By Cowboy State Daily Staff
WENDY CORR, features reporter
2022 was the fourth year I’ve been a contributor to Cowboy State Daily, and the variety of stories that I covered this year have been, by far, my favorites.
I’ve been privileged to interview some of my favorite authors (CJ Box and Craig Johnson) and shine a spotlight on some amazing artists and photographers. I’ve interviewed television stars (Longmire’s Robert Taylor, Jay Osmond and Dan Miller).
I’ve traveled to far-off places and brought back stories relevant to Wyoming – like the time I did a television story about a Wyoming wild horse patrolling the city streets of Manhattan.
In my conversations with fascinating people from our state, I’ve uncovered smaller side stories that might have otherwise been relegated to short anecdotes – like the time Yellowstone Superintendent Cam Sholly mentioned offhand that park officials once shipped three bison to Alaska via FedEx.
Because I consider myself a lifelong learner, some of the stories I loved most this year were the ones that taught me something.
I researched murder hornets and mosquitoes, Bigfoot and black-footed ferrets, fossils and Fort Laramie. I got to ask questions like, where is Buffalo Bill Cody actually buried? And what’s up with those giant concrete arrows that are scattered around the southern part of the state?
I covered the death of Queen Elizabeth II and recalled her visit to Wyoming. I highlighted the 150 years of Yellowstone National Park, and of course because I live in Cody, I was here to tell the story of the June flood that closed the park and carried away homes and livelihoods.
MARK HEINZ, outdoors reporter
I joined the Cowboy State Daily staff as the outdoors reporter in August and have since written many stories that I’m proud of. My two favorites represent opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
The Somber One
My career as a reporter stretches back to the mid-1980s, when I started writing for the college newspaper at Montana State University. I covered crime and courts in Twin Falls, Idaho, during the peak of the 2000s meth epidemic. So, covering heartbreaking stories isn’t anything new to me, and I’m generally able to maintain my journalistic detachment.
But Alabama resident Brent Sibley’s tale of dedicating his 2022 Wyoming elk hunt to his fallen warrior son, Air Force Staff Sgt. Forrest Sibley, 31, really got to me.
During a lengthy telephone interview, I didn’t ask many questions. I mostly just listened to Mr. Sibley, drawn in by the authenticity of the pride and grief in his voice as my thoughts went to my own children.
It took me a long time to write that story. I kept having to stop and walk away from my desk because my eyes had filled with tears.
The Hysterical One
On the bright side, I frequently laughed and smiled as I did the interviews and writing for my Barbie Jeep racing story.
Nick Dodgson, owner and general manager of Cheyenne Motorsports, was great to talk to. He’s enthusiastic about bringing Barbie Jeep racing to Wyoming and described it as “… a soapbox derby for adult 5-year-olds.”
It was tough finding an actual Barbie Jeep racer to talk to. I reached out to several in the South and Midwest, but got no response.
I finally connected with Tony Colangeli of Butler County, Pennsylvania. He’s a friendly, small-town guy with a great sense of humor, not at all unlike many folks you’d meet in Wyoming. I laughed out loud as he described bombing down a hill in a tiny plastic Jeep, only to end up in an epic crash.
RENÉE JEAN, business and tourism reporter
I am new to Cowboy State Daily and the Cowboy State, moving here in October from North Dakota after serving as an editor and energy and agriculture reporter for the Williston and Sidney Herald.
I cover business and tourism for Cowboy State Daily, and it’s been an interesting experience so far traveling to different corners of the state, from Jackson to Gillette in search of cool business and fun tourism stories.
The Cowboy State has a lot to offer, so it’s hard to pick just two favorite stories, even though I’ve only been here a couple of months. There’s so much going on in the state that’s cool and fun to write about.
For my first pick, I’m going to go with the continuing coverage of the “Albert-Krogerson” monster grocery merger.
One of my favorite things to do as a reporter is bring national trends down to the local level and tell how they affect readers. If past is prologue, the merger could create more food deserts for the Cowboy State, as well as jeopardize hundreds of jobs.
