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Here are our favorite KUT stories of 2022

A collage of six photos: one of a tree, one of a woman putting on makeup, one of a man holding tortillas, one of a front desk at a costume store, one of an aerial view of a bridge, and one of a girl on a rope swing.
KUT staff

A lot happened in 2022 — from contentious elections and nationwide protests to extreme weather and continued COVID-19 concerns. But there were bright spots, too. South by Southwest and other events returned in person for the first time in years, and Austinites came together to support those in need.

We asked KUT staffers to share their favorite stories they worked on this year. Here's what they had to say.

So the $35 sculpture you got at an Austin Goodwill was looted from a museum during WWII. Now what?

Laura Young found this ancient Roman portrait sculpture in a Goodwill on Far West Boulevard in Austin.
Photo Courtesy Of San Antonio Museum Of Art
Laura Young found this ancient Roman portrait sculpture in a Goodwill on Far West Boulevard in Austin.

I loved this story because it had a little bit of everything: history, legal drama, thrift shopping. I had been working on this story since before the pandemic but kept holding off because of the negotiations over what would become of Dennis (the sculpture). So when the end of this chapter (for him) finally happened, it was really great to see how Laura Young's determination to do the right thing had been vindicated.

This story got picked up a lot of places after we published it, but it was neat to see something that started in a Goodwill in Austin (or Italy or Germany, if you want to get technical about it) ended up capturing so many people's imaginations. And it had a bittersweet ending!

— Matt Largey, projects editor

What’s the story of Austin’s Treaty Oak?

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Michael Minasi
Austin's Treaty Oak, near Fifth Street and Lamar, nearly died after being poisoned in 1989.

This is a murder mystery about a tree, so it’s already got a lot going for it. But the story also reveals a lot about Austin and people’s relationship with nature and mythology. It’s about how communities make myths and, in their desire to believe those myths, they make new ones. I don’t think it goes too far to say this is a story about the power of belief.

But, remember, it is also a murder mystery about a tree.

I recommend listening to this as well as reading. You will hear interviews with those involved in the case of the oak poisoning, a trove of archival sound and music that powers the narrative forward. All put together I think it captures the weirdness, sadness and silliness of this case. I also think there may be more to tell in this story. Maybe one day I’ll revisit it.

— Mose Buchele, energy and environment reporter

Council votes to replace destroyed pedestrian bridge in Roy G. Guerrero Park

This pedestrian bridge has been washed out for years, and people were wondering why it was taking so long to fix. Turns out, erosion can be a nasty adversary. Now, there's a $25 million project to replace the bridge and fix the erosion. I enjoyed exploring around this deserted ravine. It reminded me of the kinds of places I'd hang out as a teenager.

— Nathan Bernier, transportation reporter

Austin’s Ukrainian School is a safe space for those fleeing a country at war

Vironika Makhova smiles while hanging on a rope crossing at Peaceable Kingdom on Sept. 2.
Patricia Lim
Vironika Makhova smiles while hanging on a rope crossing at Peaceable Kingdom on Sept. 2.

I think we can all agree that 2022 has been a tough year. However, there were some moments of hope. When I wrote this story, I wanted to capture one of those moments — how a community in Austin had come together to provide a safe, fun space to Ukrainian kids who fled the war in their country.

— Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, Texas Capitol reporter

'They are not naive about the reality': New Texas teachers enter a field in crisis

When I started covering education this past June, the teacher shortage facing the Austin area loomed large. Tens of thousands of teachers in Texas left the profession after the 2021-2022 school year. I wanted to see how this crisis was affecting people who were studying to become teachers and how they were thinking about the field.

My colleague Michael Minasi and I had the chance to interview one early career teacher and two students in the UT Austin College of Education. It was heartening to hear how they were balancing their excitement for being in the classroom with empathy for their colleagues who had left. They also shared that seeing so many teachers leave the field underscored the importance of taking care of themselves and helped them realize this might not be a career they can do forever.

Their perspective was both hopeful and pragmatic. I think it also challenges us to think about what needs to change when people who are deeply passionate about teaching find it to be unsustainable. Plus, Michael made an awesome video that is worth a watch.

