For three years running now, we’ve marked the New Year’s holiday by sharing our top rural stories from the preceding 12 months. It’s a fun and useful exercise for us, and we hope it’s an entertaining look back for our readers too. However, it should be noted that it’s also become a more difficult undertaking over time.
In 2019, when we first started these “Year in Review” recaps, the Daily Yonder published about 250 articles. In 2022, we published almost three times that many. What’s more, our stories have begun to travel in more far-reaching and multifaceted ways. It’s no longer just the story you read here on our website. There’s a weekly radio program that extends our reporting into audio form, there’s republishing and syndication of our stories, plus partnerships with other newsrooms across the country. And, of course, there’s the ever-expanding universe of social media and news apps and aggregators too.
All that is to say, determining which Daily Yonder stories were the true “top dogs” in 2022 takes a little more parsing than it used to. But even when you do have the means to figure it out, there’s a whole other set of questions that follow. Will the most popular stories also be the most important and meaningful ones? Will vital, necessary reporting be lost in the shuffle amid the power of algorithms, trending topics, and groupthink?
We won’t spoil the answers, other than to say that we’ve expanded our field of view this year, to help you draw your own conclusions; as opposed to our previous top 10 lists, this time we’re doing a full “22 Stories for 2022.” As we’ve done in the past, we’ve also paired some top-performing pieces together, when the occasion called for it, to make some extra room for additional stories worthy of note.
We hope you enjoy this look back on the year in rural news.
Honorable Mention: The 2022 Midterm Elections
It was an election year in 2022, but, believe it or not, no single election story landed in our top 22. While we had no shortage of good reporting on offer, there is a certain comfort in this outcome. With worries about democracy at a fever pitch, we’ll take it as a win that the midterms unfolded in pretty normal fashion with no earth-shaking stories attracting massive attention. There’s one highlight we shouldn’t overlook, though: this was the first election where the Daily Yonder brought you live election results as they came in.
22. Water in the West, and More Collaborations
The story below was a collaboration between the Daily Yonder and the Sierra Nevada Ally, a nonprofit newsroom serving the Sierra Nevada region. Be on the lookout for more partnerships like this in the year ahead.
‘Til the Last Drop: As Water Grows Scarce in Utah, Urban and Rural Needs Come to a Head
And in case you missed it, we’ll take this opportunity to highlight another important collaboration from 2022: “Breaking Point,” a series on rural health care co-reported with a coalition of other nonprofit newsrooms, via the Institute for Nonprofit News Rural News Network.
Breaking Point: Specialists, Broadband and the Fight for Health Equity in Rural America
21. Digging into Rural History
German POW Camps in the U.S. Co-Existed with Their Towns in Sometimes Odd Ways
20. Kentucky Floods
Over the summer, terrible floods swept through eastern Kentucky. The rising waters stopped just inches short of the Daily Yonder’s headquarters in Whitesburg, but many of our friends and allies in the area were not so fortunate. In the days since, we’ve been following the recovery efforts, and this story about President Biden’s visit to the region was our most-read piece of coverage. It’s going to take time for our neighbors in Kentucky to build back from the destruction of the floods. We’ll be sticking with them, with more stories of resilience and recovery to come in 2023.
As the President Visits Kentucky After Flooding, Residents Send a Message of Resilience and Frustration
19. Guns in America
Our data reporting, long a point of pride, got an added boost in 2022 courtesy of Rural Reporting Fellow Sarah Melotte. This two-part story about gun deaths in rural America was our highest-performing piece of data journalism for the year.
Rural and Urban Counties with the Highest Gun Death Rates
Rural Gun Deaths Exceed Urban Rates by 28%
18. A Trip to New Vrindaban
The Gilded Palace in the Mountains
17. Back to School
We built a stronger rural education beat in 2022, with help from Rural Reporting Fellow Lane Wendell Fischer and a partnership with nonprofit news organization Open Campus Media. Amid a growing collection of strong education stories, this one about elite colleges’ efforts to recruit rural students got top marks.
