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WFAE's reporters, editors, producers and hosts worked tirelessly throughout 2021 to tell the stories that mattered most in the Charlotte area. Here's a look at some of our best work.

Here’s what WFAE will be watching in 2022 — in Charlotte and across the Carolinas

november 2020 charlotte skyline novant dc.jpg
Dashiell Coleman
Uptown Charlotte is seen from Novant Presbyterian Medical Center.

This past year was absolutely packed with news. And let’s be honest, 2022 won’t be any different. With the U.S. still clawing its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic and midterm elections looming, there will be plenty to keep an eye on.

Here are some of the big things WFAE will be watching — in the words of a few of our team members.

Ju-Don Marshall, executive vice president and chief content officer

In 2022, we’ll be doubling down on community listening. As a newsroom, we’ve made an effort to survey our community, invite community members into our newsroom to talk to staff members and to attend community events, all so we better understand the issues that are important to you. Our FAQ City podcast, Queen City PodQuest and our Charlotte music podcast, Amplifier, were all efforts to align with our community’s interest and to amplify voices that we may not otherwise hear.

We also embedded journalists with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in 2020 and 2021 to engage with the community around their information needs. And last but not least, prior to the pandemic, we brought Charlotte Talks to you in community spaces that allowed us to create a dialogue around important topics.

In 2022, we’re doubling down on this commitment. For the first time, we have a person fully devoted to community engagement on our team, Dante Miller. She and other members of our team are reaching out to community members, groups, organizations and leaders to determine how we can tell more of the stories that matter to you.

Our digital director, Jennifer Lang, and I have been working on a new platform, Story Mosaic, that will allow any community member to share story ideas with newsrooms throughout our area. The platform creates real transparency around what topics in which ZIP codes get covered. It also will tell us where some news gaps exist, providing our newsrooms an opportunity to fill the void.

At WFAE, we understand that our community plays a vital role in not only supporting our work but also in helping to shape it. We look forward to hearing from more of you.

Greg Collard, news director

The pandemic appears to have contributed to more than learning loss. It’s also affected how kids are acting in school. WFAE has reported on the increased fighting and discipline problems in schools. As of early December, CMS had reported a record number of guns found in schools, and we’re just halfway through the school year.

We’ve also reported on violence being up overall compared to two years ago. There was a teacher shortage before the pandemic, and the problem has worsened. Discipline problems have added to the duties of teachers. For example, adult supervision, as WFAE’s Ann Doss Helms reported, is now essential in common areas like bathrooms. It’s a frightening mess, and it’s not just a CMS problem.

CMS superintendent Earnest Winston says he’s addressing the gun problem, although details of his plan still need to be worked out. Let’s hope the situation improves in 2022. WFAE will be paying attention.

Sarah Mobley Smith, senior editor, race and equity team

We’ll be watching as U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, otherwise known as ICE, reforms the immigration detention system. What do the upcoming policy changes mean for undocumented immigrants in North Carolina?

As the number of homicides continues to rise in Charlotte, members of the LGBTQ+ community are concerned about the safety of transgender people of color. Most antidiscrimination laws in the U.S. do not offer explicit protections for transgender people. Are Charlotte-area lawmakers offering solutions?

Catherine Welch, assistant news director

What I’m watching is how the worker shortage is affecting industries in the government and private sectors. Nursing homes, day care centers and detention centers are just a few workplaces we’ve been watching and reporting on. And in the coming year, we’ll talk with business owners, workers and those who depend on critical services about the challenges of finding workers and the impact of not having enough.

We are also closely following the growing number of evictions as more residents move through the eviction process. Everyone involved is negatively impacted, and we’ll be reporting on how lives and the community are being affected.

Jennifer Lang, director of digital news and audience engagement

Expect to see more on WFAE.org in the coming year. Late in 2020, WFAE.org moved to a new, more robust content management system. This allows us to display news in better ways, like data visualizations and dynamic infographics. Digital producers and editors spent a lot of time in 2021 developing and strengthening their skills in delivering news with these new tools. Along with all the daily news, feature stories, Charlotte Talks shows and podcasts you’re used to finding on WFAE.org, this year you’ll also have more news delivered to you in clearer visuals. To play on an old adage — an infographic is worth a thousand words.

