KMUW News In 2020
It probably goes without saying, but we're going to say it anyway: 2020, as a whole, is not an easy year to look back on.
But the year that started with a pandemic, ended with a tense election and saw a wave of protests against police violence in between, is finally coming to a close. As we always do, we asked KMUW reporters and producers to share the stories that shaped their year — perhaps not the most significant stories, or the ones with the most page views, but the ones that, for whatever reason, have stayed with them.
Here is KMUW News in 2020:
After months of meetings and workshops, a design firm hired by the Riverfront Legacy Master Plan Coalition released its recommendation for the downtown riverfront. It included a new performing arts center, acres of green space and no Century II.
"This story feels like it happened so long ago," said reporter Nadya Faulx. "There was so much interest in the riverfront area and so much concern about the future of Century II, but not long after the recommendation came out, the pandemic hit and sidelined everything."
Strange Currency host Jedd Beaudoin says of his interview with St. Louis-based singer-songwriter Beth Bombara: "One of the last interviews I did before COVID shuttered most venues for 2020. It's a sentimental favorite for that reason alone."
There are two types of Kansas cities: those that had the foresight to own their own streetlights and those that do not.
"The bizarre relationships between cities and their streetlights has been an obsession of mine since graduate school," said reporter Stephan Bisaha. "At the start of the year I finally explored who's winning and losing in Kansas while lighting up the roads."
Once it became clear the Kansas City Chiefs were going to win the Super Bowl, director of cultural diversity Carla Eckels says she zipped over to former Chiefs running back Jeff Smith's home in west Wichita to get his reaction:
"He was overjoyed and shared that he had actually watched the first KC Chiefs Super Bowl win 50 years ago with his dad. He was amazed by the reaction from KMUW listeners who had no idea that he once was an NFL football player! I love that people were stopping him on the elevator at the Sedgwick County Courthouse and all around the community, sharing they had heard the piece and were celebrating the win with him."
"Storm Large is another favorite interview," said producer Jedd Beaudoin. "She's authentic and outrageous and talking to her was a great reminder that much great art emerges from one place: loneliness."
The ocean that once covered Kansas is long gone, but traces of that ancient aquatic life are closer than you think, captured for the ages in fossil form.
Reporter Brian Grimmett went hunting for some and says: "I sure didn’t know how much ancient life sat below our feet until I began looking into this story. There are literally millions of fossils, easily accessible in Kansas that anyone can go and find. It’s also one of the few non-coronavirus related stories I did this year, and it’s nice to have a reminder that life wasn’t always like it is right now and that we’ll get back there one day."
Early in the pandemic, Wichita State made the decision to extend its spring break and shift all classes online for two weeks — though that ended up lasting much longer.
"I met former President Dr. Golden with some of the student groups I'm involved in, but never expected to meet with him to discuss a global pandemic," said News Lab intern David Garcia. "Stephan Bisaha and I spoke to him in his office as he broke the news to move classes online."
"The story in 2020 that resonates the most with me happened back in March," said reporter Deborah Shaar. "On a cold, gray day Sedgwick County Health Officer Dr. Minns issued a 30-day stay-at-home order. It was the first emergency public health order to slow the spread of the coronavirus. Elected officials were standing 6 feet apart as Dr. Minns made the announcement.
"It was a somber moment that signaled the seriousness of the virus threat. No one knew nine months later, Dr. Minns would still be issuing public health orders, and that COVID-19 community spread was still a big issue."
"We’ve done so many stories in the past year about the problems the pandemic has caused to just about every sector of the economy," said news director Tom Shine. "It was nice to do a few stories about companies persevering through the tough times, like this small-town grocery store and a commercial cleaning business in Wichita started by a couple of brothers."
Reporter Nadya Faulx visited HealthCore Clinic's free drive-through testing site on the last day of its first week and said "the line of cars waiting to pass through was remarkable. It showed how interested people were in getting tested at a time when asymptomatic COVID-19 tests were still hard to come by."
Hundreds of Wichitans demonstrated in front of the north police substation days after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis police officers. The event was part of a wave of demonstrations across the country this summer calling for police reform.
