is limited, but it follows a national trend of smaller cities to do the same. One shocking development is the unionization drive of workers at the Art Institute of Chicago and its sister arts university. The efforts revealed disturbing details about the treatment of workers there, from those working the gift shop to curators. Read my Post story here.
Finally, one of my favorite Post stories to write in 2021 came in September. I wrote about the ancestors of “Free Frank” McWorter, a former slave from Kentucky who in 1831 created New Philadelphia, a small farming town in Illinois, just 20 miles from Hannibal, Missouri, a slave port. Frank’s ancestors have kept his story going and now, the site will become part of the National Parks Service system. Why isn’t this story a movie yet? It should, and I won’t be surprised when it is.
This year I started working as a field producer for ABC News. In this role, I scout and conduct interviews for breaking news stories. This year that meant going to Waukesha, Wisconsin for the horrific violence at a holiday parade, and then to Kentucky to report on the tornado damage there. All my work appeared on ABC News programs, including Good Morning America and World News Tonight. In Kentucky, I encountered a married couple saving dogs they found on the sites of demolished homes. I’ll never forget that day, especially this one photo I snapped of four dogs who look terrified after going through a tornado, outside and alone.
The end of the year did not coast to the finish line. In Chicago, December meant the trial of actor Jussie Smollett who after a two-week trial was convicted of staging a hate crime. I sat in the courtroom each day for the New York Times, working with Julia Jacobs in New York. Unlike Rittenhouse, no cameras or live feed were allowed in the room, so coverage of this very unusual, and downright disturbing, case resulted from just a dozen or so reporters who were there each day, some of which stretched 10 hours. I think it’s fair to say that Smollett’s narcissism drove him to believe he would escape prosecution, and then a conviction. But after two days of being grilled by famed criminal defense attorney Dan Webb (whose career stretches back to the 1980s when he famously led a team that put dozens of public officials and judges in prison), it became obvious that Smollett’s concocted story made little sense. He’ll be sentenced likely in February. Webb says because he committed perjury over two days on top of his convicted, he needs to do some time behind bars. A story Julia and I worked on a day after the trial looks at the likelihood of that. The rest of the “gavel to gavel” coverage can be found in my story archive.
Finally, 2021 marked the farewell of Bloodshot Records 1.0. I wrote about trouble at the famed Chicago-based record label exactly a year ago. In October I learned that a recently-formed music group purchased the label and will be monetizing its excellent back catalog for years to come. New Bloodshot music? Not yet on the horizon. Read the story here.
Cheers to 2021 and see you in the new year!