The Deepnews Articles That Told the Story of 2020 #99

Deepnews Digest #99

The Deepnews Stories That Told 2020

Editor: Christopher Brennan
Happy holidays from Deepnews! As the year winds to a close, it also marks the first full calendar year that the Digest has been offering up in-depth articles found with our model. This week’s edition looks back at the year that was through the lens of the articles that appeared in our emails.

It was a year that was marked and will forever be marked by one gargantuan story, the coronavirus, though it was also a year full of stories that you may have missed. One aspect of our model that I find constantly refreshing is its ability to pull in articles on more precise angles and pieces from smaller outlets that aren’t going to show up on the first page of a news aggregator or trend on Twitter. For this Digest I selected some of those pieces. They are not the 25 best stories of the year, but to me they are 25 stories that tell the story of 2020.

If you would like to take a look back at all our Digests this year, click here to head to the archives.

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The Conversation

Hunter, hunted: when the world catches on fire, how do predators respond?

2019 might well be remembered as the year the world caught fire. Some 2.9 million hectares of eastern Australia have been incinerated in the past few months, an area roughly the same size as Belgium. Fires in the Amazon, the Arctic, and California captured global attention.

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Editor’s Note:

Our first Digest of 2020 looked at the bushfires in an edition called “Australia on Fire” that covered issues of climate, disaster and more. This piece highlighted by our model tackles a particular effect of wildfires, a story that would also pop up throughout the year in places such as the American West.

Channel News Asia

Commentary: SARS was scary, but the experience was invaluable in shaping our Wuhan virus response

As the Wuhan virus claims a seventh confirmed case in Singapore, it’s worth remembering the domestic resilience and international cooperation that got the country through SARS in 2003.

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Editor’s Note:

Though some media in the U.S. and Europe were focused on other issues, the coronavirus was a global story as early as late January, when Deepnews’s newsletter was titled “World Watches Wuhan.” One of the enduring stories of the year has been the differences in outcome between Asian countries and those elsewhere. Back in January, our model highlighted a piece from CNA’s executive editor looking back at her own experience with SARS and the preparations it led to in places such as Singapore.

McClatchy

‘No clear winner:’ Iowa Democrats fear caucuses won’t anoint a 2020 frontrunner

DES MOINES – Iowa Democrats pride themselves on voting first — and picking winners. Since the Iowa caucuses began kicking off the presidential nominating process in 1972, the victor has marched on to become the Democratic nominee in seven of the last 10 open primary contests, including in the last four: Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Kerry and Al Gore.

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Editor’s Note:

Another major story of the year was the 2020 U.S. election. With the candidates jockeying last year, February saw the first votes cast in Iowa. This piece from McClatchy appeared in “All In For Iowa Caucuses” before the big night and foreshadowed a primary race that was far from settled after the first contests.

Post and Courier

After Nevada, uncertainty awaits as the 2020 Democratic race shifts to South Carolina

Former vice president Joe Biden caught a red-eye flight from Las Vegas to make sure he got to the North Charleston church on time Sunday morning. Across town, former Indiana mayor Pete Buttigieg spoke in the pulpit of a Baptist church on James Island.

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Editor’s Note:

The turning point in the Democractic primary was in South Carolina, when Joe Biden secured his first win and then powered into Super Tuesday. Here our algorithm spotlighted a piece digging into things from SC’s local Post and Courier before the vote, including the history of the primary and support among African-Americans.

First Draft

From coronavirus to bushfires, misleading maps are distorting reality

A picture may tell a thousand words, but a map can help to interpret hundreds of thousands of data points and ‘show’ a story in mere seconds. Studies have shown how the human brain is much more inclined to believe information presented visually — especially when supported by data and numbers.

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Editor’s Note:

By March, COVID had reached Europe in a major way. This piece came from our “News in the Time of Coronavirus” edition and looks at a theme that would become one of the most important in 2020, misinformation.

Times of Israel

As coronavirus spreads, many Israeli seniors stuck at home, isolated and afraid

Those in nursing homes are under lockdown and at risk of contagion, while those at home pass the time as best they can cut off from family, friends and activities

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Editor’s Note:

As mid-March came, country after country became familiar with the word “lockdown.” This piece from Israel looks at nursing homes, which in many places have born the most hardships of COVID, through individual stories.

Seattle Times

Short-staffed and undersupplied: Coronavirus crisis strains Seattle area’s capacity to deliver care

Amid the first signs that the novel coronavirus was spreading in the Seattle area, a senior officer at the University of Washington Medical Center sent an urgent note to staffers. “We are currently exceptionally full and are experiencing some challenges with staffing,” Tom Staiger, UW Medical Center’s medical director, wrote on Feb. 29. He asked hospital staff to “expedite appropriate discharges asap,” reflecting the need for more beds.

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Editor’s Note:

One of the main goals of lockdowns was of course to preserve hospital capacity. Seattle was one of the first places in the US to deal with a large COVID outbreak, and here our model highlighted the Seattle Times introducing people to the concept of flattening the curve.

