From photography, illustration and video, to data visualizations and immersive experiences, visuals are an important part of our storytelling at NPR. Interwoven with the written and the spoken word, images — another visual language — can create deeper understanding and empathy for the struggles and triumphs we face together.
We told a lot of stories in 2016 — far more than we can list here. So, instead, here's a small selection of our favorite pieces, highlighting some of the work we're most proud of, some of the biggest stories we reported, and some of the stories we had the most fun telling.
Transport yourself to Rocky Mountain National Park, with all its sights and sounds, in an immersive geology lesson with Oregon State University geology professor Eric Kirby, who discusses the geologic history of the Rockies in 360-degree video.
Series: Climate Change In India
"Today, Indians use much less energy per person than Americans or Chinese people. Many of its 1.2 billion-strong population live on roughly $2 a day. But what if all of those people had electricity at night, a refrigerator, a car?
"With ambitious goals to improve the standard of living, and 400 million people lacking reliable electricity, 'This means we need to enhance the energy supply by four to five times what it is now,' says Ajay Mathur, a climate expert who runs the Energy and Resources Institute in New Delhi. He says that no matter how fast India increases its clean energy, like solar and wind, the country will probably also double its use of coal between now and 2030.
"Todd Stern, who served till last month as the top U.S. envoy on climate change, says India has a steeper hill to climb than any other country. 'There is no country, probably, with a bigger challenge — looking at the number of people, the level of their economic growth, the number of people who don't have access to electricity,' he says."
"Trying to understand the Trump Organization is a daunting task. President-elect Donald Trump has not released his tax returns, so the best clues about his privately held business interests come from a financial disclosure form he released in May.
"The document covers scores of pages with small type, and suggests he is financially involved with hundreds of companies, including some that simply license his name.
"A dive into that disclosure form, submitted to the Office of Government Ethics, shows his largest sources of revenue are golf courses and office-tower rents. But his interests are far flung, and include media, retail, entertainment and much more.
"Those business interests are affected by government agencies and policies. NPR scoured this document to create an overview of some of his business assets and operations (excluding debts) and the possible areas where conflicts may arise."
Dakota Access Pipeline Coverage
The protests at the Standing Rock Reservation, which started in early 2016, had small roots but grew into the thousands, drawing support from Native Americans from across the country, as well as activists who joined in solidarity against the proposed route of the 1,172-mile Dakota Access Pipeline just north of the reservation.
In December, those protests won a concession from the federal government: The Army Corps of Engineers announced it would deny the permit necessary to build the oil pipeline in that area.
"Up to 1 in 5 kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year. So in a school classroom of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with the same issues many adults deal with: depression, anxiety, substance abuse. And yet most children — nearly 80 percent — who need mental health services won't get them.
"Whether treated or not, the children do go to school. And the problems they face can tie into major problems found in schools: chronic absence, low achievement, disruptive behavior and dropping out.
"Experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. Yet it's a role many schools are not prepared for."
"Grapefruit's bitterness can make it hard to love. Indeed, people often smother it in sugar just to get it down. And yet Americans were once urged to sweeten it with salt.
"Ad campaigns from the first and second world wars tried to convince us that 'Grapefruit Tastes Sweeter With Salt!' as one 1946 ad for Morton's in Life magazine put it. The pairing, these ads swore, enhanced the flavor.
"In our candy-crushed world, these curious culinary time capsules raise the question: Does salt really make grapefruit taste sweeter? And if this practice was once common, why do few people seem to eat grapefruit this way today?"
Rio de Janeiro hosted the world's elite athletes in an Olympics that promised transcendent moments in sports — and potential controversies outside of the competition.
The Summer Games began Aug. 5, and more than 10,000 athletes from 206 countries participated.
From concerns over the Zika virus and Russian athletes banned on doping charges to incredible wins by the U.S. women's gymnastics team and sweet moments of inter-country support, the 2016 Olympics was one of the biggest events — and biggest stories — of the year.
