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From the Editor: 2020 was a chaotic, challenging year with lasting impact


To the relief of many, 2020 has drawn to a close. It was a chaotic and often confusing year, one that challenged people to make sense of rapidly evolving stories and difficult issues. WHQR managing editor Ben Schachtman has a retrospective, with archival audio managed by Rachel Keith.

I’m WHQR managing editor Ben Schachtman. Looking back, 2020 has been quite a year --- as it began, we had some idea what the big stories might be: the hospital sale, affordable housing, the environment...and a major election.

But if there was one thing 2020 wasn’t, it was predictable.

“[Governor Roy Cooper] Today I have signed a stay-at-home order… [Wilmington Mayor Bill Saffo] I mean, you know, nobody's ever had to deal with a pandemic in a hundred years [Danielle Smallwood, elementary school teacher] This year we'll be like building an airplane, as we're flying it.”

As Covid-19 became an epidemic, and then a pandemic, everyday life was radically altered, and we struggled with daunting unknowns and mounting misinformation.

What was clear? In grocery stores, shelves went bare. In the school system, faculty and staff scrambled to invent a distanced-learning plan. In many small businesses, owners and employees faced financial disaster --- and struggled with North Carolina’s outdated unemployment system, which was overwhelmed and underprepared.

Bars and restaurants, in particular, were asked to make enormous sacrifices for the greater good. As Front Street Brewery’s Ellie Craig told WHQR’s Vince Winkel:

We have a responsibility to our community and our friends and our family to do the right thing.”

And while Covid changed our lives, another major news story was developing.

“[Protestor] You can’t tell people how to protest when someone’s been murdered… [Law enforcement in downtown Wilmington] Those who are assembled at this location are ordered to immediately disperse [Wilmington Police Chief Donny Williams] I’m the first resident of public housing in the city of Wilmington to be a police chief… [Protestors] No justice, no peace, no justice, no peace…”

As the pandemic intensified, the country faced a racial reckoning triggered by the killing of George Floyd.

In Wilmington, that reckoning spilled out into the streets --- and then into city hall.

“[Call and response with protestors] My neck hurts … everything hurts … please, I can’t breathe … they are going to kill me.”


In City Council, members Charlie Rivenbark and Kevin Spears openly clashed over a proposal to post a ‘Black Lives Matter’ mural. 

“[Rivenbark] This is going to be something that drives a stake between the races in this town … [Spears] With all respect, this rhetoric is the problem. This is what’s wrong with Wilmington.”

At the same time, Confederate statues were once again in the news. As WHQR’s Rachel Lewis Hilburn reported, the City Council members remained divided about their removal.

Kevin Spears said he would, Charlie Rivenbark said nothing, and Bill Saffo repeated his promise to continue the discussion.”

While Covid-19 and civil unrest changed the face of Wilmington, other stories continued to unfold.

“[Vince Winkel] With a four-one vote...letter of intent to sell New Hanover Regional Medical Center to Novant Health … [Rachel Lewis Hilburn] The board also voted to give Tim Markley $195,000 and almost $33,000 in benefits…”

And over three years after the contaminant Gen-X made headlines, WHQR continued to follow the story, including the latest from Attorney General Josh Stein.

In our complaint we alleged that [Dupont/Chemours] knew that their workers had health consequences from working with these chemicals.”

In the end, 2020 was chaotic, challenging, and confusing. And, while the WHQR newsroom hopes for a happier 2021, we don’t expect these issues to go away. And who knows what else lies ahead.

To keep up, we’ll be expanding the newsroom, overhauling our online presence, and exploring new ways to tell the stories that matter. On behalf of all of us --- Rachel Lewis Hilburn, Rachel Keith, Ken Campbell, Hannah Breisinger, Katelyn Freund--and with a special thanks to Vince Winkel --- I’m Ben Schachtman, and we hope you’ll stay tuned.

Rachel is a graduate of UNCW's Master of Public Administration program, specializing in Urban and Regional Policy and Planning. She also received a Master of Education and two Bachelor of Arts degrees in Political Science and French Language & Literature from NC State University. She served as WHQR's News Fellow from 2017-2019. Contact her by email: rkeith@whqr.org or on Twitter @RachelKWHQR