Selections & reflections from the Nevada Current staff on a year everyone hoped would go better
Note: Each writer on the Nevada Current staff was asked to highlight some of their work from the year, and say whatever they wanted to say about it.
April Corbin Girnus
The other day I scrolled upon a lie-laden Facebook post attempting to discredit the polio vaccine, presumably because the polio vaccine is proof of the effectiveness of vaccines. The top comment was someone pointing out the post’s many, many factual inaccuracies. To that, the original poster responded, “You are free to believe whatever you want.”
The sad thing is, she is right.
We live in a post-truth society. That was true before this year. (The term was Oxford Dictionary’s word of the year in 2016. Thanks, Trump, for The Big Lie and myriad middle and little lies!) But 2021 brought this sad reality to dizzying new heights. The blatant disregard of science and the weaponization of public health has been disheartening and infuriating to witness.
It has also strengthened my belief in the type of journalism I strive to do. It’s not enough to include a parenthetical about how these anti-vax and anti-facts voices are a minority whose views are shaped by misinformation campaigns. We must call out anyone perpetuating these views or allowing them to normalize.
Two of my personal favorite stories from 2021 did just that. The first focused on Joe Lombardo, who as a private citizen and sheriff appears to understand the importance of the COVID-19 vaccine but as a gubernatorial candidate wants to stay silent on the issue. The second focused on Adam Laxalt, who continues to peddle The Big Lie in his Senate campaign.
The majority of my other favorite stories focused on labor issues across the state. Working conditions matter just as much as the unemployment rate. This year I reported on crisis-level standards within the county’s children’s shelter, a state loophole that allows charter schools to hire dozens of unlicensed teachers, and frustrations from rideshare drivers, a troubling area of the “gig economy” that I suspect we’ll hear more about in the years to come.
I also explored the popular but short-sighted narrative of blaming expanded federal unemployment benefits for the “labor shortage.” (In that same vein, I hope Dr. Bruce Dow, the rural dentist who’s been looking for his successor for more than a year now will be able to retire without creating an oral health desert.)
My greatest wish for 2022 would be for my well of story ideas to dry up because all the GOP politicians worried about their primary start putting public health first and all employers stop taking advantage of their workers. Since neither of those will realistically happen, I will settle for a holiday break and another year of reporting.
See you next year!
We have this primeval practice every year at the Current of choosing favorite stories – akin, if you ask me, to choosing a favorite child. When asked by my own children who is my favorite, I say I don’t like any of them.
That’s kind of how I feel about my stories after they’re filed and published. Be done with them! So it was a momentous first-world struggle to look back in the annals of a really horrible year and dredge up some equally troubling stories. But I managed.
Here’s a cheery look at how Southern Nevada is growing far beyond our means, with a drought, global warming, and vulnerable wildlife. Hope you enjoy!
If nature is your thing, check out how trophy animals in Nevada have about the same chance of survival as me at a craps table.
Speaking of craps, that game and other casino betting can be highly addictive and responsible for a litany of social ills that cost a lot of money to fix. But in Nevada, we do things the hard way. So it wouldn’t be prudent to invest in treatment before those gambling addictions cost everyone a lot of dough.
Finally, it’s good to know your way around the courts, so you can circumvent them at will. Let’s give Metro Sheriff and Republican gubernatorial hopeful Joe Lombardo the benefit of the doubt. Securing arrests is his forte, not navigating the legal process. But you’d think Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson would have told him about filing motions, affidavits and all that stuff that’s required to get what you want from a judge. Hear the two explain their actions on audio tape.
Interesting tidbit – when the Nevada Democratic Victory folks sent out a news release about this story, as they do with any story that makes Lombardo look like a guy you wouldn’t vote for, they failed to mention Wolfson’s involvement. In case you’ve forgotten, Wolfson is a Democrat.
And just like that, the year is over.
It is honestly a great privilege of my life to be able to meet an array of people and then tell their stories. By the nature of the subjects I often report on, I meet many people who are at their most vulnerable moments and ask them to share the hardest aspects of their lives.
The idealist in me will forever believe sharing their stories, giving readers this inside glimpse, can shape the policies being discussed. At the very least, it elevates their voices and invites the readers to have a moment of empathy.
