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The Nevada Independent

Best of the Indy: Our favorite stories from 2023

Indy staff share their favorite projects from the past year, touching on everything from cannabis home growers to a history of public lands bills in Congress.
The Nevada Independent Staff
The Nevada Independent Staff

What a year.

2023 was a year marked by change — another contentious legislative session (and two special sessions), a new governor, a new sports team starting its move to Las Vegas, an internationally watched Formula 1 race and a gigantic Sphere lighting up the Strip for the first time. 

But outside the flashiest headlines, reporters and editors at The Nevada Independent have been diligently exploring a bevy of other topics — wild horse management, care for adults with autism, street vendor regulations, cannabis home growers, the backstory on public land management and even a student-run turkey farm.

As we did at the end of 2022, The Nevada Independent reporters and multimedia journalists are pleased to share their favorite stories, videos and audio reporting from the past calendar year.

Thank you, as always, for reading, watching and listening to our stories.

Reporter Howard Stutz

Behind Flowing Tide’s growth? Brothers who moved from slot providers to tavern business

I enjoyed telling the story of Jimmy and Danny Wadhams, two native Nevada brothers who left good positions with the state’s largest slot machine route operator to acquire and expand a statewide tavern operation.

‘It absolutely hurts:’ Oakland fans lament possible loss of the A’s to Las Vegas

Photographer David Calvert and I spent two days in Oakland watching baseball in a crumbling, 57-year-old stadium with attendance at less than one-tenth the capacity. But fans there were passionate about keeping the A’s in Oakland. We felt it was important to travel to the East Bay and tell the story of a loyal fan base less than two months after Nevada lawmakers approved legislation that paved the way for the team to move to Las Vegas. 

The Oakland Athletics play the Texas Rangers at the Oakland Coliseum in Oakland, California on Friday, May 12, 2023. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Reporter Amy Alonzo 

‘It will never end’: Long a symbol of the West, debate rages over wild horse management

There is no shortage of controversial environmental stories to tell in Nevada, and this dive into federal wild horse roundups was one of my favorites to report. The chance to go on a gather myself and witness what so much of the controversy is about was a unique experience that will help inform future reporting.

Billionaire proposes massive Nevada land trade with federal government

This story is, to me, what local, independent journalism is about — telling a story that digs into an issue affecting a community with minimal media resources. Limited and often erroneous information surrounded the Winecup Gamble Ranch’s tentative land swap, and getting all sides on the record hopefully helped further the conversations that need to happen around the potential transfer.

Visual Content Editor Timothy Lenard

For this video, I spent the day with Chris Howland during a blizzard on Mount Rose Highway, one of the main winter corridors for the ski resorts around Lake Tahoe. Howland’s job is to keep the road open, and last winter was one of the snowiest in years. My favorite part about working on stories like this is being out in the elements, showcasing the important work that goes into keeping our state running. I also loved seeing the grateful look on motorist’s faces as Howland helped dig them out of an embankment.

Reporter Tabitha Mueller

As lawmakers again debate medical aid in dying, patients and doctors say it’s far from simple

For the past five legislative sessions, Nevada lawmakers have debated measures legalizing life-ending medication for terminally ill patients. In the past, we’d mostly focused on the policy through the lens of legislative hearings, but this year, I looked outside the Legislature and investigated why people who were terminally ill were advocating for access to life-ending medication and why others were opposed to it. I loved working on this piece because it challenged me as a reporter and writer and helped me explore how a policy affects a community outside the Legislature.

‘Autism is lifelong:’ Advocates say new law expanding autism coverage to adults will make a difference

Despite comprising about 13 percent of the state’s population, people with disabilities are often singled out or not fully integrated into society. Rarely are their voices centered in the news. I appreciated Korri Ward and her family’s willingness to discuss the challenges that adults with autism face. Photographer David Calvert beautifully captured her son Doug’s daily life. I intend for this to be the first of many pieces surrounding issues affecting communities with disabilities in Nevada and ensuring that people with disabilities are included in policy discussions.

Personal care assistant and job coach Jennifer Coe with her client Doug Ward outside of his father Deanís office on Aug. 23, 2023 in Elko where Ward will resupply his candy machines. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Multimedia Editor Joey Lovato

IndyMatters: Send in the clowns

While I was able to work on a ton of really fun stories this year, this story that freelance reporter Savanna Strott and I told about a community of retired clowns in Las Vegas was one of the most touching and fun things I’ve ever worked on. Way more emotional than I ever would have expected, the podcast and its subsequent written companion piece are some of the most human stories I’ve told this year and provided a glimpse into a truly Nevada community.

