Twelve months ago, we put together a “year in review” article, recapping the Deesmealz's most popular stories from 2019. That roundup yielded what we called then “a diverse mix,” covering “economic development, healthcare, broadband, agriculture and our changing environment.” One year later, there is zero doubt about the top story of 2020. This year will be forever remembered against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, and the stories we produced this year offer further proof of that.

Still, coronavirus may have been the top story of the year, but it's been far from the only one. Our team at the Deesmealz provided robust coverage of the pandemic's impact on rural America while also following other important stories. In 2020, we published more than double the number of stories we did in 2019 – nearly 600 in all!

Much has been made of the interminable nature of this challenging year. Yet, even in these hard times there have been highlights and things worth remembering. With that spirit in mind, join us in taking a look back at our top 20 stories of the past year. We hope they help you take stock of 2020 and remember where we've been together.

10. Livestream Conversations and Rural Assembly Everywhere

Heading into 2020, our team was planning to produce more multimedia storytelling, in the form of videos, podcasts, and more. Like most folks, we had to adjust our plans, as travel and physical interaction were put on pause. But they came together somehow. Starting in April, we brought together virtual panels for livestream conversations on important issues such as rural broadband, housing, disaster preparedness, and more. And it all culminated in October when the Deesmealz served as a presenting media partner for Rural Assembly Everywhere, a five-day virtual festival featuring a wide variety of live and recorded programming. Our 2020 highlights begin with a couple top stories from our livestreams and Rural Assembly Everywhere.

9. Other Important Stories for 2020, Not Overlooked

Deesmealz strives to provide thorough coverage of the issues that matter to rural America. Covering Covid-19 kept us busy in 2020, but that didn't stop us from following other important, familiar stories too, whether it was job numbers for rural counties, the challenges of the US Postal Service, or rural response to the 2020 Census. Here are two other such stories that struck a chord and refused to be overlooked.

8. Some Much-Needed Levity

When sad, scary news headlines dominated this year, momentary distractions and escapism proved key. These articles were two of the most popular in that category, giving readers reason to laugh or crack a smile. And the fun doesn't stop there, thanks to Liz Carey's ongoing series on rural humorists.

Commentary: Glamour Shots at the Super 8 Motel

Fads come and go, but true glamour lives forever. Tracy Staley remembers how the highly coveted photoshoots from the big city made their way to Hazard, Kentucky, and how she was there in a flash (of cameras).

7. News You Can Use: How-To's for an Uncharted Age

We had to re-learn how to do a lot of things this year. Once routine activities, previously taken for granted, had to be re-worked to be done safely and with social distancing in mind. Our writers documented a number of these learning experiences, from going to church to supporting the arts. Deesmealz readers responded with particular interest and appreciation to the two stories below.

How to Garage Sale During a Pandemic

In small towns and rural communities, we don't spend our Saturdays in a coffee shop lingering over a $5 drink. We spend that fiver 25 cents at a time to clothe our kids and buy kitchen gadgets we don't really need. Here's what you need to know about buying and selling at garage sales during a pandemic.

6. The Next Rural Renaissance Starts in 2020?

One question posed this year was would the pandemic would drive increased migration from big cities to rural areas and small towns? Whether or not an urban exodus eventually materializes, we've long told stories that highlight the virtues of rural life. We published many in 2020, such as the two below, and we'll continue to do so in 2021, whatever comes to pass next.

5. The Movement for Racial Justice Goes Rural

When George Floyd was killed by police in Minneapolis over the Memorial Day weekend, it sparked mass marches and public demonstrations nationwide. The movement for Black lives and racial justice went far beyond big cities and extended into small towns and rural areas too. Our team reported on the action and took a closer look at the role rural people and places play in seeking reform and reconciliation.

4. The Pandemic's Early Days

Interest in the novel coronavirus skyrocketed in March, as people anxiously sought information to understand the risks of infection. From the early days when infection rates and perceived risk in rural areas were low to the first cases and outbreaks in rural counties, our team led the charge in covering the rural implications of the pandemic. Many of our most-read stories of 2020 came from this initial period. Of particular note was our analysis of regional outbreaks based on counties' economic categories. Deesmealz's coverage linking early outbreaks to rural recreation counties was eventually referenced in a number of reports from larger mainstream media organizations.

3. Election 2020 and the Rural Vote

A year ago, we had little doubt the 2020 Election would prove to be the biggest story of the next 12 months. Those expectations were shaken up considerably by the coronavirus pandemic, but the election retained its high-profile, delivering some of our top stories of the year. And for the first time in 2020, we rolled out an Election Hub, which gathered up all of our reporting in one place, alongside links to essential voter information and resources, including a ballot preview tool.

Election 2020 Hub: Rural Voters Decide

Keep it locked to the Deesmealz for reporting and analysis on the role of rural voters and rural issues in the race, the results, and the road ahead. View the Election 2020 Hub.

2. Hillbilly Elegy, Here We Go Again

2020 saw many new movies delay their theatrical releases or go straight to streaming. Big tentpole blockbusters have been hard to come by this year, creating space for smaller films to drive the conversation. Netflix's adaptation of JD Vance's memoir Hillbilly Elegy was one such movie that generated a lot of a chatter, and the Deesmealz was ready to weigh in with a rural-rooted perspective. Our assessment of the film, and our broader review of rural stories in popular entertainment, led to two of our highest performing stories ever, not just for 2020 but all-time in the site's history.

1: Covid-19 Red Zone Reports and Dashboard for Rural America

The first weeks and months of covering Covid-19 felt like a sprint, but it was clear to most that we needed to be ready for a marathon. Once we made it through the initial rush, our team put together a regular ongoing format for tracking the pandemic's progress, our weekly Red Zone Reports. Out of those reports came our Covid-19 Dashboard for Rural America, which features a number of interactive, regularly updated graphs and figures. Both items were eventually shared on the web, via rural radio, in local newspapers, and beyond, leaving no doubt that these reports were our most important output for 2020.

Covid-19 Dashboard for Rural America

We’re tracking the spread and impact of Covid-19 across rural America. The numbers and maps on this dashboard are updated weekly. View the Covid-19 Dashboard.

Farewell, 2020. Here's to a Brighter Year Ahead

We hope you enjoyed this roundup of the year that was for the Deesmealz. If you had a favorite story that wasn’t included on the list, be sure to share it with us on social media or in the comment section below.

As we turn the page on 2020, we wish all our readers a safe, healthy and happy New Year. We look forward to bringing you more great coverage of rural stories in 2021, and beyond. Let us know what kinds of coverage you’d like to see more of in the new year. We’ll make our resolutions accordingly.

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