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Year In Review: VPR News Staff Share The Stories That Stuck With Them In 2018

A sign on a summer day that says Welcome To Vermont The Green Mountain State with greenery in the background.
Meg Malone
VPR File
As 2018 wraps up, members of the VPR News staff share stories from this year that stuck with them.

The VPR News staff covers a lot of stories during the course of the year, and as 2018 comes to a close, we wanted to know which ones they reported on that have really stuck with them — and why.

We'll rebroadcast some of these pieces throughout the week, but you can also find the original stories below as well as a few sentences about why they were so memorable.

FOR MORE — Vermont Edition: The State's Top News Stories of 2018 [Dec. 21]

We'll see you in 2019 for another year of journalism!

Speeding tickets in a small town

A group of Mount Tabor residents attend 2018 Town Meeting inside an early learning classroom.
Credit Emily Corwin / VPR
Mount Tabor residents gather for the 2018 town meeting. Mount Tabor is a tiny town of about 250 people, yet it brings in the third most revenue in the state from traffic fines.

Emily Corwin, investigative reporter and editor: 

This is a story about a very small town whose budget relies on ticketing speeders. Memorable for me was 1) getting to see how such a small town governs itself; and 2) what a prying reporter would reveal about the town officials' different personalities.

Revisit the piece — In Mount Tabor, Heavy Speed Enforcement Means Low Taxes [April 25]

Cross-border communication of dairy farmers

Vermonter Phil Parent compares notes on dairy farming in Vermont and Quebec with Hans and Terry Kaiser and Phillipe Swennen.
Credit John Dillon / VPR
Vermonter Phil Parent compares notes on dairy farming in Vermont and Quebec with Hans and Terry Kaiser and Phillipe Swennen.

John Dillon, senior reporter and New England News Collaborative reporter: 

2018 was a punishing year for the Vermont dairy industry. By early December, 63 farms had gone out of business, bringing the number of operating dairies to just 699 statewide.

I've covered the dairy crisis, and in the early spring of this year, I joined a pair of Vermont farmers as they visited their counterparts just over the border in Quebec. It was an emotional visit, as the Vermont farmers learned how Canada's system of supply management help farmers thrive, while farmers just miles away in Vermont suffered from the fourth year of declining milk prices.

Since this story aired, Quebec farmers have also gotten nervous as a new U.S.-Canada trade deal threatens to undermine the supply management system that has helped them stay profitable.

Revisit the piece — Vermont Farmers Look North Of The Border For Solution To Dairy Crisis [April 3]

A look at how expungement works in Vermont

Liam Elder-Connors, reporter:

I stumbled upon this story is a sort of classic way — I was out reporting a quick daily story, learned that there are actually lots of crimes eligible to be removed from people's records and I wanted to learn more, so I started reporting.

It was a story that I knew required speaking to people who had criminal records and I was very grateful to meet Karissa, who was willing to speak openly about her past criminal record, how it affected her — and now, what she hopes for her future.

Updates: Karissa recently applied to nursing school and is waiting to hear back. Vermont Legal Aid is proposing several amendments to the state's expungement law this legislative session — including expanding what crimes are eligible for expungement and making an automatic expungement process for all qualifying crimes.

Revisit the piece — Should Criminal Records Be Temporary? [July 10]

How much money did the state give Keurig?

A Keurig Dr. Pepper sign in Waterbury, Vermont.
Credit Henry Epp / VPR
Keurig Green Mountain, now Keurig Dr. Pepper, has been authorized for more than $10 million in payments from the state over 20 years.

Henry Epp, reporter and "All Things Considered" host:

I spent about six months of this year chipping away at this story, so it’s hard for it not to be memorable. Through public records requests, searching through financial filings, phone calls and interviews, this story was part of my day-to-day for much of 2018.

When the story was published, it took a life of its own. It inspired an editorial in the Brattleboro Reformer, then it became the subject of public discussion by the state board that oversees the Vermont Employment Growth Incentive (VEGI) program. Separately, in late October, Keurig laid off another 118 workers in Vermont. And one other part of the story is still unfolding: On Dec. 14, the board gave final approval to a new VEGI application for Bedford Systems, an offshoot of Keurig.

Revist the piece — Vermont May Have Paid Keurig Millions Of Dollars. Where Did That Money Go? [Oct. 3]

The development that didn't come to be

Angela Evancie, managing editor for podcasts and "Brave Little State" host:

Let's just say that that Brave Little State has never before reported a story that involved the Book of Mormon, a dream of global ecological balance, local activism, back-road bike-riding, music coming out of the trees, and cow-pie bingo.

Our July episode took us straight into a unfolding story: As Pete Hirschfeld and I sought to answer a listener question about the enigmatic Utah developer, David Hall, and his plans for central Vermont, Hall caved to the local opposition and announced he was abandoning his grand plan. How did the local opposition succeed? And did their efforts send the wrong message to future investors?

Revisit the piece — 4 Vermont Towns Vs. 1 Utah Developer: What Happened With NewVistas [July 6] 

Chatting with a state park attendant

Park attendant Walter Parker stands in front of a car with a kayak on top of it, wearing a baseball hat and sunglasses.
Credit Peter Hirschfeld / VPR
Walter Carpenter has served as a park attendant at the Waterbury Reservoir since 2008. During that time, he's developed new strategies for managing the 40,000 or so people who visit the day-use state park every summer.

