The Observer Picks: The News Desk's Top Five Long Reads of 2021

Collin College deals with dissent the Texas way.
Collin College deals with dissent the Texas way. Dallas Observer
Yeah, yeah, yeah, we've heard it a million times. Nobody reads long reads anymore (false). The internet has tanked all of our attention spans (probably true). News should only come in quick, bitesize clips (whatever). It's time to pivot to video (never).

Shrinking collective attention span or not, the Observer has continued to produce long-form journalism, and our readers have kept reading it.

We print a physical paper every single week, folks. You can pick it up with your own two hands. It's free. Just check any of our newspaper racks around Dallas-Fort Worth. Plus, our paper comes equipped with a brand new cover story each week.

Here are five of the news desk's favorite long reads from 2021.

Crisis at Collin College

Our always dogged Observer staff reporter Simone Carter stayed on the Collin College beat all year long, but our favorite piece of hers was the cover story in March that wrapped up the affair.

Simone tied together the stories of several women who say they had been canned by Collin College after speaking out against its COVID-19 policies, weighing in national politics and participating in faculty organizing. “It was a real blow. I mean, it was shattering,” said Lora Burnett, one of the teachers. “Teaching at Collin College is my dream job.”

The story shed light on the college's evident distaste for free speech and the GOP's long reach in Collin County, but it also painted an intimate picture of the people who'd lost their jobs for apparently nothing more than speaking their minds.

Click here to read the whole story.
click to enlarge The fate of a southern Dallas lake reflects the city's north-south divide. - DALLAS OBSERVER
The fate of a southern Dallas lake reflects the city's north-south divide.
Dallas Observer
Lemmon Lake's Disappearing

Earlier this fall, staff reporter Jacob Vaughn trekked down to Lemmon Lake, which some people once hoped would become the White Rock Lake of southern Dallas. But when Jacob got there, there wasn't much left to Lemmon Lake. Local environmentalist Ben Sandifer took him around.

The story of Lemmon Lake makes you take a hard look at race and environmental history in Dallas, taking us all the way back to the late 1800s and leading us up the present.

“I always tell people ‘If you want to see environmental injustice or that kind of palette of problems that exist in the city of Dallas [come here],’” Sandifer said. “I know if this was north of I-30, it would have been finished by now.”

Click here to read the whole story.

click to enlarge Remembering Texas Nazis - DALLAS OBSERVER
Remembering Texas Nazis
Dallas Observer
The Foot Soldiers

News Editor Patrick Strickland spent two years digging through the archives tucked away at the Federal Records Center, reading the old newspaper clippings and tracking down people who remembered the wave of neo-Nazi skinhead violence that struck Dallas in the late '80s.

This long read takes the reader back to a different era in Dallas, a time when a group of neo-Nazi skinheads terrorized the city. Known as the Confederate Hammerskins, they shot up synagogues, attacked people of color and got into scuffles with rival, anti-racist skinheads.

They also patrolled what was then known as Lee Park, where the now-departed statue of Robert E. Lee stood for decades.

By the time it was all said and done, they stood accused of more than 40 crimes around Dallas, including federal civil rights violations. But even as the leading cadre went to prison, the Hammerskin brand and ideology continued to spread around the country and beyond.

Click here to read the whole story.

click to enlarge Enus Lewis needs mental health care he can't afford. In Texas, the solution is jail. - DALLAS OBSERVER
Enus Lewis needs mental health care he can't afford. In Texas, the solution is jail.
Dallas Observer
Failed by the System

The Observer's reporting fellow, Michael Murney, only joined us in July, but he didn't waste any time plugging away on a long-form yarn that exposed the human cost of underfunded mental health programs in Texas.

The man at the center of the story, Enus Lewis, has suffered from mental health problems for some two decades. His struggle started when his infant son passed away. And although he's begged for help time and again, he's seemed to mostly end up in jail.  “She just blew me off, and said, ‘Well you’ll be fine,’” Lewis recalled of one clinician.

Even as the need for mental health services swelled, lawmakers in Texas continued to slash funding for such programs. In their place, policing was beefed up.

Click here to read the whole story.

click to enlarge Texas jails sometimes lose people behind bars. Really. - DALLAS OBSERVER
Texas jails sometimes lose people behind bars. Really.
Dallas Observer
Lost in Jail

Freelance reporter Tyler Hicks has contributed several moving long-form stories to the Observer, but our favorite from 2021 was his in-depth look at the people who get stuck in jail long after they should have been released. Some are lost in the system for months, others for years.

Sometimes the lengthy stays stemmed from a glitch in the system. Sometimes they weren't let free because of delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. In either case, they weren't meant to be there.

It's a powerful story that starts off with Finis Prendergast, who was locked away for nearly three years in what he calls "the depths of hell."

“I was just a number,” Prendergast told the Observer. “I try talking to people about what happened to me, and they don’t get it. You try locking yourself in a closet for three years and see what that feels like. Nobody understands that.”

Click here to read the whole story. 
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