Wendy Herkey, executive producer, Charlotte Talks

Charlotte Talks will keep an eye on Mecklenburg County and our COVID-19 numbers as the pandemic enters yet another year. We’ll also watch how Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools continues to respond to the difficulties presented by the pandemic as well as how the district is managing an ongoing problem with guns and violence — not to mention low test scores.

Local politics will also be high on our radar throughout the year as we continue our monthly conversations between host Mike Collins and Charlotte Mayor Vi Lyles and our local news roundup each Friday.

Claire Donnelly, health reporter

The coronavirus appears to be here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. More than two-thirds of North Carolinians 12 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, but vaccination rates are lagging among younger people.

Meanwhile, the virus is constantly mutating and changing. Scientists and public health officials across the world are watching for the emergence of new and potentially dangerous strains.

The omicron variant, which was first spotted in southern Africa, could be even more contagious than the delta variant, which caused a rapid rise nationwide in cases and hospitalizations. North Carolina officials have continued to urge residents to get vaccinated or schedule booster shots.

We’ll be turning to new health leaders for pandemic guidance in 2022 as both Dr. Mandy Cohen and Gibbie Harris, secretary of North Carolina’s Department of Health and Human Services and director of Mecklenburg County Public Health, respectively, step down from their posts. Cohen and Harris became fixtures of coronavirus news briefings and will leave big shoes to fill for their respective replacements, Kody Kinsley and Dr. Raynard Washington.

Steve Harrison, politics reporter

After a relatively quiet 2021, North Carolina politics will once again take its place as one of the most chaotic and critical states in the nation.

The new year will start with questions over the constitutionality of the state’s congressional map and maps for the General Assembly. The state Supreme Court has ordered a lower court to make a decision on the maps by Jan. 11.

That issue is likely to dominate the winter, especially if judges order new maps to be drawn. After that, the state’s primary is in May, with the U.S. Senate race taking top billing. Cheri Beasley is the Democratic frontrunner. On the Republican side, Pat McCrory and Ted Budd are the frontrunners.

There are also primaries for Charlotte City Council and mayor and Mecklenburg County Commission. And six Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board seats are up for election in 2022, too.

Ann Doss Helms, education reporter

Anyone who planned their year in 2020 has to be humble about projecting the big stories of 2022. The last pre-pandemic story I started, in March 2020, was on a new curriculum to help Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools kids read. I did interviews at Huntersville Elementary three days before North Carolina’s schools closed, but lo and behold, figuring out the best way to teach reading remains a huge challenge for 2022, made even more urgent by pandemic setbacks.

The same could be said for educators grappling with race, equity and how to teach America’s troubled history. I’ll be working with our Race and Equity Team to explore the voices of the region’s Latino population as it relates to public education. And of course, I’ll be keeping tabs on efforts to help all students make up the academic losses that occurred during the pandemic.

Sadly, it looks like my beat will continue to overlap with health and police coverage, as schools continue to wrestle with COVID-19 safety and a surge of fighting, guns and disruption makes school safety an urgent challenge.

Amid all this, I hope to find opportunities to visit schools and bring you the voices of students, teachers and principals who are being creative, having fun and doing the real work of education. I hope you’ll share your ideas: The best stories from the classroom don’t come from news releases or meetings.

David Boraks, climate reporter

World leaders gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, in November in hopes of taking more steps toward resolving the climate crisis. There was an agreement, which for the first time at these U.N. conferences mentioned the need to reduce the use of fossil fuels. But scientists and climate activists had hoped for a pledge to eliminate them. The big result: Come back next year with stronger and more concrete pledges to cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Global and national commitments only go so far. In 2022, we'll likely see state and local governments talking more about climate. In cities across the Carolinas, this will mean puzzling over just how to meet climate pledges from two or three years ago.

We'll be watching for more cities to commit to using more renewable energy, as they try to eliminate fossil fuels as they do business.

And utilities will have to keep changing, too. In North Carolina, state environmental regulators will have until the end of 2022 to draft a plan for how to hit the state's goal of cutting carbon emissions from energy plants by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching carbon neutrality by 2050.

We'll also likely hear more about how utilities will replace coal-fired plants, though that could mean an expansion of natural gas plants in the medium term.

Expect more debate over how apparent climate solutions can actually be environmentally unfriendly. I'm referring to things like the wood pellet industry and the proposed lithium mine west of Charlotte.

As for individuals, the question in 2022 will be whether we recognize the need for climate action and decide to make household-level changes. That could mean buying electric vehicles or changing other buying habits with the planet in mind.

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