12 stories in particular
Greetings from Perth, Western Australia (!) where I’ll be for another few days before the New Year. It’s been exciting to travel here, visiting my boyfriend’s family for Christmas and yesterday I literally petted a kangaroo. It’s an eleven hour time difference, so as I’m writing this it’s something like 3:15 AM in Washington D.C.
It’s been nice to take a real break, and I’m conscious that this is the first year in about five years I’ve actually had paid vacation time over the holidays. I’m also conscious that December is always a pretty stressful month for freelancers, who don’t get paid time off, but can only publish work with the help of staff who are generally off on holiday or scaling back non-essential work. It’s tough, and if you’re able and can do anything to make their lives easier this week, I assure you this would be an appreciated time.
Every December since 2015 I’ve drafted short reflections of work I’m most proud of publishing during the year. These are not necessarily pieces that got the most eyeballs/traffic, or even the most affirmative recognition, but the ones that maybe I felt I worked most hard on, or included new insights/connections that hadn’t been made before, or explored topics that I think are important and overlooked. Sometimes it’s hard to articulate for others why I was proud of a particular story, but that’s okay. Going through the stories also helps me identify patterns, more clearly compare my coverage to previous years, and think ahead.
So in keeping with roundups I did in 2021, 2020, 2019, 2018, 2017, 2016, and 2015, I’m going to highlight a dozen stories I’m most proud of from 2022. (You can read the full list of my work from this year here.)
1.Why Teachers are Afraid to Teach History
I spent months reporting this feature for The New Republic’s April print issue, setting out to understand how teachers were navigating new pressures around teaching controversial topics amid the “Critical Race Theory” bills sweeping the country. I also wanted to understand how parents organizing against "CRT” in classrooms were thinking about their teachers’ fears of retaliation. Do those parents worry about a chilling effect in education, too?
I was proud of the varied reporting strategies I deployed in tackling this topic, and think many of the ideas explored will remain salient for a long time. I hope this story clarifies what’s new, what’s not, and how educators get caught in the middle.
2. At a Pivotal Moment, Democrats Failed to Modernize Elections
This was my final story for The Intercept, where I had been a contributing writer (meaning on a contract to freelance stories monthly) for 4.5 years. This piece looks at what happened with election funding since 2020, the threats posed by aging + vulnerable election infrastructure, and the role the Brennan Center for Justice played in steering Congress’s focus away from election infrastructure funding in favor of voting rights legislation.
I was proud of the piece, and feedback I received, including from arguably the top elections journalist in the country. (The Brennan Center, for its part, went radio silent after the story.)
This was my first story for Vox when I joined in April, and it’s a close look at how so many people — particularly low-income families — are effectively excluded from federal weatherization subsidies, because they live in homes with outstanding repairs and home health hazards. The problem of course is that it costs money to make the repairs the tenants either don’t have, or the landlords aren’t incentivized to make.
Leaders talk a lot about the housing supply shortage — as they should — but this story gets at a piece of our housing crisis that receives considerably less attention. On top of the housing shortage that currently exists, 6 million homes nationwide have moderate to serious home health hazards. These homes require repairs that, if left ignored, will make them uninhabitable, and eventually they’ll be off the market altogether.
I looked at a really innovative bill in Pennsylvania that would aim to fix this problem. It was introduced by a left-wing Philly state senator, but I looked at why it had locked in some heavy-weight Republican support in Harrisburg.
I’m glad to say that the bill did end up passing in June, with $125 million of funding attached, and other states are now looking to introduce similar pieces of legislation.
4. Can the expanded child tax credit come back from the dead?
This Vox piece, also published in April, looks at the politics around extending the expanded Child Tax Credit, which were monthly payments distributed to some 35 million parents across the U.S. from July-December 2021. Congress failed to reach a deal to extend those payments, so they expired in 2022. The piece looks at some of the political incentives at play — for progressive advocates who urged against a compromise, for Republicans, who were not inclined to give Democrats a big win before the midterms, and for Democratic senators and Joe Biden who found blaming Joe Manchin to be fairly convenient.
A lot of people struggled to understand how Congress could fail to extend the payments given that they seemed to do so much good for so many families. I aimed to cut through the noise and answer that important question.
5. The Abortion Provider Republicans Are Struggling To Stop
Hopefully by now Aid Access and Dr. Rebecca Gomperts are more familiar names to you, but when I published this story in early May, more than a month before the Dobbs decision, few were focusing on the unique role of this Austrian-based nonprofit in delivering abortion pills to places where U.S. providers can't. I wrote about why Aid Access believes its model can prevail post-Roe, and about their exhausting battles with Big Tech companies to get their message out.
