The Headliners Foundation of Texas announced that the Houston Chronicle’s Brian Rosenthal is the winner of the Foundation’s 2015 Showcase Gold Award for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism for his series, “How Texas Officials Use Your Money To Help Their Friends.”
Rosenthal’s year-long investigative project explored nearly half a dozen ways in which weak Texas laws allow state officials to use hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to help their friends. Among the findings: awards of hundreds of millions in no-bid contracts, filling high-paying jobs without posting them, and handing out excessive bonuses and scholarships. It sparked legislative reforms, policy changes and at least one resignation.
This is the third year this award has been presented and the first year that a Chronicle entry won the top prize, which pays $2000.
The Foundation also announced three Showcase Silver Award winners ($1,000 to each):
- The staffs at the Austin American-Statesman and The Texas Tribune for their combined work on “Paid to Prosecute.” The project detailed that the state’s largest and oldest provider of workers’ compensation coverage – Texas Mutual Insurance – had paid millions of dollars to the Travis County district attorney’s office for public prosecutors to pursue alleged crimes against the company – a glaring conflict of interest that had flown under the radar for more than a decade.
- The KRGV-TV Weslaco Investigative Team for “Trafficked: Web of Despair.” The stories offered first-hand accounts of women smuggled into the country who were subjected to slave-like jobs in factories and as prostitutes.
- Brooks Egerton of The Dallas Morning News for “Deadly Dentistry.” After Egerton found a Texas regulatory filing that briefly described a dental sedation death, he pressed for more information, eventually leading the state to reveal that it knew of 85 dental patient deaths and several hundred hospitalizations since 2010. But most of those cases had not triggered public disciplinary action by the agency charged with protecting Texans from dangerous dentists.
The Foundation’s judges awarded honorable mentions to:
- Brian Collister, Chad Cross, Joe Ellis, Ben Friberg and Josh Hinkle of KXAN-TV Austin for “Racial Profiling Whitewash.” This investigation uncovered the Texas Department of Public Safety and Austin Police Department wrongly recording the race of minority motorists during traffic stops and skewing the accuracy of data used for racial profiling reports in violation of state law.
- Andy Pierrotti of KVUE-TV Austin for “State of Neglect.” The investigation uncovered a dramatic rise in abuse inside Texas nursing homes and a state agency allowing it to happen. After the reports, the Legislature passed tougher standards on nursing home operators.
In addition to the $5,000 in professional recognition awards to Showcase winners, the Foundation will also select 11 Charles E. Green contest winners, and present nearly $30,000 to the Green and 34 division winners selected by the Associated Press broadcast and print partners for outstanding work in 2015 by journalists at Texas media outlets. The Green newspaper awards, along with the broadcast awards, will be announced April 9-10 in ceremonies in Austin and El Paso with Foundation partners, Texas Associated Press Broadcasters and Texas Associated Press Managing Editors. The winners of the Showcase and Green awards will be honored at the Foundation’s Mike Quinn Awards Sept. 17 at the Headliners Club in Austin.
The Showcase Awards for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism recognize outstanding professional Texas-based news providers—print, broadcast or digital—that distribute at least monthly and make a significant impact on government, public policy or the conduct of a business, nonprofit or other organization. All professional media were eligible to submit entries to the contest, including magazines, web-only publishers and even small, specialized news providers.
In only its third year, the Showcase Awards for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism have grown in participation and in the quality of entries. In all, 37 entries were selected by a screening committee for final consideration for award. The entries represented a healthy cross-section of Texas media organizations – television news departments, metropolitan newspapers, a news and entertainment weekly, a statewide digital-only news operation, a statewide cable news outlet, and a public radio station. The winners and other entries can be viewed at the Foundation’s website, www.headlinersfoundation.org. Interviews with many of this year’s winners will be posted in the coming months on the site and may be viewed by clicking “Best Practices.”
“The Headliners Club has supported excellence in Texas journalism for 60 years, and its members established the Headlines Foundation 30 years ago to build on that strong tradition,” said Mark Morrison, Headliners Foundation Chair. “Providing prestigious and substantial awards for the best journalism in Texas each year is one of the most important ways we encourage a strong, independent news media in our state. We are extremely proud of the year’s winners and all the entries that made for a tough competition.”
“Once again, the Showcase judges’ jobs were so difficult, given the quality of the journalism that was entered,” said John Lumpkin, Headliners Foundation Professional Excellence Committee chair and chair of the judges. “News media continues to operate amid economic and social challenges, so that makes the winners’ work even more impressive.” Lumpkin also noted that, for the first time, a collaborative effort between two journalism organizations was a Showcase winner, the Silver Award to the Austin American-Statesman and The Texas Tribune for “Paid to Prosecute.” Lumpkin said such collaborations are becoming more important as models for sustaining high-impact journalism.
A five-member judges’ committee made the selections. Two of the judges were “outside” members, both with distinguished journalism careers. They were Nann Goplerud, former award-winning broadcast journalist for WFAA-TV in Dallas and recently retired interim chair of the University of North Texas journalism department, and Jean Marie Brown, a former newsroom executive in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Fort Worth and now instructor of journalism at TCU. Foundation governors Mark Morrison, Board Chair; John Lumpkin, Professional Excellence Committee Chair; and Fred Zipp, who is also a journalism instructor at The University of Texas at Austin, were the other members of the judges’ committee. Biographies for each judge may be found on the Foundation’s website.
The Foundation is currently accepting submissions for the 2016 Showcase Award Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism. For more information about all 2015 winning entrants and how to submit an entry for consideration for the 2016 Showcase Award for Enterprise and Innovation in Journalism, please visit the foundation’s website at www.headlinersfoundation.org.