The North Country stories that mattered most to you in 2016

This is the season of generosity, kindness, reflection, love, compassion and of course, top-ten lists. News and other media organizations around the world are making their lists of “best stories” and “year in photos” and checking them twice right about now. NCPR is no exception, and this year we bring you our own, first ever, top ten stories-of-the-year list.

But this list is special because it’s your list. We’ve checked our digital traffic data from 2016 to see not just which stories were most popular, but which stories were most visited specifically by people living in our home, The North Country. These are the stories that drew the most attention from you and your neighbors.

Ending with the #1 most viewed story, here they are, the ten North Country stories that mattered most to you, our friends, the people of the North Country:

Aaron Mair is president of the Sierra Club board of directors. Photo: provided

10. Top African American environmental leader faces racial incident in Adirondacks

Not long after he spoke at a conference focusing on diversity in the Adirondack Park, the national head of the Sierra Club found himself in the middle of an ugly incident in Essex County.

Aaron Mair was on a photo shoot along the Schroon River for an Adirondack Life magazine story when a group of rafters, who were white, began using racial slurs, including the N-word. A top tourism marketer in the Adirondacks said she sometimes routes visitors who are people of color around places where she’s “not confident they’ll have a positive experience.”

State Police accused three men of repeatedly stealing raw meat from the Tops supermarket in Peru, NY. Photo: Karamo, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

9. State Police bust alleged shoplifting scheme in Peru

Zach Hirsch speculates that this police blotter story got heavy web traffic from its similarity to an episode of Trailer Park Boys – a mockumentary TV series featuring a group of Canadian trailer park residents. Seriously.

An artist’s rendering of the mixed use building, which could be used for retail, housing, and office space. Photo: City of Plattsburgh.

8. Plattsburgh wins $10 million for a new city center

In July, the City of Plattsburgh won a state competition for $10M to revitalize its downtown.  Initial reports indicated a focus on converting a large parking lot on the Saranac River into a mixed-use area. City officials now want residents to weigh in on a longer list of options. Plans are due in March.

Anybody who’s driven through St. Lawrence County knows this sign.

7. Garrett Phillips: Complicated justice

This investigative piece first aired in June 2015, four years after the murder of Garrett Phillips shocked Potsdam and the region. It grabbed attention again this year as the trial of the accused, former soccer college coach Nick Hillary, approached. He was acquitted in a bench trial in September.

North Country Public Radio was able to confirm significant parts of Alvin Codner’s account of two racial incidents in the Adirondacks this summer. The Florida man was visiting the Park for the first time when he was called the N-word and threatened. Photo: Brian Mann

6. Are black visitors really welcome in the Adirondack Park?

Millions of people visit the Adirondacks and Thousand Islands tourist destinations every year. The vast majority are white. A series of troubling incidents in the Adirondacks this summer sparked a regional conversation about whether non-whites are welcome, or safe. (See #10)

Governor Andrew Cuomo spoke on January 10, 2016 at Mt. Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem. Photo: video still, Governor Cuomo’s office

5. Governor Cuomo says he will close more state prisons

The corrections industry, one of the top employers in the North Country, is on the down side of an up and down history. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has already closed 13 state prisons; speaking at a church in Harlem last January, he said he would close more. He said he wants to go down in history as the governor who closed the most prisons in the history of the state. No additional prisons closed this year.

“I’ve been hunting since about 6th grade,” said Michael Servant, one of the students at Paul Smith’s College. “The guns that I had on campus were a .30-30 lever action rifle for deer hunting and a 12-gauge pump action shotgun for small game and waterfowl.” Photo: Michael Servant, used with permission.

4. One North Country college welcomes guns as part of campus culture

Mass shootings at schools and colleges shock and frighten communities, and help drive deep divisions over gun violence and gun control across the country. Paul Smith’s College embraces firearms as part of a campus culture that welcomes student hunters and their long guns. There is a student Fish and Game Club, and a secure armory on campus.

Michael Powers, head of NYSCOPBA, speaking at a rally in Albany to save the Ogdensburg Correctional Facility when it was slated for closure by state officials, a decision that was later reversed. Archival photo from Powers’ website, used by permission

3. NY prison guards target North Country newspapers with boycott

A story and editorial in the Watertown Daily Times alleging inmate abuse and a systematic cover-up at Ogdensburg Correctional Facility prompted a boycott of the Times and the Johnson Newspaper chain.

The story came as New York’s Inspector General and the U.S. Attorney’s office were investigating claims of racial bias against black inmates and prison guard violence. Federal civil rights charges have been brought against a number of former officers; an alleged murder of an inmate at Fishkill state prison is still under investigation.

Correction officers have argued that the real issue in state prisons is growing violence against staff.  But a new contract now up for ratification by the state corrections officers’ union would establish new disciplinary procedures for officers accused of mistreating inmates.

Potsdam Village Police Lt. Mark Murray escorts Oral “Nick” Hillary into the station on May 15, 2014 for booking on a second-degree murder charge in the death of Garrett Phillips. Photo: W.T. Eckert, Watertown Daily Times

2. Tunnel Vision: Did police cast a wide enough net for Garrett Phillips’ killer?

As the much anticipated trial in the 2011 murder of 12 year-old Garrett Phillips (see #7) approached, NCPR partnered with the Watertown Daily Times to look hard at the police investigation – including interrogations, a lack of physical evidence or eye witnesses, and controversial DNA sampling — that would be the foundation of the prosecution’s case. (Oral “Nick” Hillary was found not guilty in a bench trial in September.)