— Becky Fogel, education reporter

Why is it so difficult to find restaurants that make their own tortillas in Austin?

Gabriel C. Pérez
Tortillas are made at La Sabrocita in North Austin.

My favorite thing about KUT’s ATXplained stories, or maybe I should say my favorite ATXplained stories, are the ones that not only answer the question but also veer off into a surprising direction. Sometimes it’s a question about a tall building in Southwest Austin that instead tells us a person’s life story, or maybe it's one about how Texas Toast was invented that gives us the story of a gourmet chef who fed Austin’s homeless.

So my favorite story I wrote in 2022, or maybe I should say my ONLY story from 2022, is one that answers the question of why so many Austin restaurants don’t make their own tortillas. Honestly, it's a straightforward logistics issue for most restaurants. But this simple investigation veered into a story of love and the connection food can make between people.

— Ben Philpott, managing editor

Austinites spend one last Halloween with Lucy in Disguise on South Congress

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Michael Minasi
Store manager Jerry Durham, right, describes Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds as the closet of the "coolest aunt you have."

My favorite story I worked on this year was about Lucy in Disguise with Diamonds. The iconic year-round costume shop on South Congress announced in August that it would close at the end of the year. I wanted to spend one last Halloween with Lucy's and hear from people who were doing the same. I talked with employees and patrons about what the shop has meant to them over the years, and I got to follow along with a mom and her two young boys as they picked out the perfect costume.

— Marisa Charpentier, assistant digital editor

What it’s like to date (and have sex) under Texas' abortion ban

Amanda Phillips puts on eyeliner on Oct. 14, 2022, at her home in Austin.
Michael Minasi
Amanda Phillips puts on eyeliner at her home in Austin. Phillips, who identifies as bisexual, says she has been dating more women since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

There are so many stories to be told about the impacts of Texas’ abortion ban. But one story I hadn’t heard was how women were navigating dating and sex, and how conversations they were having with potential partners had changed.

As a reporter, I feel lucky anytime someone is willing to get real with me about something deeply personal. The people I met for this story were so open about the ways in which a law had affected the power they had over their own bodies — and how they moved through the dating world because of this.

— Audrey McGlinchy, housing reporter

How political action committees transformed school board races in Round Rock and Leander

In recent years, school boards and school board races across the nation have evolved into a hotbed of political debate. Williamson County is no exception to this trend.

This past midterm election cycle saw several local political action committees lend thousands of dollars and endorsements to candidates in school board races — most notably in two of Central Texas' largest school districts, Round Rock and Leander.

As a reporter, I felt it was important to explore what it meant to have so much PAC money pouring into these local school board races, as well as what it means for the future of school boards and school board races.

— Kailey Hunt, Williamson County reporter

An Austin woman died from hypothermia during the blackout. Four months later, her husband died, too.

A photo of a couple in a photo album.
Michael Minasi
Minal Shah flips through a photo album and lands on a portrait of her parents, Lalji and Manjula Shah, at their home in Austin. Manjula died from hypothermia during the 2021 blackout; her husband died shortly after.

This story was the most challenging story I’ve worked on in recent memory. I expected it to be a total slog — an utterly devastating elegy about a woman’s death and the lack of accountability surrounding her demise. Don’t get me wrong, it absolutely was.

But it wasn’t just about death. It was more so about Manjula’s life. 

That life and the irrepressible joy she inspired were very much the heart of it. Minal, Rajeeta and Tushar are a brilliant reflection of that. They welcomed us into their homes and helped me understand how she lived and, ultimately, why it was so gutting a loss for their family — and a loss that ultimately led to another gutting loss. The Shahs' resiliency in the face of those losses still gives me goosebumps, and I’m privileged to have helped document their strength and their struggle.

I should also note, I’m also fond of this story because it didn’t happen in a vacuum. As with all Disconnect stories, we all had a hand in telling this one. One of the perks of my job is I’m lucky enough to work with aggressively talented pals who give honest, incisive guidance — Audrey, Jimmy, Matt, Stephanie and, of course, Mose.

— Andrew Weber, general assignment reporter

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