Peter Hirschfeld, reporter:

As a reporter, some stories remind you why you love your job. And for me, the one about state parks attendant Walter Carpenter was definitely one of them. I got to spend a sunny summer day on the shores of the Waterbury Reservoir, and talk to a kind and generous guy about why he loves his job too. Walter’s a unique character, in the best possible way. And I’m grateful for the chance to tell his story.

Revisit the piece — Waterbury Reservoir: Longtime Park Attendant Nurtures 'Soul' Of Popular Tourist Destination [July 30]

A lesson in "jack jumping"

Nina Keck, reporter:

As a lifelong skier, I was surprised when NPR called and asked me to report on the Jack Jumping World Championship at Mount Snow because I had no clue what jack jumping was. That's the cool thing about being a VPR reporter — I got to find out by actually doing it and listeners were able to experience my very first jack jump wipeout right along with me. 

Revisit the piece — A Crash Course In Vermont's Head-Turning, Homegrown Sport [March 4]

Spending time with Alison Bechdel

Meg Malone, digital producer:  

I read Fun Home during one of my favorite college classes, so it was really fun to tag along with Jane Lindholm during her interview with Alison Bechdel and make a video version of their conversation. I filmed them at the Fleming Museum as they toured an exhibit of Bechdel's work that was on display earlier this year.

I used to do more video editing, so it was a bit of a challenge to dust off those skills — but between it being such an interesting interview and there being so many examples of Bechdel's work to choose from for the footage, I was happy with how it turned out. I'm glad I could play a small part in sharing this story from Vermont's creative scene.

Revisit the piece — Cartoonist Alison Bechdel Takes You On A Tour Of Her 'Inappropriately Intimate' Comics [Feb. 27]

One college student's mission

University of Vermont sophomore Syd Ovitt stands in front of a mural holding a sign that says Explain The Asterisk.
Credit Bayla Metzger / VPR
University of Vermont sophomore, Syd Ovitt, has launched a campaign called Explain the Asterisk, to have sexual assault violations added to academic transcripts. Legislators are paying attention.

Bayla Metzger, "Morning Edition" producer

It's our job to talk to people and we do it all day... but this story reminded me just how much courage it takes for people to share their stories with VPR — and with the public. This story left me feeling grateful for the people who are brave enough to share their experiences with us.

Revisit the piece — One UVM Student's Crusade To Have Sexual Assault Violations Put On College Transcripts [Dec. 5]

Snowy summertime fun

A GIF of a girl on an orange sled going down a snowpile or a summer day.
Credit Amy Kolb Noyes / VPR
Eliza Nellis, 7, does a bit of July sledding in Craftsbury.

Amy Kolb Noyes, reporter:  

Back in July, I filed this story about a snow saving experiment at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center. The story stuck with me, because, well, I got to play in the snow in July.

I checked back in with center co-owner Judy Geer, who reported a little bit of the snow they saved from last season made it all the way until this winter’s first snowfall, in October. Now the center is setting up new energy-efficient snow guns to scale up the experiment. They’ll be filling a dry pond with snow all winter and try to save it through next summer.

Revisit the piece — Sledding In July: Snow-Saving Experiment Tapped For Holiday Merriment [July 5]

Searching for history on Egg Mountain

Alice Roosevelt collects dirt that will be sifted to look for artifacts from a site that could be the settlement of Capt. Daniel Shays and his followers.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
Alice Roosevelt collects dirt that will be sifted to look for artifacts from a site that could be the settlement of Capt. Daniel Shays and his followers.

Howard Weiss-Tisman, reporter:

So this was one of the stories that sounded interesting from the first pitch. I received an email saying a Revolutionary War veteran, and his followers, who led a rebellion on the U.S. armory in Springfield, Massachusetts, might have escaped to a hilltop in southwestern Vermont where they lived for a while. The email went on to say that a high school teacher and his students were conducting an archaeological dig to find out if they had indeed discovered the settlement on Egg Mountain in Sandgate.

Well I didn't need more than that to understand there was a good story here. I spent a beautiful spring day hiking in the woods with the teacher and his students and ended up with this piece.

Revisit the piece — High School Students Help Uncover 18th-Century Mystery On Egg Mountain [Aug. 22]

A novelization of the NEK

Mitch Wertlieb, "Morning Edition" host:  

Melanie Finn is a writer whose recent novel The Underneath reads more like a work of non-fiction because it deals with the very real-world problems associated with opioid abuse. Finn also pulls no punches in her description of the remote section of Vermont where she makes her home, and how the people who live there are often victimized by drug abuse.

But while the book is brutally honest with subject matter that at times is difficult to navigate emotionally, it also does what all great novels do: evoke a deep sense of empathy in the reader. Finn spent hours with a reporter from the Caledonian Record to help accurately depict the opioid problem in the Northeast Kingdom, and used her own experiences as a freelance reporter in war-torn parts of Africa to inform the sections of the book that take the reader there.

It's one of the best novels I've read in recent memory and Finn also opened up in the interview to reveal why she has her own personal investment in the characters she writes about.

Revisit the piece — Melanie Finn's Novel 'The Underneath' Explores The Northeast Kingdom's Dark Side [Oct. 11]

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