Tenzin Dorjee in his restaurant

Tenzin Dorjee, one of the owners of the Himalaya Restaurant in Plattsburgh, was repeatedly harassed in the days after the presidential election. Photo: Zach Hirsch

1. Harassed, afraid, a North Country immigrant fights back with love

This story’s headline speaks for itself. In the week following the 2016 presidential election, a Bhutanese immigrant and naturalized citizen faced harassment and intimidation in Plattsburgh, the city he and his family have made their home. He thought about buying guns for self-protection, but is fighting back with love and compassion instead.

Day-by-Day: The Nick Hillary Trial

At the heart of our trail coverage was the “Day-by-Day” podcast

A more-than-honorable mention:
Nick Hillary trial coverage

Each of the above are examples of stories that were important to you in 2016. But what drew more attention than any of those single stories, was the thread of multiple stories that collectively made up our coverage of the trial of Nick Hillary.

NCPR committed three reporters to daily coverage at the trial, including a photographer in the courtroom pool that supplied regional and national media with photos of the entire trial. We also produced a daily podcast for the duration of the trial, along with several in-depth reports, explainers, an interactive map, a look at the judge, and even a trial FAQ, all pulled together in a daily Tumblr update.

But what about that story…

Of course the list of stories that mattered to you this past year could go well into the hundreds. Our news department has been busy in 2016, like every year, and there’s been no shortage of important people, places and events to cover in the North Country. But since this is an end-of-the-year top-ten list, we’ll stop here at eleven.

Feel free to share your thoughts on these stories and any others that stand out in your memory from this year in the comments below.

7 Comments on “The North Country stories that mattered most to you in 2016”

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  1. Ron Shirtz says:

    The story I find most underrated for the year 2016 is the removal of the public comments section by NPR. How can a media outlet still include the word “Public”, in its name, lobby for public donations and receive tax dollars, and then refuse to no longer keep an open public forum for its readers to give feedback on its published articles? Where’s the spirit of holding a public townhouse meeting in an organization that claims to be in the service of its audience? So NPR wants the public to now only give money to them, but not hear our voice? That’s the message I’m getting.

    In prior years, readers from the general public were able to take NPR to task for errors and outright propagandizing one side of an issue at the expense of objectivity. It made for a lively discussion and sharing of ideas. Sure, there were cranks and rude people who posted nonsense, but the enlightening contributions by people from all walks of life on the subject at hand far outweigh the occasional crass and trolling poster. Public expression permitted a valuable counterpoint to many dogmatic articles NPR’s staff writers have often put out, some of which writers would have been lambasted by 101 English professor for their amateurish writing.

    If a media outlet truly desires to serve the public, then it should be brave enough to be open to public feedback, good, bad, or indifferent. Otherwise, it is merely becomes an echo-chamber representing a narrow bias of everyone in the NPR office. If NPR truly has confidence in the quality of its reporting, it should bring back public feedback forums. Otherwise, it is demonstrating a high-minded snobbery against the very readership it asks money form, and reveals insecurity that its articles will hold up to scrutiny by the very public it claims to cater to.

  2. Pat Nelson says:

    I completely agree. I have been very sorry to lose the variety of opinions expressed in the comments section. And I have been sorry to lose the chance to express my opinion — complete with the replies of those who agreed with me and those who disagreed. I disagreed in turn with some of the latter and appreciated the corrections of others. If there was an overriding reason for removing it, please let us know and have it up for discussion. If it was just that social media are the “in thing” in the public radio world, please listen to _your_ listeners, not the fashion setters from elsewhere.

  3. Pete Klein says:

    I second all of the above.
    No chance to comment on election stories and no chance to comment on land classification stories.

  4. Tundra Woman says:

    I understand Moderating is hard and never “just right” to accommodate everyone’s opinion. “Fair” is NOT “Equal” just as “Equal Opportunity” doesn’t mean “Equal Outcome.” There is always going to be tension between “too much” and “not enough”-as it should be: Lively discussions get heated occasionally and you may need to step in. So what? Does that somehow negate the vitality of the discussion or the points made by various commenters? If someone flounces off because they got their feelings hurt, oh well. There’s plenty more where that came from ;-)
    Please bring back the opportunity to comment. I may not agree with some of the comments but I sure do appreciate the reality that some of my neighbors thought enough of a topic to participate in a discussion. I learn from them just as I learn from you and your programs.

    Thanks for all you do-it’s much appreciated. And Happy New Year.

  5. Paul says:

    “specifically by people living in our home”

    How do you know this?

    Ron, has NCPR stopped you from sending them feedback? No (call, email, visit, write..), it has just stopped most of the online comment stuff that got totally out of control. Blame the people making the comments not NCPR.

  6. Bill Haenel says:

    Hi, Paul –

    We use Google Analytics to measure visits to our website (note that per our privacy policy in the sidebar at, we don’t collect any personal info with Google Analytics, just anonymous usage information). Part of what the Google Analytics service provides is geodata. Google uses the IP information supplied by any given visitor’s internet service provider to geolocate that visitor – again, without identifying that visitor personally. 100% accurate? Nope. But just fine for most for general analysis, and for making a top ten list.

    Bill Haenel, NCPR

  7. Ron Shirtz says:

    Paul, my gripe is with NPR, not NCPR.

    I challenge anyone to show me the stats that the bad posts were so egregiously “out of control” as you put it to warrant shutting it down.

    If anything, NPR is out of control. They do not want their biased narrative to be challenged, with the conceited assumption that since their slant represents the majority public it supposedly serves, no one needs to bother comment! That attitude expresses contempt for the audience it receives donations from to keep it going.

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