"Philando Castile spent his driving career trapped in a seemingly endless cycle of traffic stops, fines, court appearances, revocations and reinstatements, raising questions about bias, race and luck.
"Castile's trouble with traffic stops began when he still had his learner's permit. He was stopped a day before his 19th birthday. From there, he descended into a seemingly endless cycle of traffic stops, fines, court appearances, late fees, revocations and reinstatements in various jurisdictions.
"Court records raise big questions: Was Castile targeted by police? Or was he just a careless or unlucky driver?
"An NPR analysis of those records shows that the 32-year-old cafeteria worker who was shot and killed by a police officer during a traffic stop in a St. Paul, Minn., suburb, was stopped by police 46 times and racked up more than $6,000 in fines. Another curious statistic: Of all of the stops, only six of them were things a police officer would notice from outside a car — things like speeding or having a broken muffler."
During a week in Cleveland, photographer Gabriella Demczuk explored the ways that people embraced and challenged the Republican Party's mission in this election — both from inside and outside the party. Then in Philadelphia, Demczuk continued her exploration of the fractures in America's political system, examining the Democratic Party's attempt to make itself "stronger together."
" 'With recent events and political environment, these weapons will be harder to get a hold of.' 'This is what your AR-15 dreams it could be when it grows up.' 'I can meet ... near the FL Mall in Orlando or any other time." "Cash is king.'
"These classified advertisements for semi-automatic weapons were listed on Armslist, a website where anyone can advertise a firearm they'd like to sell, and anyone can contact a seller with an offer to buy. The site is legal. But there's no way to know whether buyers and sellers who meet through Armslist are following federal, state or local background check rules.
"We wanted to see how many semi-automatic firearms — defined here as handguns and rifles able to rapidly fire a large number of bullets, one shot per trigger pull, without having to reload — can be currently found on Armslist, and how quickly new listings appear. This provides a window into the difficulty of regulating access to a type of weapon frequently used in mass shootings."
Our favorite albums of the year draw from all of the genres we cover at NPR Music, from rock, pop and hip-hop, to classical, jazz, electronic and international artists. These are the records NPR Music couldn't stop playing — albums that speak to a moment and a lifetime, that party, and that exist in their own worlds.
Our list of the year's best songs may begin with Beyoncé and end with Drake, but between those two stars you'll find a multi-genre mix that celebrates all of the music we love. These are the pop anthems, rallying cries, party jams, riff rockers, perfumed piano pieces and emotional exorcisms that we loved to share this year.
"Across the country, private organizations, faith-based groups and individuals quietly have been working to ease the plight of Syrian refugees. More than 11,000 have arrived in the U.S. this year, fulfilling a pledge by the Obama administration. That figure far exceeds the number of Syrian refugees accepted during the previous four years of the Syrian war, and the White House is calling for a big bump in the overall number of refugees next year.
"It had been a long journey for Osama and Ghada and their four kids, who are among the nearly 5 million Syrians who have fled their homeland since the war began in 2011. They survived the war in Syria and had struggled for three years as refugees in Jordan when they were notified by the U.N. refugee agency, UNHCR, that they had been accepted for resettlement in the U.S."
Series: School Money And The Cost Of Opportunity
"There are huge gaps in school funding between affluent and property-poor districts. And, with evidence that money matters, especially for disadvantaged kids, something has to change.
"School Money is a six-month nationwide collaboration between NPR's Ed Team and 20 member station reporters exploring how states pay for their public schools and why many are failing to meet the needs of their most vulnerable students."
President Obama spoke to NPR as he prepared to leave Washington for the holidays, reflecting on the year that was, the 2016 campaign and other news, plus revealing what he's hearing from citizens. In the wide-ranging exit interview, NPR's Steve Inskeep asked Obama about Russian interference in the U.S. election, executive power, the future of the Democratic party and his future role.