National Stories to Watch For in 2011

Frequently it's events that no one saw coming--a massive oil spill, a catastrophic terrorist attack, a dramatic Hudson River landing--that stand out in retrospect as stories of the year. Nonetheless, making some educated predictions about headlines we might see in the year ahead can be an interesting exercise ...

Some things we know for certain:

  • NASA will retire its nearly 30-year-old space shuttle program in June (leaving U.S. astronauts dependent on Russian spacecraft).
  • Barring unforeseen developments, the last remaining U.S. troops will be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of December.
  • September will mark the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks--an occasion sure to come with elaborate commemorations, intense stock-taking of the war on terror, and concerns about possible anniversary attacks.

Meanwhile, unfinished business from 2010 will continue to play out:

  • Issues like the fate of Arizona's strict new immigration law, the extent of oil-spill reparations to be paid by BP, and the constitutionality of various provisions of the new health care bill will continue to make their way through the courts.
  • The repeal this month of Don't Ask, Don't Tell will undoubtedly continue to generate headlines, as its effects--or lack thereof--on our armed forces are closely monitored by the military and the media.
  • The struggling economy and housing market will remain a major focus, as experts and pundits survey the situation for signs of improvement--or of double-dip recession.

In other news:

  • All eyes will be on the New York Times as it puts itself behind a paywall--an experiment which, if profitable, may be interpreted as salvation for an industry decimated in recent years by dramatic structural changes.
  • Electric cars will finally go mainstream, with the Volt and the Nissan Leaf already on the market (having been introduced in the U.S. just this month) and the BYD e6 slated for release in 2011. (Already, service stations around the country are starting to retrofit themselves to deal with the new vehicles.)

Additional predictions are a bit more speculative:

  • Might we see a spate of new anti-smoking regulations in light of the Surgeon General's recent devastating report?
  • Emboldened by the success of their Julian Assange-motivated attacks, might hacker groups like Anonymous step up their "hacktivism" in 2011?
  • With the federal investigation into cyclist doping approaching an end, could this be the year that spells trouble for Lance Armstrong?

In the months to come, these and many other 2011-related questions will get their answers. Before they do, make your own predictions about the year ahead in the Comments section below--and also see our reports (coming soon) on the business, politics, sports, entertainment, international, and technology stories to watch for in 2011.