As the year comes to a close, we're looking back at the stories that defined 2017.
In the Texas Legislature, there were fights: over the so-called bathroom bill and sanctuary city policies. At City Hall, there were more fights: over CodeNEXT and the latest police contract. And on the streets, there were even more fights: over an unorthodox new president and women's rights, ICE raids and immigration policies, and Confederate statues and symbols.
But when we asked reporters and producers in the newsroom to pick their favorite stories of the year, they steered clear of those battles. Their favorites mostly revolved around the people of Austin – their pains and struggles, their memories and hopes.
Here's what they had to say.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: How Austin’s Housing Market Locks Out People With Criminal Records
Why: Annette Price has such a powerful story that encapsulates many of the struggles faced by people with criminal backgrounds. Her experience is more common than we may think – about 1 in 3 American adults has some kind of criminal record. Annette shared her everyday challenges, from finding a place to live to holding down a job, all while hiding a decades-old criminal conviction. Her line about how “everybody has a secret” still sticks in my mind.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: A Cousin's Mission To Say All The Things David Joseph Couldn't
Why: When I met Vanessa in June 2016, I initially thought I would just do one sit-down interview with her. But once we began speaking, I realized what a thoughtful, wise and complex person she is. I had to follow her as she tried to make sense of her cousin's death. I've never done a radio story this long. It was an act of patience. It required relearning that every good story begins with a character who fascinates you.
Favorite story he produced in 2017: Old Friends Remember Good Times, Trouble And The East Austin They Lost
Why: This is one of my favorites this year for a lot of reasons. I ran into Matthew by chance while working on our 12th and Chicon project. I love reports that evolve organically from chance meetings. It turned out he had an incredible story to tell and a willingness to share it. Same with Andreas, whose ability to survive really difficult circumstances with his sense of humor intact was inspiring.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: Now Sober, Austin Woman Recounts Life As An Addict: 'Crack Ripped Everything From Me'
Why: My conversation with Roxanne Strong in the fall was a powerful and moving experience that has stayed with me ever since. In our conversation, which lasted over 30 minutes, she was incredibly candid in sharing her raw, rough and often heartbreaking story about her years of struggling with addiction. Stories about drug addiction are often filled with experts citing statistics and trends and sharing strategies for dealing with the problem. Roxanne’s straightforward, unvarnished, first-person account of addiction – and what can happen on the other side of it – really cut to the heart of the issue in a profoundly personal way.
Favorite story he produced in 2017: Devastated By Hurricane Harvey, This Texas Town Looks To The Healing Power Of High School Football
Why: There was so much drama. This town was on the brink of life and death for a moment, and the residents managed to come back from it and use football to soothe their pain. There were so many different layers: success, failure, poverty. All of that created a mix of interesting people all interconnected with each other, because it's a small town.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: Silenced DJ Set Speaks Volumes About Austin’s Relationship With Latinos
Why: I really liked working on this story for two reasons. One, I got to use a lot of music in the story, which is fun for me. Two, it was a good example of something we don’t talk about a lot here in Austin. Austin prides itself on being a pretty liberal/progressive place, but I think there is some work to do when it comes to cultural and racial issues. In short, micro-aggressions like the one these women experienced, are all too common here. It’s a tough conversation, but I think stories like this are a helpful way of at least starting that conversation.
Favorite story he produced in 2017: How Austin Learned To Stop Worrying And Forget About The Bomb
Why: In reporting this story, three things fascinated me. One, an abandoned fallout shelter is lying (hopefully) vacant near Barton Springs. Two, nobody in Austin really cared about the threat of a nuclear war after the initial wave of existential dread following the Cuban Missile Crisis. Three, there are untold numbers of fallout shelters more or less exactly like the one at Zilker Park across the city – and nobody can say exactly where they are. So, ostensibly, somewhere out there are dozens of abandoned fallout shelters that haven’t been discovered yet.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: Huston-Tillotson Welcomes New Classmates: 15 Steinway Pianos
Why: When I learned that Huston-Tillotson received a donation to replace all the pianos at the school with brand-new Steinways, I knew this was a perfect radio story. As I recorded people playing the Steinways, interviewed staff and students who were passionate about music and witnessed reactions from people seeing the pianos for the first time, I knew this would be a sound-rich piece. It was fun to report and produce, and I really enjoyed getting to be part of a historical moment at the school.
Favorite story she produced in 2017: For Black DACA Recipients In Texas, It Often Feels 'Impossible To Exist'
Why: Toyosi’s story amplified a conversation about what the face of the undocumented community looks like in this state. In the process of attaining a degree and juggling her identity as a black DACA recipient, she found her voice. She continued to be resilient although her future was uncertain, and I admired that.
Favorite story she produced for 2017: UT's First Muslim Sorority Hopes To Inspire Leadership On The 40 Acres And Beyond
Why: In our current political climate, the discussion surrounding Muslims and their faith comes with a lot of contention. This is especially true when we talk about Muslim women. When I heard that one of the nation's first Muslim sororities was starting at UT, it piqued my interest. Members of Mu Delta Alpha defied the stereotypes many people have of Muslim women.
Favorite story he produced in 2017: The Bathroom Bill Is Stalled In The Texas House. And That’s Just What Joe Straus Wants.
Why: I didn't know it at the time, but 2017 would be Speaker Straus's final session running the Texas House. He really started to change his management style in this final term. Instead of just managing the wants and needs of 149 state representatives, he really began doing what he felt was best for the House and Texas. That included blocking passage of the so-called bathroom bill, which would have barred restroom access for transgender people. During an interview for this story, he was very direct in saying that he was stopping that bill and others because they were bad for Texas and Texans.
Favorite story he produced in 2017: He Got A Bad Grade. So, He Got The Constitution Amended. Now He's Getting The Credit He Deserves.
Why: This was my favorite piece to report this year because it seemed like the story that everyone needed, no matter your politics. A story about one person changing the Constitution — not for political gain or personal enrichment — but because he believed it was the right thing to do. I feel fortunate that I got to play a small part in getting Gregory some of the credit he deserves for such a feat.