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From Lead Pipes To Ticket Gripes, WBEZ’s Most Popular Stories Of The Year

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Best of News Collage

Many of WBEZ’s most impactful stories also happened to be our most popular.

From left: Sebastián Hidalgo for the BGA, WBEZ; Monica Eng/WBEZ; Matt Marton/AP

WBEZ published hundreds of stories this year, both independently and in collaboration with other Chicago news outlets like the Sun-Times, ProPublica Illinois, and the Better Government Association.

Some of our investigations led to changes in how your government works. For instance:

Many of our most meaningful stories also happened to be our most popular — some impactful, some hopeful, some fun. Here’s a look at some of our most read stories of 2018.

Do you have a news tip you want to share with WBEZ? Contact us via email at or by phone at 312-948-4650.

News and analysis

Friday, Oct 5, 2018: People embrace as they listen intently to live streamed coverage of a jury's conviction of Chicago police Officer Jason Van Dyke of second-degree murder in the 2014 shooting of teenager Laquan McDonald. Activist groups did not threaten to riot. (Matt Marton/AP)

Unreasonable Fear Blocks Our View of Black Humanity

Tension engulfed the city as it waited for a Chicago jury to announce a verdict in the murder trial of Officer Jason Van Dyke. Chicago Public Schools canceled games and homecomings. Chicago police officers waited on alert in various neighborhoods. Downtown businesses sent people home early.

But when the jury found Van Dyke guilty of second-degree murder and aggravated battery in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald, peaceful marches of celebration took place downtown.

“There’s a difference between caution and fear mongering,” WBEZ’s Natalie Moore wrote, “and just as the jury determined that Van Dyke’s fear of McDonald was unreasonable, perhaps the same was true of those who feared catastrophic black rage in response to an acquittal.”

Homeless Patients Get Novel Treatment From Chicago Hospitals: Housing

Half of the 100 heaviest users of the University of Illinois Hospital emergency room were homeless, according to Stephen Brown, director of Preventive Emergency Medicine at the hospital. “They come through all the time.”

So in 2015, the University of Illinois began a pilot project to provide housing for 26 people it called “super utilizers” of the ER.

The results? Good for patients and cost-effective for the hospital, Brown said. WBEZ’s Miles Bryan offers this profile of a man who’s taking part in the program.

Which CPS Elementary Schools Send The Most Kids To Top High Schools?

Chicago Public Schools has 11 selective enrollment high schools, five of which are some of the best high schools in the state and even the country.

But a third of Chicago’s elementary schools didn’t send a single student to any of those elite schools last year.

WBEZ education reporter Sarah Karp explains why that happened — and provides a database where parents can see what percentage of eighth-graders at any given school ended up at one of these selective enrollment high schools last year.

State Struggling To House Paroled Prisoner As Communities Push Him Out

Carl Reimann murdered five people in Yorkville during a 1972 robbery. After a 45-year prison stint, the state of Illinois decided he had been rehabilitated and released him.

But finding him a place to live has been futile. Threats and public outcry prompted the Illinois Department of Corrections to pull Reimann out of three residences during the course of his initial parole. He’s still in prison.

Advocates say he’s served his time, while family members of Reimann’s victims say someone who committed such a violent crime should never have been paroled in the first place.

It’s a complicated story explained artfully by WBEZ’s Max Green.

How Dolton, Illinois Reflects America’s Changing Suburbs

Freight trains frequently pass through Riverdale and Dolton, usually stopping for more than two hours at a time, barricading families into timely journeys. (Sebastián Hidalgo/For Better Government Association, WBEZ)

For the first time in American history, suburban poverty has eclipsed urban poverty.

In this collaboration with the Better Government Association, we tell the story of how one small town became trapped in a downward spiral that follows a well-worn pattern of deindustrialization.

The focus is Dolton, a blue-collar suburb south of Chicago, but it just as easily could be Riverdale, Harvey, Dixmoor, Posen, Calumet City, or other nearby suburbs that once were powered by steel and other industry.

