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. 

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.

21. Digging into Rural History

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. 

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.

18. A Trip to New Vrindaban

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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’

The fourth season of Netflix’s first big streaming hit fleshes out Hawkins, Indiana, with plenty of 1980s wood paneling and period-accurate décor, while underscoring the importance of our relationship with the places that raise us.

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.

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.

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. 

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.

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. 

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.

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