Corpus Christi Caller-Times, Dallas Morning News receive Spirit of FOI Awards

For Immediate Release
Sept. 14, 2017

AUSTIN _ Two Texas news organizations have 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 awards were presented Thursday at the FOI Foundation’s state conference in Austin.

One of the awards went to the Corpus Christi Caller-Times in the Class A market category for stories and commentary on the tragic death of Naomi Villarreal, a victim of domestic violence. The newspaper’s public records-based reporting revealed police delays in evaluating domestic violence complaints that came in just before the weekend. The Caller-Times reports led to changes in police policy.

The Dallas Morning News won in the Class AA large market category for piercing a veil of secrecy in the Texas child welfare system and documenting chronic problems, including the fact that thousands of children weren’t being visited by caseworkers. The reporters verified anecdotal evidence by obtaining and analyzing public records. Their work made an impact at the state Capitol, where leaders approved substantial raises for caseworkers and supervisors.

The Texas Tribune received an honorable mention for news stories on the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The Tribune reports used public records to bring to light questionable travel and spending practices.

“We applaud these news organizations and all who use our public records laws to keep a watch on our government,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. “Information is essential to participating in our democracy and holding public officials accountable.”

The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the FOI Foundation’s former executive director. The awards contest is open to newspaper, broadcast and online journalism.