Since we introduced balloting by readers to determine the community’s top news stories for the previous year, I’ve never known quite what to expect. The outcome is the result, ultimately, of a subjective process that starts with winnowing down a year’s worth of headlines — hundreds of stories that are of interest to most or many of our readers — to a manageable list of candidates.
That requires making some preemptive choices about what topics are most likely to make the “top 10” list (which usually includes, as it does this year, more than 10 because of ties in the voting). There are a dozen headlines you’d probably recall, and possibly find more compelling, that didn’t make the final ballot.
So it’s always a matter of great curiosity to see how the voters viewed the year, and what resonated with them. I year ago in this space, I postulated that the COVID pandemic was a good bet to top the major news stories list for 2021, as it did in 2020. And it might have but for our summer of fire, smoke, heat and health challenges, and the ancillary consequences that generated their own spinoff stories (such as how much logging was done as part of the firefighting).
The coronavirus was, nonetheless, front-and-center in our lives throughout the year and continues to be the one consistent story that we cover every week no matter what. That will continue in 2022, I’m sure — but I can’t predict, any more than any of us, what those headlines will look like in the coming 12 months.
I was pleasantly surprised that a “feel good” story about the progress of our local biochar project claimed the No. 3 spot in the balloting for 2021. It’s an uplifting development that is unique to the Methow Valley, and we tend to value those things.
I was also surprised that the state appeals court decision opening French Creek Road to the public didn’t draw more votes — it was a long, drawn-out, hard-fought battle with a wonderfully positive outcome for the community. Maybe it’s because much of the heavy lifting needed to keep the case alive and victorious had been done earlier, and the court decision was the icing on the cake.
I must confess to what I now think was an oversight. Because we tend to look at specific events or developments when identifying a “story” to include on the ballot, we may overlook trends or long-term issues that are fundamentally important but have an extended time frame. The affordable housing challenge in the Methow Valley is one of those. It’s ongoing, has major implications for our future, and is incredibly complex and therefore difficult to solve without a lot of thought, planning and well-coordinated execution. I think that topic would have drawn a lot of votes had it been on the ballot for 2021.
To be sure, several of the stories on this year’s list have long shelf lives and have appeared on top 10 results before. A few of them will likely be on next year’s ballot as well, because some things just take a while to resolve. Or, seemingly resolved, become resurrected as controversies. We’ll see. The only thing that is assuredly predictable is that something unpredictable will happen.
We can say, with a fair degree of confidence, that 2022 will produce some big stories that are predictable. Three major community projects — the Okanogan County Fire District 6 fire hall, the Winthrop library and the Twisp civic building — are all scheduled to be completed and occupied this year. Friends of the Pool will begin firming up its plans to replace the Wagner Memorial Pool in Twisp. It’s a big election year, which is sure to produce an lot of activity at every level of politics. Fingers crossed, we won’t be writing about wildfires in 2022. But we all know how vulnerable, and anxious, we’re going to feel come summer.
As always, we appreciate your participation in the voting. It helps us review our performance and shape our coverage priorities going forward. If it’s important to you, it’s important to us.