The Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas and the State Bar of Texas on Thursday honored some of 2016’s best examples of watchdog journalism. The awards were presented at the FOI Foundation’s state conference in Austin.
The Dallas Morning News and the Corpus Christi Caller-Times won the Spirit of FOI Award for reports exposing problems with the state’s child welfare system and with one city’s police response to domestic violence.
The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award, presented by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, highlights journalism that upholds First Amendment principles and promotes or uses open government laws such as the Texas Public Information Act.
The Dallas Morning News won in the large market category for documenting chronic problems with the Texas child welfare system, including the fact that thousands of children weren’t being visited by caseworkers. Their work caused lawmakers to take action.
The Corpus Christi Caller-Times won in the Class A market category for stories and commentary on the tragic death of Naomi Villarreal, a victim of domestic violence. Caller-Times reporters Krista M. Torralva and Natalia Contreras were also honored by the State Bar of Texas and its Texas Gavel Awards for that same series of articles.
The Texas Gavel Awards recognize excellence in journalism that fosters public understanding of the legal system; educates the public about the rule of law, the legal profession, and the judicial branch of government; and discloses practices or procedures needing correction to improve the justice system.
Torralva and Contreras won the Texas Gavel Award in the print, non-metro category for its “Behind Broken Doors” series that explored the city’s deadly domestic violence problem, revealed flaws in the justice system, and sparked action in the community.
In the print, major-metro category, Patrick Michels, formerly of the Texas Observer, won for “Who Guards the Guardians,” an investigative piece that took an in-depth look at the complex system of guardianship cases across the state. Michels found guardianships in Texas ballooned 60 percent from 2011 to 2015, and his reporting concluded that oversight to ensure guardianships aren’t being used as a tool for abuse or theft is lacking across most of the state.
And in the broadcast major-metro category KXAN-TV’s Josh Hinkle, David Barer, Brian Collister, Ben Friberg, Chad Cross and Joe Ellis won with “Border Splurge: Texas’ Billion-Dollar Drug War,” a nine-month series that analyzed 32,000 border arrest records. The team’s reporting concluded that despite a $1.6 billion commitment of taxpayer dollars, few of the people arrested on the border were considered to be high-threat criminals. The team reported that accounts from local law enforcement and drug seizures indicate drugs are still making their way across the border and into Central Texas despite the expenditure and crackdown.
To learn more about the Texas Gavel Awards and read or watch the winning submissions, go here.