Krebs on Security

‘War Dialing’ Tool Exposes Zoom’s Password Problems

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to force people to work from home, countless companies are now holding daily meetings using videoconferencing services from Zoom. But without the protection of a password, there’s a decent chance your next Zoom meeting could be “Zoom bombed” — attended or disrupted by someone who doesn’t belong. And according to data gathered by a new automated Zoom meeting discovery tool dubbed “zWarDial,” a crazy number of meetings at major corporations are not being protected by a password.

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Editor’s Note:

As people settled into lockdown working from home became one of the defining trends of the year. Here our edition “It Zoomed Right Into Our Lives” highlighted a piece from Brian Krebs looking at one of the security problems that dominated early coverage of the video call service that became ubiquitous.

Minneapolis Public Radio

Behind rallies to reopen economy, a Minnesota activist and his family

Data on the rental market highlights the inequality exacerbated by the Covid-19 crisis in the UK.

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Editor’s Note:

The question of how long restrictions would last was everywhere in the spring and summer, and met with organized movements, including armed groups, opposing any sort of lockdown. Here our edition “The Open Question” spotlighted Minnesota Public Radio’s in-depth piece into a family behind anti-quarantine actions in multiple parts of the US.

The Appeal

For Striking NYC Tenants with Notorious Landlords, the Problem Is Not Just COVID

Some are striking because they can’t afford to pay the rent. Others are striking in protest against what they say is inhumane treatment.

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Editor’s Note:

As the economic impact of the coronvirus was felt, one of the areas where our model continuously highlighted articles was in problems with housing. Here is a piece from the Appeal as New Yorkers struggled to pay rent.

South China Morning Post

Coronavirus: face masks, ventilators with fake certificates pushed by scammers as demand for Chinese medical supplies booms

When the governor of Arizona declared a Covid-19 emergency in March, China-based game designer Simon Chioni decided to buy masks to send home to his family. Little did he know how hard it would be.

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Editor’s Note:

The story of the coronavirus response has been one of science but also supplies. Here our algorithm highlighted a piece where the SCMP posed as a buyer to expose scams in medical equipment.

E&E News

Flooding disproportionately harms black neighborhoods

When Hurricane Harvey devastated Texas in 2017, the neighborhood that suffered the worst flood damage was a section of southwest Houston where 49% of the residents are nonwhite.

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Editor’s Note:

Inequalities among different groups, shown starkly in some cases by the pandemic, led to large protests, particularly after the death of George Floyd. Here in our edition “In-Depth on Inequality” our algorithm highlighted a piece about the disparities in climate impact based on neighborhood.

Americas Quarterly

Pandemic Heroes: Brazil’s Thiago Firmino

If you go up Santa Marta hill in Botafogo, Rio de Janeiro, you get a treat: the most amazing view of the famous statue of Christ and the Sugar Loaf, and you can take a selfie with a statue of Michael Jackson, who filmed parts of his “They Don’t Care About Us” video there. Jackson became possibly the first international superstar to go up the narrow lanes, unpaved passages, and cramped corners of the stacked bare zinc-roof cabins that make up this neighborhood.

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Editor’s Note:

By the summer the coronavirus had reached out to other parts of the world, with the WHO saying that South America was a new center. Here, in a Digest focused on the region, our algorithm pulled in this piece about a man in Rio and what he was doing for his community.

BBC

Coronavirus: Why surviving the virus may be just the beginning

The first thing Simon Farrell can remember, after being woken from a medically induced coma, is trying to tear off his oxygen mask. He had been in intensive care for 10 days, reliant on a ventilator just to breathe.

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Editor’s Note:

As doctors and officials learned more about COVID, some patients also learned about the concept of “long COVID.” Here in July our model highlighted the BBC looking into what was then just emerging as a phenomenon.

The Guardian

Revealed: Italy’s call for urgent help was ignored as coronavirus swept through Europe

It was a moment of chilling clarity. On 26 February, with the numbers of Italians known to be infected by coronavirus tripling every 48 hours, the country’s prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, appealed to fellow EU member states for help.

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Editor’s Note:

With Europe an early center of coronavirus, its reaction to the pandemic has come in different chapters, including a period when the open borders between European countries were closed. This piece, which looks at a lack of response to an Italian request for aid, was published just before our Digest on another chapter, an EU summit that took the historic decision to take on joint debt as part of the recovery effort.

Chalkbeat Chicago

Can Chicago find its missing students in time for fall?

The school district has grappled with how to reach students who fell out of contact with their schools during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Editor’s Note:

This year we did several Digests on how schools have been affected by the pandemic. As the summer faded away, this piece from non-profit Chalkbeat looked at a local issue with broader implications.

WSJ ($)

TikTok’s Founder Wonders What Hit Him

Zhang Yiming was having breakfast at home in Beijing in July when a message popped on his computer screen. A friend sent a link featuring President Trump, in which he said the coronavirus came from China and, as part of a U.S. response, he might ban TikTok, the hit video app Mr. Zhang founded.

