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Editor's picks: Stories we loved that you might have missed

Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques has his blood sampled on board the International Space Station for an experiment that examines the space-related changes that occur in blood and bone marrow.
NASA
Canadian astronaut David Saint-Jacques has his blood sampled on board the International Space Station for an experiment that examines the space-related changes that occur in blood and bone marrow.

I fall in love with NPR stories all the time. They make me smile, or teach me something I didn't know, or get me so invested in the people or a place or an issue that I think about it long afterward. I'm an editor, and part of my duty in working with reporters is to be an advocate for readers. So I would be remiss if I didn't bring to your attention a few of those really good stories from the past year that you might've missed.

We call these stories "hidden gems." We can tell from our website analytics that many readers loved them as much as we did — maybe not quite as many as we had hoped, though. So I'm highlighting some gems here (selected by me and by other editors where noted) to give them another shot at capturing your attention as 2023 comes to a close. Thanks for reading!

Why do some people get rashes in space? There's a clue in astronaut blood: How hard is it for astronauts to draw blood while they're in outer space? That's just one fun fact you'll find in this story. (Pretty hard, it turns out.) Reporter Ari Daniel explains not just what this new study found but also what it could mean for space exploration and for people with suppressed immune systems here on Earth.

/ NPR
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NPR

The women behind the Montgomery bus boycott: People often remember that Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, sparking a bus boycott led by Martin Luther King Jr. But that retelling leaves out the women who organized for years to make that boycott a reality — and who helped sustain it for 13 long months. Code Switch brings us their stories in their own words.

How did Uruguay cut carbon emissions? The answer is blowing in the wind: Did you know that in a typical year, 98% of Uruguay's grid is powered by green energy?! This was part of NPR's Climate Solutions Week and exemplifies the strength of Planet Money's storytelling to go somewhere, talk to the person at the heart of an idea, and explain how they put their plan into action using an economic mindset. (recommended by Sam Yellowhorse Kesler, assistant producer, Planet Money)

Pregnant? Here's how to deal with the new you: This Life Kit episode explains how pregnancy impacts the brain and how to embrace the changes that parenthood brings. It comes with a beautiful, inspiring comic by LA Johnson about the emotional state that a person might be feeling as they are about to give birth — and how they might transform once they become a mother. (recommendation by Malaka Gharib, digital editor, Life Kit)

I returned to Nicaragua, where I was born, and found a country steeped in fear: International correspondent Eyder Peralta brings us along as he visits Nicaragua for the first time in nearly a decade, gaining rare access to a nation that is hostile to journalists and had been called the Western Hemisphere's newest dictatorship. (recommended by Hannah Bloch, lead digital editor, International Desk)

Despite subfreezing temperatures and rain, a crowd waits in line outside the Paramount Theater in New York City for a showing of <em>The Exorcist</em> in February 1974.
Ron Frehm / AP
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AP
Despite subfreezing temperatures and rain, a crowd waits in line outside the Paramount Theater in New York City for a showing of The Exorcist in February 1974.

A priest explains what 'The Exorcist' tells us about evil: The director of The Exorcist always insisted it was not a horror movie. It was a movie about faith. Reporter Neda Ulaby writes that 50 years later — "right at a moment when the world feels caught in something profoundly, cosmically terrible" — The Exorcist reminds us that when we feel helpless and hopeless, there is power in being present.

Speaker Johnson's close ties to Christian right — both mainstream and fringe: In this story about House Speaker Mike Johnson, published not long after he was elected, political correspondent Susan Davis describes his deep ties to a network of religious leaders who have advocated to end or weaken the separation of church and state. She sharpens the focus with this line: "Johnson's rapid elevation to the height of power in Washington gives allies of this movement — who also boast close ties with presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump — direct lines to leaders of the Republican Party." (recommendation by Heidi Glenn, NPR Politics digital editor)

/ Maria Fabrizio for NPR
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Maria Fabrizio for NPR

Facing my wife's dementia: Should I fly off to see our grandkids without her? After 40 years of living and traveling with his wife, global health editor Marc Silver opens up about the difficulties of her dementia diagnosis and how hard it was to consider taking a trip without her. (recommended by Carmel Wroth, senior editor, Science Desk)

Puerto Rico lost its only elephant — and cracked open a well of emotions: Mundi the African elephant was the pride of Puerto Rico's only zoo. But her fate became entangled in the island's struggles with natural disasters and a debilitating debt crisis. Adrian Florido's writing and Erika P. Rodríguez's photographs combine to elucidate this complex tale. And if you wondered how Mundi was faring in her new home, here's an update:

Listen: Mundi has already made elephant friends in her new home

Prison sexual assault victims can now petition for compassionate release: Justice correspondent Carrie Johnson shines a light on a federal program called compassionate release, which allows prisoners the chance to convince a court they should be freed because of extraordinary and compelling circumstances. Carrie tells the story of a woman who did just that: Aimee Chavira, who for years suffered sexual abuse in a Dublin, Calif., federal prison by the officers responsible for protecting her. (recommendation by Heidi Glenn, NPR Politics digital editor)

A server opens the door for customers at Imam Cagdas.
Claire Harbage / NPR
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NPR
A server opens the door for customers at Imam Cagdas.

Baklava took a break in Turkey's pastry capital after the earthquake. Now it's back: This is one of those stories that help paint a picture of the impacts of a disaster beyond the big, newsier headlines. Claire Harbage's hopeful images give readers such a feeling for the place and the moment — and an appreciation for the significance of delicious baklava! Yet Daniel Estrin's last few paragraphs snap us back to the broader, terrible reality of the quake's aftermath.

Barbra Streisand in March 1966.
Terry Fincher / Express/Getty Images
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Express/Getty Images
Barbra Streisand in March 1966.

Barbra Streisand's memoir shows she wasn't born a leading lady — she made herself one: It's Been a Minute host Brittany Luse reviews Streisand's latest memoir (and interviews her!) and writes that even as a devoted fan, she's still learning about the depth of Streisand's mastery. (recommended by IBAM supervising editor Jessica Placzek)

Shafi Amani and his daughter, Yousra, 3, in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 3, 2023.
Catie Dull / NPR
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NPR
Shafi Amani and his daughter, Yousra, 3, in Alexandria, Va., on Aug. 3, 2023.

How one Afghan family made the perilous journey across the U.S.-Mexico border and An Afghan teen makes it to the U.S., but his family is left behind in Kabul: This pair of stories from NPR Pentagon reporter Tom Bowman, which mark a year since the U.S.'s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, are exceptionally told, deeply felt and visually moving. (recommendation by Heidi Glenn, NPR Politics digital editor)

A forgotten peace petition started after WWI has resurfaced and is inspiring hope: Hopefulness is so badly needed these days, and producer Megan Lim's opening paragraph delivers just that. It starts: "Dreams of world peace are as old as wars," expanding readers' perspective beyond this difficult moment. As a bonus, you'll find plenty of historical details for trivia night!

Amy Morgan is a senior editor with NPR's Newshub team.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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