For Some Top Colleges ‘Rural Students’ Are Coming into Focus
16. Crypto Conundrums
Cryptocurrency had a tumultuous year in the headlines, with recent scandals only underscoring some of the worries surfaced in this story focused on the rural angles of crypto development.
Cryptocurrency Operations See Rural Communities as Host Candidates
15. Abortion Access: Rural America After Roe
The U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, overturning the precedent of Roe v. Wade and the constitutional right to an abortion, was perhaps the biggest news event of 2022. In those moments, the Daily Yonder exists to ask, “What will this mean for rural people?” And that’s what we did here, with a number of urgent stories about the implications of America’s changing abortion landscape. Based on the interest of our readers and publishing partners, the impact on rural maternity units was and will be the most significant thing to watch, along with other oft-cited concerns.
Roe v. Wade Decision Could Result in Heavier Burdens on Rural Maternity Units
Distance to Care Would Be Much Bigger Factor Post-Roe v. Wade
Organization Helping With Access to Abortion Sees Large Increase in Interest Post-Supreme Court Decision
14. Upsides and Downsides of Rural Rec
Don’t miss Sarah Melotte’s excellent coverage of rural recreation communities, exemplified in this story about two such counties in Colorado.
Exporting the Poor? Colorado Resort County Exemplifies the Double Edge of Attracting the Affluent
13. White House Gets Busy on Rural Policy
Beyond the Infrastructure Bill and the Inflation Reduction Act, the Biden Administration was busy rolling out rural initiatives in 2022, including a Rural Playbook and a Rural Partners Network. The latter garnered a healthy amount of attention from Daily Yonder readers.
USDA’s Rural Partners Network Targets Communities with Greatest Infrastructure Needs
12. Llamas and LGBTQ+ Ranchers
The blurb below offers only a small taste of the great photography that awaits in this story about LGBTQ+ ranchers in the Mountain West.
Reclaiming Nature for the Queer Community One Ranch at a Time
11. Covid-19’s Continuing Effects on Rural Health
Covid-19 didn’t loom as large in 2022, as far as mainstream news coverage and audience attention are concerned. But its effects continue to be felt by rural health care providers and communities alike. Liz Carey’s ongoing coverage of rural health captured that and more, with the three stories below hitting on issues of particular interest to our audience.
As Covid-19 Wanes, Some Changes to Rural Hospitals Remain
Rural Communities Deal with Increase in Dangerous Alcohol Usage
Randomized Study Will Test Effectiveness of ‘Home Hospitalization’ for Rural Patients
10. Keeping the Beat
Kristi Eaton was a steady presence in 2022, solidifying her place as one of the Daily Yonder’s most dedicated reporters. Most weeks saw multiple stories from Kristi and these two were the most popular in an impressive portfolio.
Business-Pitch Competitions: A New Economic Development Strategy for Rural America
Arts-Based Residencies Influence Rural Communities Both Culturally And Economically
9. Path Finders Favs
We continued to bring you quality Q&A conversations in 2022 via our Path Finders newsletter. Among nearly 50 different interviews, these three rose to the top, landing among our most popular stories for the year.
Q&A: Efforts to Decriminalize Psychedelics Can Extend to Rural Places, Too
Q&A: Improving Access in Rural Alaska with Ms. Wheelchair USA Contestant Kristie Lent
Q&A: How Rural America’s Assets Have Been Systematically Stripped Away
8. Book Report
This book review from Skylar Baker-Jordan was a social media favorite throughout the year, generating periodic chatter and admiration long after its initial publication.
Review: ‘Another Appalachia: Coming Up Queer and Indian in a Mountain Place’
7. The New Rural Renaissance?
It’s a question posed in 2020 that has continued to hang in the air since: Will remote and hybrid work lead to a new rural renaissance? Based on the reaction to this piece by new Daily Yonder contributor Erik Richardson, folks are still dying to find out.
