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A Look Back At Our Favorite KUER Stories Of 2020

An illustration of a rearview mirror with a face mask hanging off it, with a sign reading 'leaving 2020' reflected in it.
Renee Bright
KUER reporters covered beats and stories across the state in an unprecedented year of challenges. From racial justice to sexual assault, our coverage has been widespread.

Utah Has Seen Abuse In ‘Troubled Teen’ Programs For Decades. Now, Momentum Slowly Builds For Change.

“When I first moved to St. George in the summer of 2019, the kind folks who toured me around town often included a stop at the gates of Red Rock Canyon School — which, back then, was more often referred to as the “school that had a riot” only five weeks earlier. That introduction left quite an impression. And for next year and half, I grew fascinated in this industry, which seemed shrouded in whispers of both big profits and widespread mistreatment, and how it came to grow larger in Utah than anywhere else. This fall, Paris Hilton stepped forward with her own stories of abuse in a Utah facility and inspired countless others to do the same. From building trust with former residents to requesting and reviewing hundreds of pages of agency records, the reporting in this piece took months to assemble. I hope it offers both a big picture perspective and a close-up view of a historic moment in our state.” — David Fuchs, Central Utah Bureau Reporter

How Can I Help? One Activist At Saturday's SLC Protest Finds Beauty In Reaching Across the Line

Photo of a group of protesters facing a line of police.
Elaine Clark

“Protests for racial justice rocked the nation this year after the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor. On May 30, Salt Lake City saw unrest culminating in the burning of a police car, vandalism and tense standoffs. In this piece I spoke with Shea Freedom, a transgender Black man who attended the protests. He told me how he tried to de-escalate situations that felt like they were about to boil over, even engaging members of the far-right group the Proud Boys and sharing a moment with their organizer that went beyond political divides. Freedom has lived his life as both a Black woman and a Black man, “enduring and surviving” in an America that could be cruel, yet he consistently chose empathy over hate. It was a tough time to be a reporter, and covering the protests after months of lockdown left me feeling overwhelmed. Interviewing Freedom gave me hope and showed that it’s easier to connect with those we disagree with when we first recognize our common humanity.” — Caroline Ballard, All Things Considered Host

Some Jobs May Not Be Coming Back. For Many Utahns, That Means Starting Over.

“This was one of my favorite stories of the year because I think it explored two aspects of this surreal and unwieldy pandemic we all find ourselves in — the sheer destruction it’s brought to the economy but also the unexpected opportunities that came out of it. I was interested in how people whose jobs had essentially been eliminated were figuring out what to do next, particularly those who had built their careers or pursued passions in industries that are just not viable right now. I loved hearing about people like Jacob and LIzadel’s journeys pre-pandemic and seeing them on the cusp of some exciting new adventures. It was also nice because I finally got to do some reporting in person — what a concept! — and record a drone flying over the Wasatch Back.” — Jon Reed

Navajo Families Without Internet Struggle To Home-School During COVID-19 Pandemic

“This story means a lot to me because it shines a light on how hard schooling is right now in areas without access to basic necessities, like the Internet. It was also a fun story to report, because people actually wanted to talk to me. I posted on a Facebook group for people in Monument Valley that I was looking for parents to speak to about their children’s education, and I received at least five responses. That showed me this was a real problem. After talking to some of the parents, I realized that while my life had barely changed due to the pandemic, theirs had been completely upended. And that is all because they lack access to the Internet. Finally, after the story ran on NPR, a number of listeners reached out and offered to send money to the family in the story. Another listener donated $2,000 to Monument Valley High School.” — Kate Groetzinger, Southeast Utah Bureau Reporter

Police Interactions With Homeless People Still Criticized Three Years After Operation Rio Grande

Russel Daniels for KUER

“This summer’s protests for police reform shined a light on how law enforcement interacts with marginalized communities. Oftentimes, those groups are talked about but don’t get to share their own stories. I was grateful to connect with Maria, a woman who has been experiencing homelessness in Salt Lake City for decades. She described her interactions with the police three years after Operation Rio Grande started, which was an effort to address crime and homelessness in downtown Salt Lake. This year, some state and city leaders suggested law enforcement needs to continue to address homelessness, but Maria and local advocacy organizations say there are better ways to help unsheltered people. This story is one example that behind every movement or broad social issue, like police brutality and homelessness, there are real people whose lives are affected.” — Emily Means, Politics Reporter

Frequent Wildfires May Prove Too Much For The Threatened Mojave Desert Tortoise

“This year was a record-breaking year for wildfires in Utah. Not because of the number of acres burned, or even the number of fires started, but because of how many were because of people. Over three-fourths of fires in the state were human caused and two devastating ones were in my neck of the woods. The Turkey Farm Road and Cottonwood Trail fires — both started by people — burned over 13,000 acres of protected Mojave Desert tortoise habitat. I was able to walk around with biologist Mike Schijf and survey the damage, it was sad to see the shrubs native to the red desert landscape burned to a crisp. I was also able to see inside some deep tortoise burrows and even saw a few hunkered in. Mike told me the hot, dry summer we’d experienced meant most of the tortoises were in their burrows and may have survived the flames, but the long-term consequences of these fires on tortoise populations won’t be fully understood for some time.” — Lexi Peery, Southwest Utah Bureau Reporter

‘How Is It That No One Cares?’ Utahns Find Community By Sharing Their Sexual Assault Stories Online

Renee Bright

“This summer, Utahns took to social media to share their stories of sexual assault using the hashtag #utahrapists. They found community, support, validation, and empowerment. I felt so humbled that the Utahns I interviewed trusted me to tell these very personal stories, and I’m in awe of their bravery in sharing their stories to a state-wide audience. This story hits on what I believe is a cultural shift we’re experiencing related to consent, empowerment, and social media. While similar movements have existed for decades, social media has allowed them to spread faster and wider than ever before -- something that’s particularly pronounced and powerful in localized movements like this one. Just look at Maya, the main character of this story, who finally felt like people cared about what happened to her, years after the alleged assault. Or look at Lexey, who’s perspective on things she witnessed in high school changed drastically through reading the stories on this hashtag. There’s a popular saying that journalists write the first draft of history. People like Maya and Lexey are making that history, and I feel so fortunate to be the one to write it down.” — Sonja Hutson, Politics Reporter

Fighting To Make Groups Healthier: Proponents Say Decriminalizing Polygamy Would Help Root Out Abuse

"In February, the Utah legislature voted to "decriminalize" polygamy in the state. That means that for consenting adults, polygamy is now considered an infraction ... like a traffic ticket. It remains a felony if it is associated with crimes like child abuse or kidnapping. It's hard to separate polygamy and Utah politics. Abolishing the practice was crucial to Utah being admitted as a state in 1896. I studied folklore at university, and have long been a student of how people's personal lives are impacted by the power of the state. Polygamy didn't end with the decrees of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or federal and state law. It was driven underground. In the last two decades, there have been movements to root out abuse of women and children, but also to carve out a space for adults to make choices about how they arrange their personal lives. What role can and should the state play in protecting the vunerable and protecting the rights of individuals? That's the question at the heart of this brief conversation." — Elaine Clark, News Director

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