Below, we reflect on 2021 through the stories we helped tell about on health, politics, education, science and culture across the Pacific Northwest. We’re highlighting these pieces based on the stories you read most and recommendations from our newsroom.
COVID and health
It feels like a lifetime ago that all Washingtonians could get their first vaccines against COVID-19. In reality, it has been only eight months. Since then, many of us have set out to find some kind of normalcy — whatever that means anymore — with our friends and family. Crosscut’s Knute Berger has looked back to local history to find some inspiration from 20th century Washingtonians living through the unknown of our last pandemic.
But it’s not easy to pretend we aren’t creeping closer to a third year of this pandemic. There are still people on the front lines working through burnout to keep our communities alive and informed. Parents are trying to figure out schooling and child care as new coronavirus variants emerge. Some of us are still trying to persuade the vaccine-hesitant people in our lives to get the jab. Many of those who contracted coronavirus are coping with after effects like brain fog and other so-called “long COVID” symptoms as they recover.
- From mosh pit to ER: Mudhoney bassist on being a nurse during COVID
- What the 1918 flu can teach us about COVID and ‘returning to normal’
- Vaccine-hesitant Washingtonians open up about their fears
- Pandemic and politics drive mass exodus of WA public health leaders
- After COVID, brain fog lingers. UW researchers are finding out why
- Hidden Barriers — a video series about how bias, prejudice and discrimination pervade our health care systems — and who’s trying to change that.
Much of 2021 was spent looking at law enforcement reform in Washington state — and whether state leaders were making good on their promises. Season 2 of our podcast, This Changes Everything, took a deeper look at the clear need for comprehensive crisis response, as well as potential solutions being employed in Washington and beyond.
This spring, Crosscut politics reporter Melissa Santos wrote about what she found in a nine-month investigation of how Washington continues to employ police officers with documented credibility issues, including bias, dishonesty and use of excessive force. The series, which received an award from the Washington State Coalition for Open Government, prompted local prosecutors to reconsider how they were doing business.
The Washington Legislature took on police accountability with some new laws that confused local police and the public, which may be why Santos’ story on what new Washington police accountability laws do was one of the most popular stories on Crosscut this year.
- Despite credibility issues, Washington police find jobs elsewhere
- What new WA police accountability laws do and don’t do
- Seattle police union pushes back on Jan. 6 investigation
- Tensions rise as Seattle City Hall seeks alternatives to police
- This Changes Everything, Season 2
Seattle will inaugurate its new mayor, Bruce Harrell, in January. He defeated sitting Seattle City Council President Lorena González and led to a somewhat more politically moderate City Hall. The city council and Office of the City Attorney both swung to the right, but voters kept in office the council’s most liberal member, rejecting an attempt to recall Kshama Sawant. After an exciting election season, Seattle will go back to dealing with the same issues on the table before voters picked Harrell as their new leader: Seattle’s housing and homelessness crises and the future of public safety and crisis intervention.
- Seattle city attorney’s race: A stark choice marks the 2021 ballot
- Seattle voters appear to elect Bruce Harrell to be next mayor
- What González and Harrell’s votes say about their mayoral bids
- Dow Constantine wins reelection as King County executive, Lambert loses seat
At Crosscut, we’re committed to helping Washingtonians better understand what’s happening in state politics and why it matters to them and their communities. From the environment to policing and homelessness, the Washington Legislature was busy in 2021. Readers turned to Crosscut to find out if their taxes were going up, and why. They sought a relatable explanation for the political redistricting process. And they wanted to know how news on the national scene was resonating in this Washington.
- Eight big things the Washington state Legislature passed in 2021
- WA scrambles to avoid mass evictions as moratorium nears end
- Why some plan to opt out of new WA long-term care insurance
- Court’s drug possession ruling upends WA’s criminal justice system
- Redistricting in Washington state: What's at stake in 2021
- A look at Last minute deal-making in Washington redistricting
- Critics call for reform of WA redistricting process
- Proposed WA redistricting maps may violate Voting Rights Act
Arts and culture
Between the pandemic’s initial closures and fluctuating mask-wearing and capacity restrictions, arts, music and cultural venues are struggling to stay afloat. A year into the pandemic, reporter Margo Vansynghel surveyed 125 arts organizations, from Tacoma to Edmonds, to see how they were doing. Their leaders’ emphatic message: Money is tighter than ever.