Another favorite thing I like to do is just tell inspirational stories that at the same time help provide insight into the struggles and challenges for groups of people who are marginalized for one reason or another.
For that, my second favorite is about an autistic man’s family business, Tinman Productions.
GREG JOHNSON, managing editor
Wyoming may be the least-populated state in the U.S., but it’s teeming with some of the most important, interesting and well-reported journalism happening anywhere in the nation.
I have the best job in Wyoming: I get to read all these stories every day.
I also get to write some of them.
One of my most-read stories since joining Cowboy State Daily as managing editor in September was a Nov. 22 account of a man who wouldn’t stop exposing himself to female baristas at Cody coffee stands.
The man would pull up to drive-thru coffee huts, and when workers would return to the window with his order, his genitals would be exposed. The man would then drive off.
After doing this at least five times, it was an alert barista who noticed the man’s car in the drive-thru before he got to the window. This time when he exposed himself, she was ready with a cup of 170-degree water, which she dumped in his lap.
The alleged flasher was caught and identified as Andrew C. Crawford of Cody, a 34-year-old convicted sex offender.
My most emotional story was posted just last week, a follow-up on a Dec. 21 fatal crash on Interstate 80 that has devastated the close-knit communities of Rawlins and Saratoga.
A semitrailer crashed into a pair of Carbon County Emergency Medical Services EMTs already responding to a previous crash on the interstate. Tyeler Harris, a 29-year-old husband and father of three young children, was killed and his coworker, Tiffany Greutzmacher, was seriously hurt.
At a time when they should have been growing more excited with Christmas only days away, Harris’ family instead was suddenly faced with planning for a future without him.
How people across the Cowboy State have rallied to support the families is a big part of the story, with a pair of GoFundMe efforts set up for the families raising well over $100,000 in less than a week.
While money could never compensate for the Harris family’s loss and the long, painful recovery ahead for Greutzmacher, the response has been “overwhelming,” said Amber Yardley, a Rawlins police officer and Greutzmacher’s best friend.
“Everybody’s still pretty sad and very devastated by everything that’s going on,” she said.
KEVIN KILLOUGH, energy reporter
Energy is the industry that powers all other industries, and I have a passion for all things energy, so I was excited to join the Cowboy State Daily staff in September as the energy reporter.
The stories I’m most proud of are the ones that I think take readers’ understanding of energy further and wider.
When people think of energy, they usually think of electricity, but electricity is actually a small subset of the total energy we use, about 20%.
The bulk of our energy usage is industrial heating and transportation. People love their cars, and converting our transportation energy into electricity is not going to be easy. Drivers often have strong opinions about electric vehicles. I wrote several stories on the good and bad of EVs that gave readers the full picture of these new cars.
Author Alan O’Hashi had almost no experience with EVs when he tried to drive his Nissan Leaf across Wyoming. He ended up taking 15 hours just to get from Cheyenne to Casper.
While that story had EV doubters laughing, Dr. Jason Bloomberg, an experienced EV owner, reached out to Cowboy State Daily to say that if you know what you’re doing, it’s pretty easy to get around Wyoming in an EV.
People often want a simple answer to energy challenges, but the simple fact is there’s no such thing as an energy source without tradeoffs.
Wind and solar don’t produce carbon dioxid during operations, but they aren’t without their environmental impacts. I want to shine a light on these issues, as they often don’t get covered by the national media.
I spoke to environmentalists about those impacts and if they can accept the necessary tradeoffs that accompany wind and solar to reduce CO2 emissions.
CLAIR McFARLAND, general assignment reporter
Cowboy State Daily hired me on Valentine’s Day this year, which was also the first day of the 2022 legislative session. I’ve had a blast covering policy, crime and law, but my favorite story series of the year was a little more colorful.
The Natrona County School Board’s graphic-book controversy reached a fever pitch in September, and I proposed that we do something other news outlets hadn’t really done: actually read, dissect and review the books ourselves.
