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This was 2022: The most impactful and joyful stories of the year


It's been another busy year in the WLRN newsroom.

Our team picked up a string of honors — including a national Edward R. Murrow Award — as it continued to report on the issues that affect South Florida life.

As always, it's impossible to sum up a year in the sunshine state. We had consequential midterm elections and a devastating hurricane, covered from beginning to end with guides, blogs, news stories, features and analysis.

But as the year wraps up here is another look at some of the most powerful work we brought to you in 2002 — and some of our favorite reads you may have missed.

The year in... Impactful stories

School Shooting Florida
Amy Beth Bennett/AP
Pool South Florida Sun-Sentinel
Fred Guttenberg awaits a verdict in the trial of the Parkland shooter at the Broward County Courthouse on Oct. 13, 2022.

Prosecutors take extra steps to protect witnesses from traumatic Parkland school shooting evidence

Weeks before it came to a contentious end, this story from Broward reporter Gerard Albert III on the sentencing trial for the Parkland shooter encapsulated the trauma of the proceedings.

"In a hallway at the Broward County Courthouse, a woman told her dog Oliver to sit. A golden retriever, Oliver is one of the therapy dogs that have been stationed outside the courtroom where prosecutors are arguing that the Parkland school shooter deserves to die. The lawyers prosecuting Nikolas Cruz arranged for the dogs to be there because they knew it would be a difficult trial to sit through."

Read the full story here.

Courtesy: Kat Duesterhaus
Security and police officers ask Caleb Freestone to leave a July 20, 2022 meeting of the county school board after another member of the public called him "antifa."

An arrest at a Miami-Dade school board meeting raises civil liberties concerns

In a year when 'parental rights' groups took over the conversation — and even some school boards — education reporter Kate Payne highlighted a flashpoint that also raised concerns over civil liberties.

"A recent meeting of the Miami-Dade County School Board devolved into a shouting match — and ended in an arrest. Right-wing opponents of the textbooks brought the meeting to a standstill. One person was arrested at the July 20 meeting — but it wasn’t any of the women who caused the disruptions. It was a left-wing activist named Caleb Freestone, who a bystander said had been sitting quietly. Now he and local advocates are questioning whether his arrest was politically motivated."

Read the full story here.

Alice Wainwright Park lights
Daniel Rivero
A total of 53 new solar powered lights were placed at Alice Wainwright Park, paid for by money that was earmarked for resiliency projects. The park closes at sunset.

Miami spent $350,000 on new park lights. The park closes at sundown

Investigations reporter Daniel Rivero uncovered a stunning case of 'greenwashing' - money earmarked for sustainability being used in questionable ways. To say the story went viral is an understatement.

"A totally revamped park on the shores of Biscayne Bay recently reopened to the public. The most notable new feature is the 53 new solar-powered light poles that fully illuminate the park after dark. There’s just one problem: The park still closes at sunset. The public cannot benefit from the new lights. The money was earmarked for resiliency projects. Does solar lighting at a closed park count as resiliency?"

Read the full story here.

Maps of storm surge in Miami, New York City, and Washington, D.C.

These hurricane flood maps reveal the climate future for Miami, NYC and D.C.

As ever, Jenny Staletovich's work was at the cutting edge of environmental coverage, as evidenced by this multi-newsroom project she led she led with NPR data editor Nick Underwood in July — a frightening assessment, sadly confirmed soon after in her reporting on Hurricane Ian's impact.

"As climate change warms the planet, drives up sea levels and energizes hurricanes, the arsenal of dangerous impacts delivered by the fierce storms is expected to get supercharged. Among the most worrisome: powerful flooding from storm surge."

Read the story here.

Narcan photo by Wilkine Brutus.jpg
Wilkine Brutus
Rebel Recovery Florida has a large cabinet of Narcan nasal spray. This emergency medication reverses the effects of an opioid overdose.

'Overdose is reversible, death is not': residents urge Palm Beach County Sheriff to carry Narcan

Palm Beach County reporter Wilkine Brutus revealed in March that PBSO officers did not carry lifesaving overdose medication naloxone due to liability concerns. The policy was finally reversed later in the year.

"A new wave of opioid deaths, often mixed with psychostimulants, is raising old fears in Palm Beach County. And now families are urging the sheriff's office to carry Narcan."

