A Look Back at the News of 2022

From Chevy’s rise, to reckless driving, to a change at the state’s only Black-owned gas station, these are the biggest and the most underreported stories of 2022.  

For journalists, it’s a kind of spidey sense, knowing what’s a story and what isn’t, or what’s a huge story and what’s just a big story. Still, trying to describe the factors that go into this thinking can be really hard. There’s impact on your audience, timing, peculiarity or novelty, and, for publications like ours, proximity and relevance to our home city. But what’s the right mix of those things that will etch this story in history, but not that one?  

In this business, we call that skill “news judgment,” a term that embraces the subjectivity of the affair and, I think, emphasizes how much perspective can shape these verdicts.  

It’s why we called in a whole host of judges – respected local journalists and key newsmakers as well – to review the news of 2022. We asked for two stories each: their biggest story of the year and an important story people might have missed. The responses (collected before last month’s election and edited for length) suggested a city and region at an inflection point on a number of topics and issues that are sure to have legs into 2023. 


Nominations are open for the 2024 Unity Awards! 

Know an individual or group committed to bridging divides in our community? Nominate them for a Unity Award by Oct. 31.

David Crowley, Milwaukee County Executive 


A thaw in relations with state government  

New leadership in Milwaukee County and at the city of Milwaukee is committed to resetting the contentious relationship between our region and the state Legislature. Milwaukee County is one of the major economic drivers in Wisconsin, and its upcoming fiscal cliff has major impacts not only for our seven-county region, but the entire state. We’ve identified a solution that would rase the sales tax 1% to generate $180 million to pay our legacy costs, lower property taxes by 14% and invest in key services. 


County investments in housing  

Housing is a key social determinate of health. I know this firsthand as someone who’s experienced evictions and housing insecurity. The county has worked to identify tactics to increase public housing, including investing $18 million in ARPA funds to transform foreclosed homes into safe and affordable housing.

Julie Granger, Executive Vice President, Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce  


The investment in Milwaukee’s Downtown such as the Couture, Ascent, Milwaukee Tool and the Wisconsin Center expansion. 

Despite the headwinds of crime (both real and perceived) and hybrid and remote work trends, there have been a number of significant investments made or announced that will pay dividends into Milwaukee’s future.  

Mass timber construction is in progress at the Ascent apartment building downtown. It is the tallest mass timber skyscraper in the world. Photo courtesy of New Land Enterprises


Milwaukee’s changing demographics and leadership 

Milwaukee is increasingly diverse, and how we leverage this change will determine the city’s future and the headlines we create. A wave of retirements, exacerbated by the pandemic, is also making way for younger voices at the table. From the mayor and county executive to the 130 companies committed to increasing Black and brown talent through the MMAC’s Region of Choice initiative, the face of Milwaukee is changing.  

Peggy Williams-Smith, President and CEO, Visit Milwaukee 


Milwaukee wins the 2024 Republican National Convention 

This is our chance to come together as a community and harness the spotlight of 15,000 journalists to tell the stories about Milwaukee that matter most. It’s our chance to attract new, bigger conventions and events and impress upon the world that Milwaukee is the best place to live, work and visit. 


The role of sports events in helping Milwaukee businesses recover from the pandemic 

Youth and amateur sports were the first to resume during the pandemic and helped keep many of our hotels and hospitality businesses afloat. Collectively, youth sports bring tens of millions in economic impact every year, but that can be underappreciated because these events happen year-round and can be geographically spread around the region.  

Jeremy Fojut, Co-founder, NEWaukee 


The Brewers’ inadequate trade deadline additions – and how it relates to Milwaukee’s risk-averse culture  

The Brewers’ stingy inaction was not just another sports decision; it was a symptom of the deep culture in Milwaukee to play it safe. This shows up in the startup community, with people not wanting to dip their toes into the founder space, and in a lack of capital for early-stage businesses to thrive. It shows up in our competitive business nature, where we think we can’t have more than one of something. And it shows up in lack of fresh and bold ideas. Innovation doesn’t play safe.  


The effect of Milwaukee’s planning and urban design on reckless driving  

One of the most highly reported stories of the year has been the reckless driving problem in Milwaukee. But, unfortunately, one of the least-reported stories has been why. During the population declines of the late ’60s early ’70s, the city began to value convenience over community, and the design of streets followed. Once safe, commerce-driven streets became hollow and soulless – often empty outside of rush hours. When was the last time you saw a group of kids playing in the street? Unfortunately, the streets aren’t for the people in Milwaukee anymore, and we are experiencing the consequences. 