News director Tom Shine spoke to Junetta Everett after she was named chair of the Wichita Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; she is the first woman of color to serve in that position.
"The death of George Floyd sparked the need for more discussion about race and inclusion, including in the workplace," Shine said. "Junetta Everett of Delta Dental of Kansas had great insight and advice on the issue."
Cornell University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and 30 other schools owe at least part of their existence to land taken from Kansas’ indigenous people. Reporter Stephan Bisaha, using data analyzed by High Country News, looked at the dark history of land grant universities.
Director of cultural diversity Carla Eckels spoke to prominent Wichita civil rights advocate Marvin Stone Jr. about his experiences and why the racial injustice at the center of nationwide protests and news coverage last summer wasn't anything new.
"Longtime civil rights advocate Mr. Marvin Stone Jr. shared poignant thoughts of why he thought the protests were necessary this summer and his own experience with racism," Eckels said. "I was moved when recording his important history lessons that took place in Wichita. I also appreciated working with a local artist, singer-songwriter Roy Moye III, who produced the music used in the piece."
"I like baseball, so I like people who also like baseball," said news director Tom Shine. "Joe Ruocco runs Rock’s Dugout, a baseball card and sports memorabilia shop in Wichita. A lifelong Yankees fan, Joe still speaks with a Bronx accent, even though he’s lived in Kansas for all his adult life. An entertaining and charming guy."
"The 2020 General Election made history with high voter turnout, pandemic-related safety precautions and the addition of ballot boxes in Sedgwick County," said reporter Deborah Shaar. "More than a dozen ballot drop boxes were installed throughout the county to provide a convenient option for voters to return mail-in ballots. It worked. Election staff reported high volume of ballots coming in through the ballot drop boxes in the days leading up to Election Day. No major issues with the boxes were reported."
Reporter Stephan Bisaha spoke to Wichita State President Jay Golden about the school's budget concerns amid the pandemic. (A little over a month later, Golden unexpectedly resigned.)
The coronavirus threw a lot of traditions into limbo. Reporter Brian Grimmett visited a summer band camp in Valley Center as players and directors prepared for the beginning of a school year under the shadow of the coronavirus pandemic.
"There’s been a lot of loss and sacrifice associated with the coronavirus pandemic, and not even our youth have been spared," he said. "Even so, it was heartening to see the joy some regularity brought this group of students and the optimism they had even in the face of everything changing."
"This story received a lot of attention and more than 2,000 views for their video, 'The Breathe Project,'" said director of cultural diversity Carla Eckels. "Wichita State University Professor Dr. Kevin Harrison says the project aims to take control of mainstream narratives about Black men. He says although the project was not a response to George Floyd’s murder specifically, it speaks to his situation and countless others that range from racial profiling in mild cases, to death in more extreme instances.
"I did not learn of the project until after the video was produced. I kept wondering what it was like to actually be among the group. Harrison says the coming together of 51 Black men together to produce the project sparked incredible camaraderie, which brought tears to his eyes."
Jedd Beaudoin talked to the Wichita group Old News about releasing its first full-length album in 2020.
"Beau Harris opened up about the inspiration for the songs on 'Self-Acceptance Speech,'" Beaudoin said. "I wasn't expecting such a frank conversation and it remains one of my favorite interviews."
Retired Wichita band teacher Stephanie Byers made history on Election Day, becoming Kansas' first transgender lawmaker. She won 54% of the vote in the race for Kansas House District 86.
News Lab intern David Garcia spoke to Byers after her win.
"Many friends told me about her story and her time at North High, so it was a pleasure to speak to her after her victory," he said. "Her words were enlightening, inspiring and heartwarming."
"The Sedgwick County Commission race for the 2nd District received a lot of attention in 2020," said reporter Deborah Shaar. "Incumbent Commissioner Michael O’Donnell came from behind to win the race on Election Day. But then two weeks later, after all mail ballots were counted, O’Donnell’s challenger Sarah Lopez won the race.
"During this time, O’Donnell was caught up in a political scandal involving an attack ad in the 2019 Wichita mayoral race. He resigned from the commission rather than face legal proceedings to remove him from office."