Among the stories I was privileged to tell was Tayanna Herrell, a mother of four who experienced homelessness during the pandemic. Her story helped highlight the struggles around housing and helping people exit homelessness. The story also showed because of Nevada’s low housing stock and high rent prices, there is a backlog in helping people exit homelessness.
Writing about prison policy, corrections and inmates can be extremely challenging. But, it has been worth it to be able to give a glimpse into how prisons are run and give some perspective of how incarcerated individuals are treated.
One story that sticks with me is Terry Clark, who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of lung cancer in 2020, and his struggle to be considered for compassionate release, a policy that allows the Nevada Department of Corrections a chance to consider releasing medically vulnerable, sick and dying inmates.
I never met Clark, but I got to learn about his life talking to his family and told his story through the medical grievances he filed over a painful year of health issues related to his cancer. His personal, and at times heartbreaking, struggles underscored the gaps in the compassionate release policy. Sadly Clark died a few months after my article was published. His story will stick with me for a long time.
For more than three years our news outlet has delivered local journalism for the great state of Nevada. It’s honestly hard to believe. Not because we haven’t put in the work but because thousands of journalism jobs were lost during the pandemic and economic downturn, even as news readership surged. Local news outlets struggled the most.
We hope that our outlet — and our affiliated network of state-based outlets — served as some sort of balm for those thousands of gaps in coverage. However, even in Nevada there are still beats that must be more thoroughly covered. There is still space for more reporters and more stories.
One corner of the state I covered this year is the growing conflicts between clean energy development and locals. From conservationists to rural Nevadans to Tribal Nations, clean energy development in Nevada’s vast public lands is not so clear cut.
In June, the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony sent a letter to the BLM Winnemucca District Office asking the federal agency to halt the construction of a planned lithium mine. In the tribes oral history the area is the site of a massacre. “To disturb this massacre site Peehee mu’huh would be like disturbing Pearl Harbor or Arlington National Cemetery,” read the letter.
The tribe also presented written records and two eyewitness accounts of federal soldiers massacring at least 31 Paiute men, women, and children at Thacker Pass in 1865. One eyewitness account of the Thacker Pass Massacre includes a Paiute man named Ox Sam, whom many local Paiute members opposing the mine say they are directly descended from.
The case, has put a spotlight on the role federal and state governments played in the murder of Indigenous peoples in Nevada’s history.
The Fort Mojave Indian Tribe — along with business chambers and rural towns — have also opposed the development of a wind farm near an area known to the tribe as Avi Kwa Ame, a geographical area that is culturally significant to of the tribe’s spiritual ideology and is featured in their creation beliefs.
Thanks for reading and thanks for supporting our work here at the Current.
“Congratulations, Nevada GOP ‘leaders.’ It’s folks like you who built this,” I wrote on January 6. That headline holds up fine. Alas, my (typically) optimistic expectation that January 6 would force the GOP to rethink their fealty to all things Trump and Trumpism was misplaced. My mistake became clear pretty quickly, as a mere a week later I wrote a column headlined “The calibrated cowardice of Mark Amodei.”
Blockchains was a farce from the start, hence “Take Blockchains LLC seriously? You first, governor.” But the murky project was more than just a fish in a barrel for columnists and a punchline for late night TV shows. The gimmickry, the perpetual hunt for some game-changing quick big score — the utter Nevada-ness of it all — was humiliating to the state and its people. So when the governor backed away from the flop, I wrote a Blockchains obituary which included this suggestion: “Stop wishing trickery will deliver some visionary economy of the future and start fixing structural failures undermining the real economy we have now.”
Speaking of fish in a barrel, and things that hold up fine, “Laxalt makes it official, asks Nevada voters to send him home to Washington” was my first column on the conspiracy-mongering wannabe Westerner after he officially announced his Senate bid. There would be more. There will be more.
One of my favorite columns of the year, however, was about the politician Laxalt hopes to replace, Catherine Cortez Masto: “Senator assures industry Nevada will remain a mining colony.” Go to see mining reforms gutted from federal legislation, stay for the billions of dollars worth of minerals on which no Nevada mining taxes were paid.
Finally, a word about the short American attention span. The year started with the aforementioned violent assault on the U.S. Capitol. By the end of the year a large segment of the public appears poised to give the man and the party responsible for the attack another chance, because, you know, gas prices went up. So I wrote about that: Why won’t that mean Joe Biden just snap his fingers and lower gas prices?
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