Illustration by Gabe Lung

Corrinne Hess, Political Reporter, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel 


Reckless driving  

This is something that has the potential to affect everyone. Despite it getting worse not just in Milwaukee but across the state, there hasn’t been a meaningful solution. 


Tough times for working families 

The pandemic, for the most part, is over. But I think an underreported story is how conditions for working families have changed. Finding quality, affordable child care is nearly impossible. Child care centers have lost workers because it has become impossible to compete with the higher wages and benefits other jobs can offer. People are having the same struggles finding quality, affordable care for aging parents and loved ones. A survey from the American Health Care Association found 73% of nursing homes are so short-staffed that they could be forced to close. 

Nikki Purvis, President and CEO, African American Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin 


The state’s $86 million in grants to businesses in diverse communities  

This investment into organizations that support ethnic and diverse businesses creates an amazing opportunity for entrepreneurs to continue to pivot and grow. 


The purchase of an Atkinson Avenue BP station – the only gas station owned by a Black woman in Wisconsin – by another Black woman, Kai Trimble-Lea  

What an incredible story of endurance! It’s great to see the extension of a legacy. 

Maryann Lazarski, Producer, Milwaukee PBS; President, Milwaukee Press Club 


Violence in Milwaukee 

By late October, 187 people had died by homicide in Milwaukee, a pace all but certain to break the record of 193 set last year. Shortly after Mayor Cavalier Johnson took office, he announced plans to work with the police and community organizations to get this under control. This certainly impacts victims and their families, but it has statewide impact as well – those outside the city are either afraid to come to Milwaukee or just refuse to do so. It also tarnishes Milwaukee’s image. There’s a lot to be proud of in this city, but the continued violence has a huge impact on so much and on so many. 


Sex trafficking in Wisconsin 

Authorities have identified human trafficking in all of Wisconsin’s 72 counties, according to an April article in the La Crosse Tribune. Most of the victims are women and kids. The news media needs to dig deeper on this serious problem more regularly and open the eyes and ears of their readers and viewers.  

Jeramey Jannene, Co-founder and reporter, Urban Milwaukee 


The Chevy era begins in City Hall  

In some ways, Cavalier Johnson is still learning and has maintained things as the Barrett administration was doing them, but more and more we’re starting to see him put his stamp on the city. That includes attempting to repair the city’s relationship with the state, new appointments to key leadership posts and pushing the bureaucracy to deliver on his campaign goals like tackling reckless driving and expanding the city to 1 million residents. It will be interesting to see how long Johnson’s honeymoon phase lasts. 

Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson; Photo by Sara Stathas


The broken state-city relationship 

Milwaukee is the canary in the coal mine. Things are about to get real ugly budget-wise for the city of Milwaukee, and other cities and counties are headed that way due to a restriction on raising revenue (new taxes, property tax limits) and effectively declining state aid (shared revenue). The state, meanwhile, sits on a record surplus.

Lafayette Crump, Commissioner, Milwaukee Department of City Development 


Milwaukee elects its first African American mayor 

It has become more common for cities with majority-
minority populations to elect persons of color, but it had yet to happen in one of America’s most hyper-segregated communities until the election of Cavalier Johnson. Milwaukee electing a young, African American mayor with roots in some of its most challenging ZIP codes represents an opportunity to impact not just what gets done in city government, but also how children of color in Milwaukee view the limits of their dreams. 


DCD Launches Homes MKE Initiative 

The Department of City Development launched Homes MKE, a new program that is renovating vacant city-owned properties into affordable, high-quality home ownership and rental opportunities for Milwaukee residents and families. Homes MKE received $15 million in federal American Rescue Plan Act funding to build stronger neighborhoods, promote homeownership, and work to ensure Milwaukeeans have access to the quality, affordable housing they need. 

Cavalier Johnson, Milwaukee Mayor 


The impending budget crisis for Milwaukee and other local governments 

The challenge Milwaukee faces has the greatest potential to impact the lives of people in the region. From potholes to police, public health to the fire department, libraries to economic development to garbage collection – budget cuts over the next several years will noticeably affect the daily lives of Milwaukee residents and visitors.


The reduction in serious crime in Milwaukee 

As we head toward the end of the year – with the glaring exception of homicides – serious crime in Milwaukee is down substantially when compared to the previous year. Yes, crimes like burglary and auto theft are down around 20% or more. Into the 10th month of the year, crimes that fall in the FBI’s Part I category are down 13% over last year. 


This story is part of Milwaukee Magazine’s December issue.

Find it on newsstands or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop

Be the first to get every new issue. Subscribe.



Executive editor, Milwaukee Magazine. Aficionado of news, sports and beer. Dog and cat guy. (Yes, both.)