On Mondays leading up to this year's Edward R. Murrow Awards Gala this evening, we have been highlighting some of our National Edward R. Murrow Award winners.
Organization: The Texas Tribune / Pro Publica
Winning Piece: Hell and High Water
Category: Investigative Reporting - Small Digital News Organization
Is this your station’s first National Edward R. Murrow Award?
No, we have won previously.
Please provide a short description of what your winning entry was about.
One day, a massive hurricane will make a direct hit on the city of Houston, Texas and surrounding suburbs — a region that's home to millions of people, the largest refining and petrochemical complex in the nation, and one of the biggest concentrations of dangerous chemicals in the world. When that hurricane hits, it will kill thousands of people and cripple the national economy. Scientists have modeled with breathtaking specificity what could happen when that storm hits. The Texas Tribune and ProPublica used their models and months of reporting to create "Hell and High Water." This interactive report allows readers to watch that worst-case-scenario storm pummel the upper Texas Gulf Coast and type in an address to see if it'll be underwater and by how much. It also explores what's been done, and what hasn't, to protect Houstonians and the country from this looming catastrophe.
What were some of the challenges you or your news team faced while reporting and producing this piece?
What were some of the challenges you or your news team faced while reporting and producing this piece? The hurricane models scientists provided to us were extremely complex, unwieldy and difficult to crunch down for display on an Internet browser. Once we tackled that, tweaking colors and shading to make it more visually accessible and dramatic also was a challenge. As for the actual reporting, we talked to dozens of sources who presented us with a lot of technical information that we had to distill and quality check. In some cases, sources — both scientists and elected officials — were hostile or standoffish in the face of such a large, looming and consequential problem.
Did you receive a lot of audience feedback from this piece? If so, what was the general reaction?
Yes, we heard from a lot of people — in the Houston area and beyond — who expressed worry, terror and appreciation. Shortly after publication, U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) filed legislation in support of a large-scale public works project that would guard against such a catastrophic storm. We also heard from other elected officials working to address the issue; They reminded us of the political and financial constraints of building a massive levee or gate system to block the dangerous storm surge hurricanes produce. They say those hurdles likely will hold up a such a project until after a big storm devastates the region.
What does winning a national Edward R. Murrow Award mean to you and your newsroom?
Winning a prestigious national award is a huge honor and affirms that our work is quality and getting noticed.