Arguments about which books should be in school libraries and public library youth sections have been recurring for decades, but mainstream outlets in recent years have focused more on the social and political underpinnings of each controversy than on the books themselves.
So, I read copies of the contested books in the Kelly Walsh High School library and broke them down for both theme and content.
Doing so brought a third angle to the issue: Most book defenders swore that detractors simply wanted to marginalize the LGBTQ community. It was a fair critique since both books – and dozens of other challenged books throughout the nation – are LGBTQ-affirming.
But after exposing the books’ contents to the community, numerous detractors faced an attentive audience for the very first time when they said they were reacting merely to taxpayer sponsorship of the hypersexual images and words – not objecting to alternate lifestyle choices.
There also are book detractors, however, who have said they seek to limit exposing LGBTQ themes to youth.
This one story spawned roughly a dozen more in continuing coverage with outraged state executives and legislators weighing in and prompting widespread public debate.
I wasn’t vying for any of that: I wanted to read the books, understand them and share that understanding with others, so I did.
JIMMY ORR, executive editor
I didn’t get a chance to write many articles or columns this year as Cowboy State Daily became supercharged with the local Wyoming purchase of our news organization.
The two stories that stand out are also the most painful things I’ve had to write in a long, long time.
The passing of my 30-plus-year friend who helped us launch Cowboy State Daily nearly four years ago hit me almost like losing a family member. Although we christened our new offices the “Jim Angell Media Center,” it doesn’t take away the emptiness, at all.
Although we didn’t get a vote, we think he should still be here, and I still talk to him whether he can hear me or not. I think he does. The newsroom misses you, buddy.
The passing of everyone’s best friend Leland Christensen wasn’t any easier to write.
The jovial former state senator was the happiest guy in the room, no matter the room. The joy in his eyes never left. A handshake or a hug was usually accompanied by laughter.
Didn’t matter your political affiliation, your profession or your circumstances, Leland was your friend. All of Wyoming lost a big, big friend…
Obituaries are no fun to write, but they’re important to write. Wyoming was blessed to have these two giants in our state.
It wasn’t all sadness though.
One of the most fun parts about Cowboy State Daily is if stumble on to something that could be interesting, you can follow it up.
I was traveling back from Wamsutter with energy reporter Kevin Killough, and I noticed on my navigation a small body of water called “Bloody Lake.”
I googled it when I got back to the office. No one had really written on it.
Thanks to the exceptional Sara DiRienzo who was at Wyoming Game and Fish (we miss her), we tracked down some of its history and she provided some wonderful historical records.
It was a fun story to write.
LEO WOLFSON, political reporter
I don’t know if it was my best written story or the most important I wrote, but reflecting back on the past year, one story floats into my head more than any other.
Perhaps it’s because I feel it’s a well-rounded and balanced synopsis of who U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney is and what her campaign this year was all about.
Cheney was the talk of Wyoming in 2022, and it seemed that almost everyone has some kind of an opinion about her. There was so much noise in the media and public about her positions on former President Donald Trump, but there’s much more to Cheney.
When I took the job of state politics reporter with Cowboy State Daily last spring, these are the types of stories I was most excited about writing.
Even though this next story was a little out of my political wheelhouse, I felt very comfortable writing it because of personal interests in the outdoors and sports.
The heroism shown by two college wrestlers was incredible, and I can only hope that I would be half as brave as they if I ever confronted with a grizzly bear attack. It was a story I broke with Cowboy State Daily that quickly exploded into the national spotlight.
I was really struck by the nonchalant demeanor of Kendell Cummings, one of the wresters, especially when giving hairy details about the bear tearing into his skull.
Getting to break the story and the national notoriety that came with it was obviously a feather in my cap, but writing it really wasn’t about any of that. It was about showcasing the heroism, brotherhood and the importance of the lessons that can be learned through college athletics.
It will definitely be a story that will stick with me forever.