Series: Facing the Fentanyl Crisis

I spent nearly a year working on our three-part “Facing the Fentanyl Crisis” series. Part one broke down the problem, part two looked at the fight over different proposed solutions, and part three followed up with various players in the fentanyl story. This was the biggest project I’ve ever worked on, and I’m incredibly proud of it.

Audience Engagement Editor Kristyn Leonard

Indy Resource Guide: How to contact your elected officials

One of The Indy’s major priorities is promoting civic engagement, and that shouldn’t be limited to just voting. This guide I put together with reporter Tabitha Mueller in January can help readers follow up with their elected officials long after they’ve cast their ballot, to make sure they’re aware of — and taking action on — the issues that matter most to them and their community.

Denim Day at the Nevada Legislature

I worked with our legislative reporting team to put together nearly 60 TikToks (or Instagram Reels or YouTube Shorts, depending on where you watched them!) during this year’s legislative session. I’m particularly proud of this video highlighting Denim Day, when lawmakers, lobbyists and even reporters wear denim to stand in solidarity with victim-survivors of domestic and sexual violence. Take a minute to watch that, and check out the other videos on our page.

Reporter Jannelle Calderon

‘An honest living’: Vegas street vendors say new law could bring their work out of the shadows

This story, along with coverage of SB92 and the months of follow-up on street food vendor regulations, really showed me how a bill can have real-life implications and affect communities. I spent an afternoon with Luis Sanchez and Maribel Rojas Flores under their rainbow umbrellas and watched how they greeted every customer with a smile and meticulously prepared the food. Their passion for making a better living for themselves and their families radiates with every fruit cup and elote (Mexican corn on the cob) they serve. Laws and how they are implemented matter, and this issue has become a very clear example of that. 

Street vendor Luis Sanchez waits for costumers at his stand in North Las Vegas on Tuesday, June 13, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Reporter Naoka Foreman

Cannabis home growers hang on as commercialization, Legislature threaten practice

Medical cannabis has been legal in Nevada for more than two decades, with recreational use legalized in 2017, but the stigma of its prohibition lives on. This story highlights the tension some medicinal cannabis patients experience while seeking healing from cannabis products as laws have become more restrictive on home growing. Telling Jordon Herring’s story allowed me to shine a light on the dynamic cannabis community.

Black Nevadans reconnect with family trees that were ‘extremely interrupted by slavery’

This article contextualizes the history of slavery in the U.S. and its commonly overlooked damage to families. I also found it personally valuable to learn how people of African descent trace their family histories — using church records, slave advertisements in newspapers and DNA databases to identify tribal roots in Africa — as a source of liberation.

Reporter Gabby Birenbaum

Conservation and development: Nevada’s unique public lands process draws renewed attention

Nevada has the highest percentage of public land of all 50 states, meaning discussions around growth, development and conservation necessarily have to include the federal government. In this story, I broke down the history and potential future of the lands bills that have powered growth in the Las Vegas Valley and protected broad swaths of environmentally sensitive land across the state. It was fun to look back and see “how the sausage gets made” on these bills in Congress, particularly when the late Sen. Harry Reid (D-NV) was shepherding them through, and analyze their impact on a state that has seen its population grow tremendously in the past few decades. 

20 years after Bush won Nevada, should Republicans look to 2004 for presidential roadmap?

Nevada has been a swing state for decades, yet the last Republican presidential candidate to win its electoral votes was George W. Bush in 2004. I reported on this story to explore how Bush’s messaging and campaign tactics resonated 20 years ago and why Republicans have not been able to replicate his success since. Speaking to Republican operatives and campaign folks from a different era of the GOP, I found a lot of wistfulness for a Bush-like candidate and electoral model. And Bush’s election also coincided with the rise of the Reid Machine, which has used massive voter registration drives and media outreach to beat Republicans — at least in presidential races — ever since.

Photos from the 2004 presidential campaign in Nevada. (Courtesy of UNLV Special Collections and Archives)

Reporter Sean Golonka

Follow the Money: A guide to who gave money to state lawmakers

This story, which links to a series of 11 stories, is a critical piece of reporting The Nevada Independent conducts every two years. Reporter Jacob Solis and I teamed up to analyze the campaign contributions made to all 63 state lawmakers, examining the subsequent political influences at play in the Legislature and the policy stakes for the state’s biggest electoral donors. It is an ambitious piece of data reporting and weaves together campaign finance and legislative reporting.