I believed this when I wrote it and only more so now: Aid Access often demonstrates more courage than many risk-averse liberal groups in the US. The anti-abortion movement is planning to ramp up attacks against medication abortion and groups like Aid Access next year (a good run-down of their strategy was reported recently in Washington Post) and that’s a serious concern, but hopefully my piece helps clarify what challenges those activists may face in taking on Aid Access.
6.Will philanthropists step up in a world without Roe?
Charitable foundations have been leaders in funding reproductive healthcare domestically and around the world — like contraception, family planning services, STD prevention, and neonatal care. But foundations have largely avoided funding access to abortion services, and to the extent that they have donated to reproductive rights, it’s been primarily to large national advocacy groups and organizations focused on research and litigation. This piece, published in May, explored whether the U.S. philanthropic sector would step up to fund abortion access for low-income and uninsured people if Roe were overturned.
Abortion funds — the grassroots, often volunteer-led organizations that help cover the cost of abortion care — are important, but are never going to be equipped to meet the existing financial need. I take a stab at trying to estimate what that financial need might look like, and at the growing pressure on philanthropy to step up on an issue they’ve historically distanced themselves from.
7. Should you keep abortion pills at home, just in case?
This story, published just before Dobbs, looks at the question of whether to keep mifepristone and misoprostol on hand in case you or a friend needs to terminate a pregnancy later in the future. I wrote about the existing scientific research, and why more reproductive health experts are saying this option — known as “advance provision” — is something more people should consider, especially as restrictions ramp up. I do wish more mainstream reproductive rights groups would help facilitate this conversation more, as millions of people are trying to understand their reproductive options and evaluate their personal risk.
8. Evictions are life-altering and preventable
This story is the kind of policy journalism I’m so glad to be able to do in my role at Vox. It looks at the Emergency Rental Assistance Program, or ERAP, which was the $46.5 billion program Congress authorized to help renters stay housed during the pandemic. If you heard much about it, it was probably the press coverage it received from its early few months, when it was getting slammed for not getting money out the door to tenants, and for just general bureaucratic chaos.
Journalists are drawn to covering chaos, inept programs, fraud. And there are good reasons for that. But I was truly surprised when I started reporting on ERAP back in April, to learn just how much the hundreds of programs evolved since those beginning chaotic days, to learn how different the ERAP programs ended up being from so many of our other existing housing aid efforts, and why.
For this story I talked with tenants, local housing leaders, researchers + academics, and officials from Treasury, HUD and the White House. I was glad to synthesize what we accomplished around evictions during the pandemic, and what we still could do.
9. How state governments are reimagining American public housing
I was glad to publish this story on states and local government stepping up to build new public housing. From Rhode Island and Hawaii to Colorado and Maryland—states are rediscovering their own self-interest in developing housing to address the affordable housing crisis. I aimed to clarify what’s new about this moment and why.
One great book I read while researching this, for any housing/history/housing-curious people out there is “Modern Housing for America: Policy Struggles in the New Deal Era.” This text, published in the mid 1990s, really helped illustrate how our federal public housing law developed the way it did, and other options on the table at the time lawmakers were considering the idea.
10. California could give more than a million people with criminal records a fresh start
This story is on the national movement to clear criminal records. If you’ve ever been arrested, or served time, the fact that you have a permanent record can dramatically limit your ability to find housing, get a job, even do things like volunteer or adopt children. Researchers call these the “collateral consequences” of mass incarceration, and an estimated 70-100 million Americans have such records.
I wrote about an ambitious bill in California that would automatically seal hundreds of thousands of records, and give roughly a million more people the opportunity to petition for clearance. The bill passed the California legislature in August and I’m glad to say it was signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom a few weeks after this story was published.
11. The new abortion rights spokesmen: Dudes, dads, and plumbers
This story, published in October, looked at how campaigns were targeting men on abortion rights during the midterms — something leaders + political strategists didn’t really have to think much about when Roe was law of the land. I felt this piece articulated a new and noteworthy development, while also exploring some of the tensions related to what researchers were finding to be among the most effective messages and messengers resonating with men.
12. The most successful strategy for homelessness is under attack
This was my final story of the year, and since it came out the same day as my flight to Sydney I hadn’t been able to send out its own newsletter about it. Hopefully you can make time to give it a read: it’s on homelessness, homeless backlash, and what a commitment to “Housing First” really looks like.
Thank you all for reading, and for sharing your good thoughts and questions throughout the year! I’m looking forward to 2023 and continuing to work hard for all of you.