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Black Holes And Other Worlds: WOSU’s Most Read Stories Of 2019

Heads of monsters created for Otherworld, a sci-fi art installation in Reynoldsburg.
Gabe Rosenberg
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WOSU
Heads of monsters created for Otherworld, a sci-fi art installation in Reynoldsburg.

If you thought 2019 felt decades long, you’re not alone. WOSU was busier than we’ve ever been, breaking website records and winning a slate of awards, including Best Radio News Operation from the Ohio Society of Professional Journalists.

The year kicked off with allegations of excessive dosing at Mount Carmel Health System, a still-ongoing story that’s led to firings, lawsuits and criminal charges. Controversies within the Columbus Police Vice Unit came to a head in 2019, as one officer was indicted on federal charges, others faced discipline, and the entire unit was disbanded and then revived in a new form.

WOSU tracked the impact of tariffs and bad weather on the agricultural industry, which had one of its worst planting seasons on record, and provided updates on the investigation into sexual abuse by longtime Ohio State doctor Richard Strauss. We also took a deep dive into how drug charges led to a ballooning of the women’s prison population, and introduced our audiences to local authors and newsmakers.

This year was also WOSU’s most successful yet for our Curious Cbus project. We answered 19 questions from around the state, from the serious to the silly, including “Does Columbus Have An Accent?”, “Who Gets More Rain: Columbus Or Seattle?”, “Why Doesn’t Columbus Have Pigeons?” and “How Much Has the NRA Donated To Ohio Lawmakers?”

That last question came as part of a mini-series WOSU did following the Dayton mass shooting, one of the defining events of the year. We asked our audience what they wanted to know about guns in Ohio, busted misconceptions, and followed along as lawmakers debated how to combat gun violence. Here's to more fascinating questions and eye-opening answers in the new year.

Below, see WOSU’s 10 most read stories of 2019.

A computer-generated image of a black hole ripping up a star. The phenomenon was spotted by a NASA satellite and an Ohio State telescope network.
Credit NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
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A computer-generated image of a black hole ripping up a star. The phenomenon was spotted by a NASA satellite and an Ohio State telescope network.

1. Ohio State Astronomers Capture Black Hole Shredding Star

WOSU’s most popular story of the year was also our most metal. Using a NASA satellite and a network of telescopes at Ohio State, researchers managed to see a black hole ripping up a star for the first time ever. The historic discovery featured a black hole that’s 6 million times the mass of the Sun, at the center of a galaxy some 375 million light years away. Graduate fellow Patrick Vallely summed up our feelings exactly: “It’s just really cool.”

2. Lawmaker Says He Didn't Research Ectopic Pregnancy Procedure Before Adding To Bill

Twice this year, state Rep. John Becker (R-Union Twp.) has pushed language to be included in anti-abortion bills that would promote a medically-impossible procedure to re-implant an ectopic pregnancy. After the legislation sparked international scrutiny, Ohio newspapers discovered that one conservative lobbyist was the driving force behind Becker’s sudden push for the procedure. “I never questioned it or gave it a lot of thought,” Becker admitted.

3. Fentanyl Now Mixed With Crack Cocaine And Ecstasy, Causing Local Spike In Overdoses

A task force in Hamilton County raised flags in May about a string of drug overdose deaths that authorities connected to fentanyl-spiked crack cocaine. The highly potent opioid was also found in supplies of MDMA and other street drugs – a concerning development for the drug epidemic in Southwest Ohio. This story originated from our partner station WVXU.

4. New Ohio Bill Would Ban Most Private Insurance Coverage Of Abortion

One of many Ohio bills introduced on abortion this year, HB182 would prohibit most insurance companies from offering coverage for abortion services. But the bill, proposed by state Rep. John Becker (R-Union Twp.), also contained a provision that refers to a medically dubious ectopic pregnancy procedure, as well as language that critics claim would ban insurance from covering popular methods of birth control. As of April, the bill remains in the House Insurance Committee.

Julie Callahan shows a picture of her family, including her son Jackson, who is non-verbal autistic. She says relinquishing custody was the last option left.
Credit Paige Pfleger / WOSU
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WOSU
Julie Callahan shows a picture of her family, including her son Jackson, who is non-verbal autistic. Like some other Ohio families, she was forced to give up custody of Jackson in order to secure mental health treatment.

5. A Fracking Explosion In Ohio Created One Of Worst Methane Leaks In History

In February 2018, an explosion at a fracking site in Belmont County, Ohio, forced nearby residents to evacuate their homes for several weeks. A study published in December discovered the accident resulted in one of the largest methane leaks ever recorded in the U.S., pumping 60,000 tons of the greenhouse gas into the atmosphere.

6. Custody Or Care: Parents Surrender Kids To State For Mental Health Treatment

Ohio parents have reported facing an excruciating decision: If they can’t afford costly mental health care for children with intellectual disabilities, their only option is to sign over custody to the state. This is called “forced relinquishment,” and it’s unclear how often it happens because the state doesn’t keep track. In May, some parents spoke to WOSU about the dilemma they faced with their own kids, when neither Medicaid nor private health insurance would pay for treatment. Luckly, Gov. Mike DeWine released a plan specifically to prevent forced relinquishment, and dedicated money in his first-ever budget to the problem.

7. Ohio House Panel Approves Bill Allowing Concealed Carry Without Permits

Over the years, Republicans in the Ohio legislature have steadily loosened restrictions on the concealed carry of weapons. The latest proposal is a bill to allow Ohioans to carry concealed weapons without requiring training or a permit, known as “constitutional carry.” HB178 passed the Ohio Federalism Committee in June but was then referred to the House Criminal Justice Committee, where it’s remained in limbo since.

8. Curious Cbus: What Are These Mysterious Rocks In Ohio's Backyards?

It wasn’t just a good year for Curious Cbus questions – it was a good year for strange Curious Cbus questions. Elizabeth Heiser wrote in to ask about a mysterious sphere-shaped rock that she found in her backyard while doing yardwork. It turns out that the rock is called a “concretion,” and they’re found all over Ohio. With the help of a geologist, WOSU traced the origin of these concretions millions of years back and embraced our inner rock nerd along the way.

Elizabeth Heiser holds the concretion she found in her garden.
Credit Michael De Bonis / wosu
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wosu
Elizabeth Heiser holds the concretion she found in her garden.

9. Ohio State Reports Over 1,500 Instances Of Sexual Assault By Team Doctor

This year brought a number of new developments in the investigation of sexual abuse by longtime Ohio State team doctor Richard Strauss. In October, the school submitted its federally required Clery report breaking down campus crime statistics, which this year included the claims of hundreds of Strauss accusers who have come forward.

10. Discover Otherworld: A Science-Fiction Art Installation Landing In Central Ohio

Within a strip mall in Reynoldsburg, a group of artists have constructed an impressive and wild art project called Otherworld. The project borrows from the sci-fi and fantasy realms to create an interactive, multi-media experience like Columbus hasn’t seen before. WOSU peeked behind the scenes of the collaboration, which finally launched in the spring and immediately drew nationwide attention. As the creators hoped, Otherworld has helped put Columbus on the map, in the weirdest way possible.