FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Sept. 24, 2021
AUSTIN – Two Texas news organizations that shined a spotlight on lack of public access to police records have won this year’s Spirit of FOI Awards presented by the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas.
The Odessa American and KXAN in Austin, the award winners, were honored Friday at the FOI Foundation’s state conference in Austin. The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award highlights journalism that upholds First Amendment rights and promotes or uses open government laws.
“Congratulations to the reporters and newsroom leaders who pressed for police records and called attention to information roadblocks. Journalists and all citizens in our state should use the Texas Public Information Act and other transparency laws to hold government accountable,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the FOI Foundation of Texas.
The Odessa American, the winner in the Class A category for news markets under 500,000 population, persisted in reporting on the city of Odessa’s refusal to release police records in a timely manner. The newspaper ultimately sued the city, and the lawsuit remains pending in court.
The Spirit of FOI Award contest judge said the newspaper kept “the public’s right to know at the forefront” and “has been relentless in its efforts to fight police secrecy and to inform residents about crimes in their community.”
An investigative team at KXAN, the winner in the Class AA category for news markets of 500,000 and over, produced an in-depth report called “Dead & Undone” examining a provision in the Public Information Act that some law enforcement agencies are using to withhold records when someone dies in police custody.
“By shining a light on a law that’s supposed to provide answers to families and the public, KXAN exposes shortcomings – and an obscure loophole – allowing deaths in police custody to go unchecked,” the contest judge said.
The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the FOI Foundation’s first executive director. The contest is open to Texas newspaper, broadcast and online journalism outlets. Founded in 1978, the nonprofit FOI Foundation promotes open government and protects the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press.