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Ideastream’s top 10 Northeast Ohio stories of 2023

Protesters in black coats hold up red carnations. A sign reading Justice for Jayland is in the background. Rep. Bill Johnson sits at a desk in a congressional hearing room. Travis and Jason Kelce hold up each others' football jerseys. Michael Sachs wearing a tuxedo holds his trumpet.
Ygal Kaufman / Ideastream Public Media; J. Scott Applewhite / AP; Charlie Riedel / AP; Cleveland Institute of Music
News about Jayland Walker, Rep. Bill Johnson, Travis and Jason Kelce, and Michael Sachs were among the top viewed stories on ideastream.org.

A podcast, a policy change and pot. Those were the themes of the online stories from Ideastream Public Media that seemed to resonate most with audiences in 2023. There was also the Super Bowl matchup of two local brothers, dazzling floating flowers and remembrance of a national journalist who made a local impact.

1: Mary & Bill: An Ohio Cold Case

In 1970, about a year after they'd fallen in love, university students Mary Petry and Bill Sproat were murdered in a Columbus apartment. The case remains unsolved, but new attention and forensic evidence has given family members and police hope the killer will finally be found. Hosted and produced by Ideastream’s Justin Glanville, “Mary & Bill” includes interviews with Mary and Bill’s sisters as well as insights from a forensic expert. Find the seven-episode podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google or wherever you get your podcasts.

2: Two schools in Ohio are moving to a 4-day school week this academic year
Two schools in Ohio are using a four-day instructional week this year: Harbor High School in Canton and North College Hill City School District in suburban Cincinnati. As the schools’ leaders explain in this episode of Ideastream’s daily call-in talk show, the “Sound of Ideas,” the move to a shortened school week was meant to help address educator attrition rates, which were exacerbated by the stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic.

3: Catholic Diocese of Cleveland issues official policy barring LGBTQ+ expression

The Catholic Diocese of Cleveland announced in September it was barring the display of pride flags and rainbows as well as prohibiting same-sex couples from attending school dances. In addition, students would be addressed by the pronoun reflecting their sex assigned at birth and they would not be allowed to dress in a manner “inconsistent” with their gender assigned at birth. As Ideastream reporter Conor Morris found, the policy, which applies to 84 diocesan-run and parish schools in Northeast Ohio, has local Catholics divided.

4: What happens if you get the vaccine and don’t know you have COVID-19?
In 2022, after vaccines for COVID-19 became available, Ideastream found the answer to this audience question based on a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. At the time the CDC advised against getting the vaccine or a booster when you have symptoms. But getting vaccinated while sick with COVID would not make a person more sick or less sick, according to a Cleveland Clinic doctor. In September 2023, when the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an updated vaccine, this Q&A popped up again as one of our top searched stories. But as of mid-December, only 9% of Ohioans had received the latest COVID-19 vaccine.

5. What is Ohio Issue 2 on marijuana legalization?
Ahead of the Nov. 7 election, we tried to help voters understand the arguments for and against the citizen-initiated statute to legalize the cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession and home growth of marijuana for anyone age 21 and older. The proposal passed with 57% of the vote and went into effect on Dec. 7. The Ohio Senate passed a bill to set limits on the statute, but the Ohio House adjourned for the holidays without taking up the legislation.

6. Trumpeter Michael Sachs resigns from the Cleveland Institute of Music
The chair of CIM’s brass division, Michael Sachs, resigned in October after 35 years with the school. Sachs wrote on Facebook that his decision stems from receiving an email from CIM’s attorney and HR that “asserted that I had made a statement which I have never made,” adding that it was “not the first baseless attack” by CIM officials. Sachs’ decision to leave came on the heels of student protests against CIM’s director of orchestral studies, Carlos Kalmar. Students circulated a petition calling for his resignation, though an internal investigation cleared him of allegations of inappropriate conduct. Kalmar took a leave of absence in September.

7. Akron police officers not indicted in Jayland Walker shooting

A Summit County grand jury declined to indict eight Akron police officers, 10 months after they fatally shot Jayland Walker, a 25-year-old Black man. "I found that the facts and circumstances of this tragic shooting show that the officers had an objectively reasonable belief that Mr. Walker was armed and by his conduct presented an imminent risk of serious bodily injury or death to them and/or their fellow officers," Akron Police Chief Steve Mylett wrote in the executive summary of the department’s internal investigation.

8. LeBron James' I Promise School faces tough questions about student performance
For each of the last three school years, none of the students from the initial class of third graders at the I Promise School in Akron have scored “proficient” in Ohio’s math proficiency test. The school by design only takes students who are two or more years behind grade level. Weeks later, supporters of the school packed an Akron school board meeting to defend the school and criticize board members. “To ostracize students, to belittle them to their peers, family and community is reckless and unacceptable,” said Victoria McGee. “Furthermore, your actions degraded every Akron public school educator that has ever taught the current and past I Promise School students that you have singled out locally and nationally.”

9. Kelce brothers’ Super Bowl run electrifies Cleveland Heights
The Super Bowl matchup of Cleveland Heights siblings Jason and Travis Kelce excited not just their hometown family and friends who lit yellow light bulbs in support of the two Heights Tigers alumni, but also fans around the country. In the end, Travis’s Kansas City Chiefs beat Jason’s Philadelphia Eagles 38-35. Months later, Travis also won the heart of a girl named Taylor and their romance has electrified the world.

10. Cleveland Public Library dazzles visitors with floating flowers
This visually stunning story from Ideastream’s arts & culture team takes visitors through curtains of floating dried flowers created by British artist Rebecca Louise Law. “The Archive,” on display at the Main Cleveland Public Library, was assembled by hundreds of Northeast Ohio volunteers who strung the flowers on copper wire. The flowers are on display through May 2024.

Honorable mention:

Youngstown State faces blowback from alumni, donors after hiring Republican congressman as president
When the Youngstown State University Board of Trustees selected Rep. Bill Johnson (R-Marietta) to be its next president, “Modern Family” actor Ed O’Neill, a YSU alumnus, called the choice "disgraceful" and threatened to return his honorary doctorate. Other donors have expressed concern about the secretive process behind Johnson's selection. The Republican congressman is closely aligned with former President Donald Trump and voted to overturn the 2020 election. He’s expected to resign from Congress in early 2024 and start his new leadership position in March.

Remembering Mandy Jenkins, Kent State grad and national digital news pioneer
Zanesville native Mandy Jenkins, a journalist who pioneered social media and digital strategies for news organizations nationwide, died of breast cancer at age 42 on Feb. 26, 2023. She began her career with a fellowship at WKSU in 2004 and founded Mahoning Matters, a Youngstown online news startup, in 2019, around the time The (Youngstown) Vindicator closed. A GoFundMe to help bring Jenkins home to Ohio from New York raised $60,000. She donated her body to the Ohio State College of Medicine for research.

Annie Wu is the deputy editor of digital content for Ideastream Public Media.