The Virginia State Capitol.. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
The Virginia State Capitol.. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Last in a holiday-week series looking back on how we’ve spent our time since the Mercury’s launch in July.

Cannabis, Confederates, Virginia’s venerable and vexing liquor laws and longstanding problems in social services departments were among the most-read stories Mercury reporters wrote this year, our first in existence.

Since our launch in July, we’re averaging more than 35,000 users per month from Virginia and elsewhere, and, with your help, we hope to grow our audience in the new year.

Here’s our countdown of the stories that were the biggest hits with readers:

No. 10: What’s on the ballot?

It might be an eat-your-vegetables type of article, but Mechelle Hankerson’s primer on a pair of ballot initiatives that dealt with extending property tax breaks for spouses of veterans and homeowners in flood-prone areas made the cut, proving that news you can use remains very much in demand.

(Both passed by wide margins, by the way)

 No. 9: Was “asexual swarming tick” not screamy enough of a headline?

The lonnghorned tick, native to eastern Asia, has been identified in Virginia. (Photo via the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Katie O’Connor’s tale of a new invasive arachnid made No. 9, a somewhat puzzling low ranking given the creepy-crawly subject matter.

Nevertheless, it elicited some shudders on social media.

As of August, the longhorned tick has been spotted in 10 Virginia counties: Fairfax, Albemarle, Warren, Page, Louisa, Smyth, Pulaski, Giles, Grayson and Russell counties.


No. 8: Museum of the Confederacy merger: 

Ned Oliver’s story on the long-planned merger of the Museum of the Confederacy with the American Civil War Center here in Richmond begins with “What’s in a name?”

An exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy. (Penelope M. Carrington/The American Civil War Museum)

Quite a bit, it turns out, another example of Virginia and other Southern states grappling with how to remember the Confederacy and whether monuments to its leaders, who sought to establish a new nation in which the right to own slaves was explicitly protected, belong in public places.

The Museum of the Confederacy, which opened in 1896, lost about 40 percent of its membership base after it announced in 2013 that it would merge with the American Civil War Center, a union that is yet another sign of how attitudes about the war and its remembrance are shifting.

No. 7: Time for a look at the ledgers?

ABC and the Virginia Lottery, two agencies that have grown to become big cash cows for Virginia government, have never been comprehensively reviewed by the 45-year-old legislative audit commission created to oversee Virginia government, Mechelle Hankerson reported.

The staff at the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission think it’s time for a serious look at their efficiency and to evaluate management.

No. 6: If pot policies are softening, why are arrests up?

All over the United States, laws banning the possession of marijuana are evaporating or softening.

As Ned Oliver discovered, however, Virginia arrest records tell a different story.

CCO Creative Commons via Pixabay.

Arrests statewide spiked 20 percent in 2017 to their highest levels in a decade, according to data provided by the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services.

In fact, some suggested the loosening of laws elsewhere might actually be contributing to the increase, which occurred after years of trending downward.

“My unscientific explanation for this dramatic increase is people are just brazen about it now,” said Dave Albo, a former state delegate and lawyer in Northern Virginia who often represents clients on possession of marijuana charges.

No. 5: The undying liquor ratio

“A $2,000 glass of whiskey, a state law banning bars and a years-long fight lawmakers can’t seem to untangle” was the headline on this Ned Oliver story that took a look at the state’s dated — many say outdated — liquor ratio, which requires establishments selling spirits to generate at least 45 percent of their sales from food and non-alcoholic beverages.

Expect the ratio debate to surface again during this General Assembly session, an attempt to accommodate high-end liquor establishments with expensive libations who struggle to meet the ratio.

No. 4: Atlantic Coast Pipeline gets permission to start work in North Carolina

This breaking news item on permission for the contentious Atlantic Coast Pipeline, developed by lead partners Dominion Energy and Duke Energy, to begin construction in North Carolina, took off on social media. At the time, the project appeared to be barreling ahead, but a series of court setbacks have thrown the natural gas pipeline off stride.

No. 3: Struggles in social services, including long hours, low pay and turnover, makes waves

Katie O’Connor’s deep dive into the difficulties of social services agencies in training and retaining workers, including those who are supposed to look out for at-risk children, like those in foster care, is one I’m grateful to see make it into the Top 5.

Virginia’s child welfare workers — those whose duties range from meeting with foster children to investigating claims of child abuse — are leaving after an average of 18 to 24 months on the job, Katie reported, and the repercussions for children and families can be far-reaching.

This is the kind of work we set out to do, to point out problems that affect the most vulnerable.

No. 2: A medical turf war continues

What could be seen as an inside-baseball battle between Virginia’s doctors and nurse practitioners turned out to be our second most-read story so far.

Creative Commons via Pixabay.

Per Katie O’Connor’s reporting, autonomous practice authority has been a goal of nurse practitioners for years. They shouldn’t have to work under a physician’s supervision, they argue, if they’re doing what they’ve been trained to do and have enough experience.

Doctors disagree, arguing that nurse practitioners just don’t have enough training or education.



Drumroll please. 


No. 1: Virginia is strictly regulating CBD oil, but it’s already everywhere.

With cannabidiol, via an array of products, sweeping the nation and the federal government legalizing hemp, marijuana’s less psychoactive cousin, it makes some sense that Ned Oliver’s story on the apparent disconnect between Virginia’s attempt to strictly regulate CBD oil and its ubiquity in gas stations, natural food stores and head shops, among other locations, made it to the top of our list.

“It’s everywhere,” one store employee told him. “The dam is broken and they can’t put the water back in.”

Honorable mention: A selection of other stories in our Top 25 most-read