Read the full story here.

A mural in West Coconut Grove with the words "One Grove," depicting people of color painting and making art.
Photo by Joshua Ceballos
A mural in the historically-Black western portion of Coconut Grove with the unifying catchphrase "One Grove."

City of Miami sued for 'racial gerrymandering' in redistricting map

WLRN's new local government accountability reporter Joshua Ceballos got right to work, breaking the story that the ACLU of Florida was taking Miami to federal court over gerrymandering.

"When Miami redrew its district maps early this year, many residents criticized the city for carving up neighborhoods, including ones populated by minorities. Now the city is facing a legal challenge to its redistricting process, and an allegation of furthering racial segregation through its mapmaking, WLRN can reveal."

Read the full story here.

U.S. Coast Guard photographs of Haitians at sea, 1981
U.S. Coast Guard
U.S. Coast Guard photographs of Haitians at sea, 1981

Introducing WLRN’s new podcast: Detention By Design

Two years in the making, Daniel Rivero's podcast series outlined how America's modern immigration detention system can be traced back to South Florida. With crossings from Haiti and Cuba at a tragic all-time high, Detention By Design could not have been more timely — and is already being used by educators in Florida.

"As recently as 1955 there were virtually no immigrants held in detention in the U.S. Today the federal government holds tens of thousands of migrants a day, across 130 facilities spread across the country, with the ‘border crisis’ never far from the headlines. But the story of how we got here did not start at the Mexican border - it started on Florida’s shores, 50 years ago."

Read the article here, listen to the podcast series here.

C.M. Guerrero
El Nuevo Herald
On-air personalities at Miami's Radio Mambi

A new Latino media group is buying up — and shaking up — Spanish-language radio

Americas editor Tim Padgett broke this story about a dramatic change to the landscape of Spanish-language radio that made national headlines.

"Creating a beachhead in a broadcast market often dominated by conservative or right-wing programming, a new and Latino-owned, bipartisan but Democrat-led media group will announce Friday it's purchasing 18 major Spanish-language radio stations owned by the TelevisaUnivision network — including Miami's Radio Mambí."

Read the full story here.

And if you want to revisit Tim's powerful and insightful Latin America commentaries, here are some of the highlights from 2022:

The year in... Stories of joy

Osmany Torres courtesy of Miamibloco
Since the pandemic, amateur musicians have flocked to the Brazilian percussion ensemble Miamibloco and built a community around samba in the process.

How Miamibloco is helping amateur musicians find their rhythm and build community through samba

For reporter Kate Payne, working on this story was a source of joy.

"After months of pandemic isolation, a lot of people in South Florida have been looking for an outlet. For some, getting together to bang on some drums was what they needed. Since COVID, amateur musicians have been flocking to Brazilian percussion classes put on by the organization Miamibloco — to learn how to play and to build a community around samba."

Read the full story here.

Violinist Joshua Bell conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.
Chris Chrisodoulou
Sony Classical
Violinist Joshua Bell conducts the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields by doing what comes naturally to him. The celebrated soloist is also the London orchestra's music director.

'It's really a good time for Miami.' Violinist Joshua Bell on the city's classical music scene

WLRN anchor and arts writer/lover Christine DiMattei enjoyed talking about the silver linings of the 'great pandemic pause' — and hearing from a world-renowned classical musician that Miami's time has come.

"You've got a lot going for you in Miami. And I think it's really a good time for Miami. And absolutely, there should be a full, professional orchestra. It is a bit head-scratching that there isn't one... But I think the pandemic has made us all appreciate live performing and the arts. And hopefully it'll light a fire under the right people to get that going. Because certainly Miami should have that."

Read the full story here.

Haiti WCup Soccer
Alexandre Meneghini/ASSOCIATED PRESS
Fans of Brazil's soccer team cheer during the South Africa 2010 World Cup match between Brazil and Ivory Coast as they watch the game from Sylvio Cator stadium in Port-au-Prince, Sunday, June 20, 2010. (AP Photo/Alexandre Meneghini)

In the World Cup, when Brazil wins, Haiti wins

The World Cup may not have ended how they wanted, but Wilkine Brutus' story about Haitians' love for Brazilian soccer is still a delight.