What Tesla’s multibillion-dollar Gigafactory expansion means for Nevada

This was a fun mix of history, economic and legislative reporting. When the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles sought to expand one of the biggest factories in the world at one of the largest industrial parks in the world, this story helped capture the myriad angles to the expansions — from massive tax breaks to the effects on a county of just 4,100 residents. 

Reporter Jacob Solis

How the Vegas grand prix carved its place on the F1 calendar

Nothing ground gears for Las Vegas locals this year quite like Formula 1. But when the lights were finally on, the cameras ready — how did it actually go? Reporter Howard Stutz and I dove into the long and winding road to the first Las Vegas Grand Prix since the 1980s, and what racing down the Strip could actually mean for the future. 

Challenges emerge as UNR continues expansion of dual credit program into Southern Nevada

This one seems like a deep cut — UNR enters year two of a program standing up dual-credit classes in Las Vegas classrooms, eyebrows are raised inside the Nevada System of Higher Education, and so forth. But inside this single story is a micro-universe of the biggest issues that will shape the next decade of higher education in Nevada — from enrollment to money to workforce issues and more. It’s also a story that pairs well with this Q&A with now-retired Chancellor Dale Erquiaga, a man who had a lot to say about all of the above. 

Media tour at the paddock for Formula 1 Las Vegas Grand Prix on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Reporter Rocio Hernandez

Lyon County student-run turkey farm serving up lessons on business, agriculture skills

This story on Smith Valley School’s student-run turkey farm is something I’ve been waiting to report on for a while. I heard about it last year, and put a reminder on my calendar so I could have plenty of time to prepare for the story. The program was as impressive as I expected it to be. Photographer David Calvert took some amazing photos and this video shows all the hard work students put in to prepare the turkeys for Thanksgiving.  

Vegas elementary school students start their own school newspaper

It was hard to pick just one of the School Spotlights that I’ve written for the Indy Education newsletter that I launched this year, but this profile on the newspaper started by students at Tyrone Thompson Elementary School was definitely one of my favorites. It’s always great when we can write about the positive things our students across the state are achieving, including these talented fourth and fifth graders who may one day be coming for my job!  

Reporter Carly Sauvageau

‘I am who I am’: Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman known for downtown development, speaking her mind

I spent several months working on this story, going through ample amounts of documentation around the Goodmans and interviewing people close to them as well as the mayor herself. There’s always a story to tell about local government in Nevada, but this story holds a special place for me because it shows what day-to-day life looks like for a husband and wife who have, combined, spent 25 years in the mayor’s seat.

Group thought to be first tenants union in Nevada seeks to tackle high rents

It was exciting to report on a group thought to be the first of its kind in Nevada. I think this story gives insight into how some renters are feeling in Nevada right now.

Mayor Carolyn Goodman during an interview at Las Vegas City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2023. (Jeff Scheid/The Nevada Independent)

Intern Reporter Eric Neugeboren

‘Destined to fail’: How Nevada’s $80 million HR, finance system upgrade went haywire

In March, Gov. Joe Lombardo quietly scrapped a yearslong project to revamp the state’s HR and finance systems after $80 million had been spent on the overhaul. This story tracked what exactly went wrong with the project, finding that poor leadership, minimal staffing and disorganization doomed the effort. It also included perspectives from former project employees who disagreed strongly with the cancellation because it had started to turn a corner after years of dysfunction.

Analysis: Moderates rare in polarized Nevada Legislature

As a recent Nevada transplant, I was particularly interested in learning more about political polarization in the state Legislature. This article analyzed all legislator votes from the past six legislative sessions, finding how moderates were very rare in the polarized Legislature, though Republicans are more likely to cross party lines than Democrats.

Podcasting Intern Reporter Alex Couraud

IndyMatters: Hunger this holiday season

I produced this audio story for Thanksgiving with reporter Carly Sauvageau on how food insecurity is affecting Nevadans. This story highlighted a mobile food pantry that is making a real difference in our community, and it uses a lot of rich natural sound elements to tell an important narrative story.

IndyMatters: Faith, politics and choice in death

My last piece published in The Indy, this story showcases a unique viewpoint on the tough and divisive topic of allowing people who are terminally ill to take life-ending medication. This year, legislation allowing for medical aid in dying finally passed but was vetoed by the governor. This episode takes a humane approach to a sensitive issue looking at major support and opposition to the practice.


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