From Lead Pipes To Ticket Gripes, WBEZ’s Most Popular Stories Of The Year
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:
- One led the Chicago Park District to test its nearly 1,200 outdoor water fountains for lead — and then decommission nearly half of them.
- Another prompted the creation of a City Hall task force to examine its ticketing practices after it became apparent they disproportionately affect Chicago’s low-income and black communities.
- Another revealed that there have been 113 police shootings in suburban Cook County since 2005, and not a single one resulted in an officer being fired, charged criminally, or even disciplined, leading to a change in state law.
- And another exposed how the Rauner administration intentionally delayed its response to a deadly crisis at a state-run veterans’ center, an issue that was attacked during the governor’s unsuccessful campaign for re-election.
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.
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News and analysis
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.”
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.
One Chicago hospital found that paying rent for homeless patients who frequent the ER improves health and saves money. https://t.co/K3jlrxV7x7— WBEZ (@WBEZ) January 6, 2018
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.
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.
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.
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.
i spoke to Linda Lutton for this @WBEZeducation piece and i was waiting eagerly for it to come out and now that it's out it has my jaw hanging open. me, a person who has spent the last 5 years obsessing over school closures.https://t.co/D2W5nlUI8C— wikipedia brown told Santa the truth about you (@eveewing) December 5, 2018
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke has been found guilty of second-degree murder and on all 16 counts of aggravated battery.— WBEZ (@WBEZ) October 5, 2018
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.