With the end of the Rochester Beacon’s fourth full calendar year of publication, we’ve once again taken a look back at the stories that stood apart over the last 12 months.
Analytics make it easy to identify which articles in 2022 generated the most website traffic and clicks on our Weekly Review email. As in previous years, the most-viewed stories in 2022 do not fit neatly into a single category by topic or writing style.
On RochesterBeacon.com, which to date has logged more than 230,000 users in 2022—up roughly 40 percent compared with the year before, the most-read story was “Rochester’s homicide surge,” Contributing Writer Jacob Schermerhorn’s look at the factors that might explain why Rochester has the highest number of homicides per capita in New York and more than most big cities nationwide. No. 2 was “The changing perceptions of BLM,” a story by Managing Editor Smriti Jacob as part of the Beacon’s partnership with Good Conflict to examine, through written and video journalism, individual beliefs and perceptions about contentious and polarizing topics. Rounding out the top three was a piece Washington correspondent Peter Lovenheim wrote as the Russian invasion of Ukraine was stoking fears of a nuclear conflict, “Is Rochester ready for nuclear war?” While the risk to the Rochester region may be low, this article looked at what safety plans, if any, local government has in place for a nuclear attack.
From the beginning, community contributors have been an important part of the Beacon’s editorial offerings. This year, the most-read contributed article on RochesterBeacon.com was “A danger to Black and brown New Yorkers,” a piece by Citizen Action of New York co-executive director Rosemary Rivera on Republican gubernatorial candidate Lee Zeldin’s renewed calls for pretrial jailing based on predictions of future “dangerousness.”
In addition to website traffic, we also track clicks on articles in the Beacon’s Weekly Review email. Unlike pageviews on our website, which can spike due to external factors such as social media and news aggregator websites and apps, the email—which is free but requires registration—is perhaps a purer measure of interest among the Beacon’s readership base. No. 1 this year was Peter’s story, “The culture wars come to Aquinas,” which examined the rift that surfaced between parents and alumni who accused Aquinas Institute of “woke” ideology and those who defended the school’s board, administration and faculty. Second was “House of Mercy ends ties with founder,” Senior Writer Will Astor’s piece on the shelter board’s unanimous decision to part ways with Sister Grace Miller. No. 3 was Peter’s follow-up story on the Aquinas trustees’ response to the concerns of dissident parents.
We track readership data to help gauge the impact of individual stories. But even articles that don’t generate the largest number of clicks can be meaningful in other ways, too. So, we asked our principal writers to select the “best” piece they contributed to the Beacon over the course of the year. “Best” is highly individual; it might be work that was most successful in exploring an important or difficult subject, sparked the biggest response from readers or simply meant the most to the writer.
Smriti Jacob selected “Abortion, faith and the search for common ground,” which explored—through text and video—this question: Can people who have faith-based positions on abortion listen to and learn from others whose beliefs are in conflict with their own?
This story, she notes, “underscored a key element of the Rochester Beacon’s mission: to bring diverse voices together for an open-minded discussion on social, economic and political issues. I have worked with Hélène Biandudi Hofer before and practiced the art of looping in my own reporting, but it was a whole other experience writing and teaching the process when it came to a contentious subject like abortion. This story had all the elements of the Beacon’s approach to reporting: nonideological, in-depth, multiple perspectives and the acknowledgement of nuance.”
For Jacob Schermerhorn, the story that generated the most traffic on our website—“Rochester’s homicide surge” also was his personal pick. He selected it not because of the story on its own, but because “it sent me down a path of asking, ‘How is the community reacting to this’ and ‘What are the solutions?’ I was able to delve into the community’s desires for a new chief of police, the perceived and real benefits for gun-buyback programs, the psychological impacts for survivors of gun violence, the issue of hate crimes and violence, a midyear update on gun violence, how gun trace reports could help the search for illegal firearms, the potential for community engagement models, and how bail reform is and isn’t connected to the rise in violent crime. Public safety is a complex topic with many factors that I attempted to untangle in 2022.”
Peter Lovenheim chose “Reflections on a park bench … and a perfect life.” He explains: “By chance, I noticed one day a memorial plaque on a park bench in Rock Creek Park in Chevy Chase, MD, near the D.C.-Maryland border. The plaque memorialized a woman named Joyce Hadl, and I was intrigued by a quote included on it from Jane Austen, “It was a delightful visit—perfect, in being much too short.” Who was Joyce Hadl, why was that quote chosen and what exactly did it mean? It took me nearly a year to track down a family member—I finally connected with two of Ms. Hadl’s adult children in California—and then began to piece together the story. But what I learned about the life and death of Ms. Hadl and also about the quote—from a Jane Austen scholar right here in Rochester—made it all worthwhile. Readers seemed to appreciate it, too.”
For Opinion Editor Kent Gardner, “The college debt debate” stood out. Here’s why: “College debt is a problem, yes. But is it the problem we’ve been led to believe? Have debt burdens been rising to stratospheric levels? Friends in higher ed told me that the truth was more complicated. And they were right. Turns out that higher ed’s been ‘hoist by its own petard’ as it has simultaneously boosted ‘sticker price’ and student aid.”
Will Astor’s pick was “The Parkinson’s risk next door,” which delved into why this devastating disorder, once thought to be on the wane, is now the world’s fastest-growing brain disease. Central to it was the work of Ray Dorsey M.D., a neurologist and UR Medical Center researcher.
“My top reason for choosing this article is that I believe Ray Dorsey’s laser-like focus on ubiquity of pollutants and the dangers they pose and his critique of modern Western medicine as too invested in chasing elusive cures and not focused enough on preventive steps is an underreported story that needs to be told. Reason two is that despite the story’s alarming message, being able to weave in related personal experience made it almost easy to write.”
“A film town’s vibrant documentary scene,” which described how nonfiction filmmaking is alive and well here, nurtured by groups like Rochester Documentary Filmmakers and high-quality academic programs, was Senior Editor E. Catherine Salibian’s selection.
“I’ve always enjoyed documentary film for its ability to simultaneously absorb me in a story and teach me something,” she notes. “Then a friend invited me RocDoc Group meetings, where local filmmakers share their works-in-progress and support one another to do good work. It seemed like a vital chapter in Rochester’s story as a film town.”
Contributing Writer Mike Costanza says “one of the rewards of freelance journalism is the opportunity it presents to learn about important subjects, issues and events. As someone who has spent time staring into an empty refrigerator, the difficulties that some in the community have finding enough to eat, and food that is healthy, have long drawn my interest.”
The story he selected is “Building a food system that serves all.” Researching the story, he notes, gave him “a look at the processes that drastically reduced the number of healthy food sources in Rochester. I also gained a ground-floor view of the formation of the latest Food Policy Council, which was created to develop effective food access policies and initiatives.”
And my own pick? It’s the latest piece I’ve written, “A journey toward ending extreme poverty.” The piece tells the story of Fairport resident Barry Childs, who grew up in Tanzania and has spent the last two decades building Africa Bridge, a nonprofit dedicated to transforming the lives of that nation’s most impoverished children and families. He has faced numerous challenges along the way, which makes his story both inspiring and incredibly interesting. It’s a story that also offers lessons for those who want to change lives in our own community.
We hope you have enjoyed reading these stories and the many others we’ve posted in 2022, and we look forward to continuing our work in the coming year.