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Editor’s Note:

In a “normal” year, the rivalry between China and the U.S., including in tech, may have been one of the biggest stories. Here, as Chinese platform TikTok came under scrutiny this autumn, our algorithm highlighted a piece looking into its founder Zhang Yiming.

Der Spiegel

Russian Patient: The Kremlin, Belarus and the Attack on Alexei Navalny

Navalny is thought to have been in Novosibirsk to investigate members of the United Russia party in the Siberian city – all of whom are active in the local construction industry, where there have been numerous corruption scandals. They reportedly have close ties with the former deputy regional director of the FSB, who now heads the FSB in Tomsk. Navalny is said to have been kept under close surveillance while in the city, his last stop before continuing on to Tomsk. “They follow us on foot, tail us with entire convoys of cars, each of us tailed by two or three cars,” Navalny staffer Georgy Alburov said in a video on a local YouTube channel. “And they try to watch where we were going. What we are doing. They filmed us secretly.”

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Editor’s Note:

This year we did several Digests on stories from Russia and the post-Soviet space, perhaps none with more attention than the poisoning of opposition leader Alexei Navalny. New information has come out in recent days, though back in the autumn our model highlighted a deeply reported piece on how a poisoned Navalny made it from Novosibirsk to Berlin.

Union of Concerned Scientists

Who Gets the First COVID-19 Vaccines? The Answer is a Complex Tangle of Science and Ethics

The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic has jumpstarted an unprecedented frenzy of vaccine research, and dozens of vaccines have entered clinical trials. Forecasters predict that a vaccine could be approved within the next year—a testament to the power of scientific ingenuity, especially given that vaccines usually take at least a decade to make.

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Editor’s Note:

As hope for a vaccine grew, so did questions about how it would work and how it would be distributed, a major focus in the second half of the year. Here our algorithm highlighted a piece looking into a report from the National Academies of Science creating a system to fight back against COVID.

The Atlantic

How Milk Tea Became an Anti-China Symbol

The Milk Tea Alliance is emblematic of the frustration many young people feel toward Beijing’s grating assertiveness in the region.

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Editor’s Note:

2020 was a year of lockdown but also of protest, in places from Minnesota to Minsk. This piece from a Digest on Bangkok demonstrations highlights a symbol that has become popular among Asian protesters, milk tea.

LA Times

Quibi was supposed to be a haven for creatives. Then it shut down

As Jeffrey Katzenberg and Meg Whitman prepared to launch their streaming service Quibi, the powerhouse executives pitched it as a happy home for filmmakers to bring their short-form shows and movies. The company was what every producer wants to see in Hollywood — a big-spending new buyer hungry for fresh material.

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Editor’s Note:

Amid talk of stimulus and how to get the economy going again, there were also businesses that didn’t make it. This piece comes from a Digest “Cut to the Quibi” that we did on demise of the bite-sized streaming service, though similar stories can be told about other business closings this year.

Philadelphia Inquirer

Pennsylvania’s New Vote-by-Mail Law Expands Access for Everyone Except the Poor

Pennsylvania’s vote-by-mail law has expanded access — primarily for middle-class and affluent voters who would likely have voted anyway. A year later, poor Philadelphians are still more likely to vote in person

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Editor’s Note:

In one of the biggest stories of the year, the American election, vote by mail emerged as one of the most important angles. Here our model highlighted an article from Philadelphia, which played a pivotal role in Joe Biden’s victory.

ProPublica

If Trump Tries to Sue His Way to Election Victory, Here’s What Happens

It’s easy enough for the Trump campaign to file a lawsuit claiming improprieties, but a lot harder to provide evidence of wrongdoing or a convincing legal argument. Here’s what you need to know as the election lawsuits start to mount.

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Editor’s Note:

One of the interesting things about focusing on quality news is that, because of the energy and thought put into the reporting or analysis, it can sometimes seem prophetic when events unfold. Here in the days after the election our model surfaced a piece from ProPublica that foretold legal moves over the following weeks.

STAT News

‘We’re being left behind’: Rural hospitals can’t afford ultra-cold freezers to store the leading Covid-19 vaccine

Large urban hospitals across the U.S. are rushing to buy expensive ultra-cold freezers to store what’s likely to be the first approved Covid-19 vaccine. But most rural hospitals can’t afford these high-end units, meaning health workers and residents in those communities may have difficulty getting the shots.

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Editor’s Note:

As mentioned in previous articles, the vaccine campaign became the hope for exiting the pandemic as we head into next year. This piece from STAT after the announcement of Pfizer/BioNTech results highlights some of the difficulties.

Protocol

Lots of people are gunning for Google. Meet the man who might have the best shot.

A coalition of states is about to file suit against the search giant. Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser has spent his life preparing for this moment.

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Editor’s Note:

Many predicted that governments’ tangles with Big Tech would be one of the defining stories of 2020. The pandemic may have delayed some of it, though the last several weeks have seen a barrage of suits and proposed legislation. Here our algorithm highlighted a look at one of the officials leading the charge in the U.S.