Tuscaloosa Patch Editor's Picks: My Favorite Stories From 2023

TUSCALOOSA, AL — If you’re looking for the top, most-clicked headlines from the year that everyone else in west Alabama is including in their Year in Review, I’d like to take a different approach to wrap up 2023.

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As the year comes to a close, I’m grateful to work for a company that not only allows me the freedom to pursue important journalism, but also encourages creativity in the way I tell the stories of my community.

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So, with that in mind, I decided to rank the longform stories that meant the most to me when I was writing them.

Here they are, in descending order as ranked by your author, complete with word counts and brief commentary:

10. The Life Of A Newsman: Mike Royer Reflects On A Half-Century Of News (2,421 words)

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Commentary: It was an honor to write a retirement story for my good friend and respected colleague Mike Royer, in addition to a similar story I penned in July about the retirement of longtime newsman Keith Dobbins from WVUA 23 News. Both men spent their entire careers making other people the center of focus, so I hope you enjoy the rare chance I had to put the spotlight on them for once.

9. COLUMN: When The GOP Circus Came To Town (5,676 words)

Commentary: I’m a nerd for presidential politics and, in over a decade of journalism, I’ve had the rare opportunity to cover several presidents both current and former up close. But 2023 provided me with the first opportunity I’ve ever had to cover a presidential primary debate in person. It would be a day I’d never forget.

8. THE VOICE: How Chris Stewart Unites Tide Fans Through Good Times & Bad (6,890 words)

Commentary: It’s impossible to overstate the place Chris Stewart occupies in the hearts of Crimson Tide fandom, which I set out to understand in this behemoth of a profile story that takes an intimate look at the man behind the voice and how he stepped up to unite the Crimson Tide faithful when they needed him most.

7. Column: My Family’s World War II Mystery (1,449 words)

Commentary: As you’ll see again later in this list, family stories and, more importantly, family history is something I place a high premium on. But few family tales have piqued my interest and left me scrambling for answers like the picture of the little boy featured above.

Click Here:

6. The Killer Tossie King: Tuscaloosa’s Most Prolific Murderer (3,494 words)

Commentary: I haven’t done as many historical deep-dives as I probably should have this year, but this in-depth feature about the man responsible for the first two line-of-duty law enforcement deaths in Tuscaloosa County history was one of the most interesting when it comes to the research and constructing a narrative. It’s a little-known story that underscores the violent nature of everyday life in the early 1900s, as well as the nepotism that allowed a killer like Tossie King to thrive.

5. Butch On Baseball: The Story Of A West Alabama Big Leaguer (3,960 words)

Commentary: It’s rare, at least for me, for a source or interview subject to become a friend. But that’s what I found when I got to know former big leaguer and legendary manager Butch Hobson, who was generous in giving witness to the countless moments in history he saw with his own eyes. The manager of the independent Chicago Dogs of the American Association of Professional Baseball, I reported in September when Hobson secured his 2,200th career professional coaching win — becoming one of only a select group of baseball managers to do so.

4. COLUMN: The Tallest Man I’ve Ever Known (2,237 words)

Commentary: We lost my granddaddy this year on Valentine’s Day, and in the only way I know how to cope with grief and pain, I put my thoughts to paper. This would be ranked as my favorite story written this year, had it not been written in less than two hours and at the cost of a five-gallon bucket of tears that were shed over my keyboard in remembering him.

3. Battling Bozo: The Life & Times Of Alabama’s Clown Prince Of Boxing (6,015 words)

Commentary: While not coming in at the top of the list for this year, this deep-dive into the life of one of Alabama’s most colorful boxers stands, at least in terms of literary quality, as the piece I am most proud of writing this year. Any boxing nerd or those interested in Alabama history are sure to enjoy it.

2. Chasing Titus: The Gridiron Odyssey Of Tuscaloosa County’s Fastest Man (9,868 words)

Commentary: Coming in at just under 10,000 words — the length of a novella — this sprawling feature on a somewhat forgotten Tuscaloosa County football legend took four months to research and write. Buttressed by more than a dozen interviews, including the man himself, it remains to this day the most ambitious piece of standalone journalism I’ve ever undertaken.

1. Stan Pate: In His Own Words, Parts I-IV (19,578 words)

Commentary: This four-part series (links below) was the culmination of hours of interviews with Tuscaloosa developer Stan Pate, in an independent attempt not just to provide the deepest profile ever on the enigmatic businessman, but to truly peel back the layers and understand how his formative years shaped the incredibly impactful and polarizing life he leads today. But the big lesson for this reporter came when I realized there was so much more to him than meets the eye.

Part I: Origins

Part II: The Titan

Part III: The Outsider

Part IV: The Legacy

Thank you all for the support in 2023.

I look forward to bringing you more long reads in 2024!

Have a news tip or suggestion on how I can improve Tuscaloosa Patch? Maybe you’re interested in having your business become one of the latest sponsors for Tuscaloosa Patch? Email all inquiries to me at ryan.phillips@patch.com

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