It’s an impressive piece of journalism from the BGA’s Casey Toner and WBEZ’s Miles Bryan, with stunning photography from Sebastián Hidalgo.

A Generation Of School Closings

In the time it has taken for a child to grow up in Chicago, city leaders have either closed or re-staffed some 200 public schools — nearly a third of the entire district.

This WBEZ investigation looks at the 70,000 children — nearly 90 percent of them black — who have been affected by the tactic of closing and opening schools as a way to improve education.

15 Things You Can Actually Rent From The Field Museum

Turns out that Chicago’s Field Museum has a rental collection open to the general public.

Rentable items include hundreds of stuffed birds and animals, ancient instruments, and even fake bear feces. Plus, the big kahuna: a replica of a full-sized T-rex skull.

WBEZ’s Monica Eng takes a tour of the collection and offers this list of some of the more notable items.

What’s That Building? UIC’s Behavioral Sciences Building

With octagonal stairwells, classrooms without windows, and hallways that lead to nowhere, a trip to the Behavioral Sciences Building at the University of Illinois at Chicago can be like walking inside an M.C. Escher drawing.

Take a look at these amazing photos from WBEZ’s Jason Marck, along with expert analysis from Dennis Rodkin of Crain’s Chicago Business.


Former President Barack Obama after he was named head of the Harvard Law Review in 1990. In Making Obama, a six-part podcast from WBEZ, hear how Chicago shaped Obama's political ambitions. (Corbis via Getty Images)

Making Obama

In 1985, Barack Obama moved to Chicago, a city he didn’t know, hoping to create change. Just over two decades later, he would become the 44th president.

In interviews with the former president and his advisers, mentors, and rivals, this six-part podcast from the producers of Making Oprah tells the story of one man’s meteoric rise to become the United States’ first African-American president.

Making Obama appeared on multiple “best of the year” podcast lists and reached more than a million ears. Have a listen. And as Obama himself tells WBEZ’s Jenn White, “Gotta make time for the hometown public radio station.”

16 Shots

Chicago hardly noticed when a white cop fatally shot a black 17-year-old in the middle of the street in October 2014. The days that followed Laquan McDonald’s death saw no newspaper obituaries, no press conferences, and no large protests.

But the story rocked Chicago 13 months later when a judge ordered the city to release a police dashcam video of the shooting. The infamous recording shows Officer Jason Van Dyke exit a police SUV and — within seconds — fire 16 shots at McDonald. Police reported McDonald had been swinging a knife at officers, but the video shows the teen walking away.

The fallout was swift: Officers were accused of a cover-up, the top cop was fired, and the U.S. Justice Department launched a probe into the city’s police department.

16 Shots is an ambitious podcast project produced by WBEZ and the Chicago Tribune that covers the shooting of McDonald, the trials of Van Dyke and three other Chicago police officers, and the troubled relationship between African-Americans and the Chicago Police Department.

Following Van Dyke’s October conviction on second-degree murder, host Jenn White and the 16 Shots team remain on the case, covering the ongoing police conspiracy trial and Van Dyke’s forthcoming sentencing.

Nerdette: I Have A Rare Genetic Disease. CRISPR Might Fix It.

As a 4-year old in Alaska, WBEZ anchor Greta Johnsen was diagnosed with an eye condition known as “Best disease.” That name is somewhat of a misnomer — mainly because a disease called “Best” actually causes premature macular degeneration — but curiously it happens to be among the best diseases for experimenting with CRISPR, a genetic engineering tool that can be used to edit DNA.

This episode of Nerdette was the podcast’s third most popular episode ever. (Full disclosure: I helped produce the audio). It follows the story of Johnsen, her father who also has Best disease, and Dr. Bruce Conklin, a scientist who’s currently developing a CRISPR system to inject into some Johnsen family eyeballs.

Justin Bull is an audio and digital producer at WBEZ. Follow him on Twitter @JustyBull.

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