But there were plenty of bright spots and creativity amid the pandemic gloom: a new radio station Indigenizing our airwaves, a mall revamped for indie artists and makers and Black artists making their mark in the Central District.
- Shuttered and stressed, WA arts organizations are running out of cash
- A wave of Black art rises in Seattle’s Central District
- Seattle artists are making a mint with NFTs and crypto art
- Snoqualmie Tribe’s latest leap: Native blankets, made in Seattle
- Our Shared Table — a video series about how Seattle is eating, growing and cooking its way through troubling times, one meal at a time.
Understatement of the decade: Students, parents and educators have had it tough the past two years. Although Washington schools reopened in 2021, the ever-evolving pandemic compounded existing inequities and created new hurdles, including addressing kids’ strained mental health, COVID-19 variants and vaccine requirements. And those were just the coronavirus challenges. Teachers, families and education officials also navigated difficult national conversations about race, the Black Lives Matter movement and school funding disparities.
- How virtual school is straining the mental health of WA students
- Critical race theory: A political debate hits WA schools
- Opinion | Seattle Public Schools’ delta dysfunction
As the pandemic slowed down daily life for many of us, it also opened up time — sometimes overwhelming amounts of it — to reflect on some Big Questions about our surroundings. We leaned into curiosity about wilderness. (How are birds doing — and, um, is that a beluga in Puget Sound?) We asked how we can be more inclusive. (Is there a better name for ‘murder hornets’? Can we make the outdoors more equitable?) Some of us definitely got a bit existential. (Is Mount Rainier going to kill us? Where the heck is Cascadia on climate change?)
We hope you’ll stick around as we keep unpacking these questions in the new year.
- Bill Gates is investing big in American farmland
- Urine trouble: High nitrogen levels in Puget Sound cause ecological worry
- In 1931, an orca swam to Portland — and caused a stir
- When catchy names for insects sting — think ‘Asian giant hornet’
- What would you need to give up to save salmon in WA?
- Crosscut Escapes — podcast exploring the PNW’s natural wonders
Opinion and perspective
Earlier this month, Crosscut sunsetted its Opinion section, which has been a fixture of our newsroom since Crosscut’s founding in 2007. Up next: finding ways to uplift underrepresented community voices that don’t feel heard by local media. As we figure out how we’ll move forward, we want to thank all the writers who have contributed to Crosscut Opinion over the years, especially our regular columnists, Claudia Rowe, Clyde W. Ford, Katie Wilson, Rubén Casas and Samantha M. Allen, and Crosscut editor-at-large Knute Berger.
Here are some of the Opinion pieces readers liked most this year:
- Samantha Allen | Let’s stop the shaming at Seattle’s parks
- I’m inheriting an enormous amount of wealth — WA should tax me more
- Katie Wilson | Seattle and all of Washington must extend the eviction moratorium
- A tragic Seattle story explains the decline of American welfare
- Knute Berger | The legacy of racism built into Northwest highways and roads
- Clyde W. Ford | Decrying 'critical race theory' in Washington state misses the point
- Why 2021 might be the year of backlash in Seattle city elections
- Rubén Casas | A Tacoma police officer ran over a person. Let’s call it what it is.
Race, equity and everything else
Some of our most popular and important stories and video series in 2021 didn’t fit neatly into any of these categories. We hope you’ve recognized that Crosscut has been digging deeper into issues of equity and racism, trying to get to know the communities of our region and centering the voices of our Indigenous neighbors.
- Revered doctor steps down, accusing Seattle Children’s of racism
- One year later, Seattle Children’s remains troubled
- On Native Ground — a project about the Indigenous “landback” movement in Washington
- Cops, drugs and civil forfeiture
- Seattle is seeing a surge of Native public art
- Deeply Rooted — a video series exploring environmental justice in a changing Washington
- Indigenous families on the epidemic of missing and murdered women
- Crosscut Festival: What racism costs us
- Companies often want consultants' help with diversity — for free