Does the ‘Future of Work’ Open a New Growth Horizon for Small Towns?
6. Classic Columns
We’re big fans of Donna Kallner and Eliza Blue, two of our regular columnists here at the Daily Yonder. Our readers appear to share the sentiment, with Donna and Eliza’s columns, 45 Degrees North and Accidental Rancher, churning out the hits pretty reliably. These editions were the biggest of the bunch in 2022.
45 Degrees North: Where We’re Always Ready For An Outage
Accidental Rancher: Garden Feast and Famine
45 Degrees North: When Someone Is Missing
5. Streaming Star Power
Stranger Things 4 was great for musical artists like Kate Bush and Metallica in 2022, and it turns out it was pretty good for the Daily Yonder too. At the beginning of the year, we launched a new newsletter and column called “The Good, the Bad, and the Elegy,” focused on rural contributions to entertainment and pop culture. Just as Stranger Things 4 was Netflix’s most popular program in 2022, this was our most popular story on that emergent pop culture beat, and one of the most-read pieces of Daily Yonder content about any subject all year.
The Small-Town Nostalgia of ‘Stranger Things 4’
4. Focus on Free Hill
It was a pleasant surprise to see this podcast interview with Cynthia McCowan of Athens, Tennessee land as high as it did. It’s not a hot-button, high-profile national story, but it has a unique distinction among this year’s Daily Yonder stories: This interview eventually led to the debut of the Rural Assembly’s “Free Hill: Renewal & Rememory,” a photo and video exhibition — on view virtually and in person — created by Daily Yonder multimedia producer Xandr Brown.
Cynthia McCowan: Lifting Black Voices and History in Athens, Tennessee
For another podcast highlight, see also our interview with Beau of the Fifth Column, which made quite a splash on YouTube this year, notching more than 50,000 views and counting.
Beau of the Fifth Column on Fact, Opinion, and the Democracy In Between
3. Illustrating the News
This past year saw the arrival of comic journalism to the Daily Yonder, thanks to the talents of illustrator and graphic journalist Nhatt Nichols. Nhatt’s stories breaking down complex news events in visual form were among some of our favorites in 2022, hitting on everything from stimulus spending and municipal canning to union organizing. We’re looking forward to bringing you even more of her work in 2023.
Yes We Can: The Rise, Fall, and Potential Rebirth of Municipal Canning
Illustrating the News: The Battle Over Debt Relief for Black Farmers
Illustrating the News: What the Expanded Child Tax Credit Means for Rural Families
Illustrating the News: Union Organizers Seek Solidarity at Small-Town Starbucks Stores
Illustrating the News: How Are Rural Communities Using American Rescue Plan Funds?
2. Monopolies No More?
Every year brings at least a couple of stories that take on a life of their own, and this was one of those for 2022. It’s safe to say the Covid-19 pandemic increased interest in confronting consolidated corporate power in America’s food system. The strong response to this story — registering more than 1 million views in 2022 — speaks to the prospect of growing momentum in that movement.
New Bill Wants to Ban Mergers in Ag and Food Sectors
1. Making a Case
The federal government’s efforts to roll out a debt relief program for Black farmers and other marginalized groups got tied up in a series of lawsuits, but this commentary’s rank as our most-read story for 2022 speaks to the way things will play out in the court of public opinion as well. This was another piece that crossed 1 million views, and like the one before it, a big part of that success was spurred along by the story’s republication on the website Civil Eats.
In addition to bringing you high-quality rural news reporting, we also pride ourselves on bringing you thoughtful, well-considered rural commentaries and op-eds as well. This story affirms the value readers get from hearing these perspectives.
Commentary: Stand Together to Defend Debt Relief for Black Farmers
Happy New Year
These highlights only scratch the surface of another busy and rewarding year in rural journalism. We’re grateful to all of our contributors and readers for making this work possible. Thanks for sticking with us, and on behalf of all of us at the Daily Yonder, we wish you a safe, healthy, and happy new year.