"You might’ve been shocked to see videos on social media showing masses of soccer fans in Haiti's capital city, Port-au-Prince, playing Kompa music and pridefully sporting the Brazil national team's iconic yellow jerseys. But there’s one thing that this month is keeping the minds of many Haitian people off the political and economic upheaval in the island nation: Brazilian football."

Read the full story here.

Old Rickenbacker fishing pier
Daniel Rivero
The Rickenbacker Causeway was originally built in 1947. Remnants of the old bridge now serve as a fishing pier.

An ode to the only fishing pier of Miami

Daniel Rivero's personal essay about one of his favorite places, a dwindling remnant of Old Miami.

"They say you only miss something when it’s gone. But sometimes you have to take a pause and appreciate the things we still have. I’ve been thinking of this a lot about a place that’s become my favorite spot in the City of Miami: the fishing pier on the Old Rickenbacker Causeway. A place suspended on Biscayne Bay, where the cars zip above and the boats pass below."

Read the full story here.

Courtesy of Sachi Statz
FILE: Sachi Statz, the chef behind the Miami-based Tínta y Café, plates a dish for an event.

Tinta y Café brings it home: How the Miami restaurant is earning its chops in the food world

After the Michelin Guide visited South Florida for the first time, producer Alyssa Ramos served up this treat about a beloved Miami restaurant and its inspirational local chef.

"Glossy quotes from legendary chefs beckon incoming culinary students at the kitchens of the Miami Culinary Institute at Miami Dade College — all in hopes of inspiring the next David Chang or Alain Ducasse. In fact, alumna Sachi Statz may well be on her way - she has just made it onto the Michelin Guide. Her restaurant Tinta y Cafe won a Bib Gourmand, a recognition given to restaurants that provide high quality food at reasonable prices."

Read the full story here.

Jenny Lorenzo
Comedian Jenny Lorenzo as Velma in a parody of Scooby-Doo

Sundial Now: This Latino Scooby-Doo is looking for chisme, not clues

Sundial Now producer Leslie Ovalle Atkinson had a blast bringing together this piece about Miami comedian Jenny Lorenzo and her very South Florida sense of humor.

"If Scooby-Doo was Latino, you’d still get the same riveting mystery-solving adventure but arriving at the mask reveal might look a little different. Instead of a brown Great Dane with black spots, it would be a small fluffy pup named Escubi, while his best friend would be called Peludo, not Shaggy. That's according to Miami comedian Jenny Lorenzo - of the viral Abuela fame - and her latest Halloween-themed sketch, a parody of Scooby-Doo and his gang featuring accents, jokes and pop culture references that will be very familiar for South Florida Latinos."

Read the full story here.

Fire Brigade4.jpg
Verónica Zaragovia
Lt. Ryan Townsend (left), Capt. Eddy Alarcon (center), and Lt. Troy Maness work with Miami-Dade Fire Rescue and play in the band Fire Brigade. They're pictured practicing on Aug. 10, 2022 in Kendall.

Heroes at work, rock stars on the weekend: Meet Miami-Dade's Fire Brigade

Reporter Verónica Zaragovia has reported on every emotional beat from the Surfside disaster. In this story, she let the firefighters themselves tell how they find joy and stress relief in their second passion.

"To play in the band Fire Brigade, you don’t need a background in rock music. The one requirement is to work for Miami-Dade Fire Rescue. Their experiences include working through the rubble in Surfside after the Champlain Towers South collapsed last year. All six of them are bonded by the stress of their job and their love for music."

Read the full story here.

Kristen Livengood / Evan Agostini/Invision/AP
Fred the Tree, a popular sight for Keys locals, is set to have a role alongside Hollywood star Jake Gyllenhaal in the remake of 1980s cult classic 'Road House'

Already a star in the Keys, Fred the Tree is now going to Hollywood

And of course, the list could not be complete without Florida's festive celebri-tree, who WLRN's new Keys reporter Gwen Filosa revealed is to star in a Jake Gyllenhaal movie.

"Fred the Tree is a Keys classic: A tree growing out of another Keys classic — the old Seven Mile Bridge — that mysteriously gets decorated for Christmas every year. So when it emerged Oscar-nominated heartthrob Jake Gyllenhaal was coming to town make a movie, the buzz in the Keys was actually about his surprise co-star: yes, Fred is going Hollywood."

Read the full story here.