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Our Favorite KUT Stories Of 2018

Andrew Weber

It's safe to say 2018 was an eventful year. In the spring, a series of bombings killed two people and seriously injured four others. A few months later, a school shooting outside Houston prompted Gov. Greg Abbott to convene a series of roundtable discussions and issue a school-safety plan.

This year, the Trump administration announced its "zero tolerance" policy, which led to family separations at the Southwest border. The White House backtracked after a national outcry, but the issue of immigration never left center stage.

In Austin, we awaited word from Amazon about its H2Q and word from City Council about a Major League Soccer stadium. Dockless scooters invaded the city, and CodeNEXT was scrapped.

A scorching-hot summer gave way to a rainy fall and led to historic flooding in the Hill Country. Murky water overwhelmed Austin's water treatment plants and prompted a weeklong order to boil water. A record number of Travis County residents registered to vote, and Sen. Ted Cruz faced a serious challenge from Beto O'Rourke.

From the serial bombings to the immigration crisis to the midterm elections, here are the stories KUT reporters felt passionate about in 2018.

Ashley Lopez, Health Care And Politics Reporter

Undocumented Parents Could Have To Choose Between A Green Card And Services For U.S.-Born Kids

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Maria Hernandez, the founder of a nonprofit that helps parents of children with disabilities, says immigrant families who rely on Medicaid have been getting requests for additional proof of eligibility.

Early this year, I heard chatter that the Trump administration was considering changing how officials decide who gets a green card. In short, the administration wanted to make it harder for low-income immigrants to obtain legal status, particularly if they rely on some government programs or could rely on them in the future.

Folks who work with these families say parents who are undocumented are removing their children from services like Medicaid – even if their children are U.S. citizens and entitled to those benefits. One of those parents is Marlene.

It’s difficult to find people who are living in the shadows and willing to speak on the record about their fears. But Marlene shared her story with me, which is why it stuck with me throughout the year. Marlene told me she was afraid of being deported and had decided to withdraw her citizen children from SNAP because she didn’t want her application to draw attention from federal officials. At the time, she was also considering removing her son, who has disabilities, from Medicaid.

Recent reports show Marlene is not alone. Immigrant families in Texas are withdrawing from government services in significant numbers, and that has led to a spike in the state’s uninsured rate among children. Experts say the proposed changes to green card application rules will only make the problem worse.

Mose Buchele, Energy And Environment Reporter

Why Is The Map On The Floor Of The Austin Airport Full Of Misspellings?

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
Arcelia Hernandez wanted to know why street names are misspelled on a map of Austin at the airport.

This wasn’t the most important story I did. It’s not the newsiest. But this was the piece I had the most fun putting together and one that’s continued to feed my imagination.

I had finished writing the script for this when I decided, one last time, to reach out to the man who ended up answering the question. That man, Jerry Ludwig, suddenly happened to be available. So, just hours before deadline, I had the full answer to the riddle of this map. It slotted into the narrative perfectly.

The story has stayed with me mostly because it sparked a deeper interest in Austin’s early history. Since I did this piece, I’ve tried to track down the fate of the unfortunate mapmaker, L.J. Pilie; I even visited an archive in New Orleans to research his family. No luck so far, but I plan to keep searching.

Audrey McGlinchy, City Hall Reporter

Five Days To Vacate: How A Sudden Setback Can Lead To An Eviction In Travis County

Credit Lynda Gonzalez for KUT

With this series of stories, I wanted to answer the question: What happens once someone is evicted from their home?

Reporting on people in extreme transition – moving out in five days, facing homelessness, struggling to pay bills – is hard. You're asking a lot of them. I relearned, as I do with many stories, that talking to a reporter when you're dealing with a traumatic experience requires a lot of generosity. I'm so grateful these people let me witness this time in their lives.

Syeda Hasan, Real Estate And Development Reporter

After Bombings, Uncomfortable Truths Emerge About Racial Divides In Austin

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
After a series of bombings in Austin, Jesus Valles wrote a Facebook post about the pervasiveness of racism in the city.

During our coverage of the Austin bombings, I was thinking about why these attacks felt different to so many Austin residents of color. We often write off Austin as a progressive city, skirting over the racial tensions that exist here. This series of events crystalized some of the struggles, microaggressions and economic pressure that Austinites of color can face, and I saw an opportunity to capture that.

I was also able to interview people across a broad geographic area – in Pflugerville, Central and East Austin. In producing this story, I felt like I was truly fulfilling my duty as a reporter and representing the communities we serve. 

Claire McInerny, Education Reporter

 A 'True' Friend, Draylen Mason Remembered For 'Radiating Positivity'

Credit Courtesy of Austin Soundwaves
Draylen Mason poses with his orchestra director, Hermes Camcho (center), and Mayareli Albiter at the Golden Hornet's Second Annual Young Composer Concert last year.

The serial bombings were the biggest breaking news event in Austin this year, and I covered a few of the press conferences with police and the FBI. But when I was assigned to do an obituary on Draylen Mason, the teenager killed by one of the bombs, I knew I had to switch out of breaking news mode.

I had to learn about his personality and character, and his teachers and friends were kind to talk to me about their friend. I was reminded that there's power in sharing your story: Many of those I interviewed said talking about him for the piece was important to their grieving process.

Andrew Weber, Reporter

Manley Says He's 'Very Comfortable' Calling The Austin Bomber A Domestic Terrorist

Credit Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon / KUT
Interim Austin Police Chief Brian Manley addresses a town-hall forum about racial divides in the city following a series of bombings.

This was the most cathartic story I've written in my career – not just because of the obvious news value, but because of what it meant to the community.

After the deaths of Stephan House and Draylen Mason, people of color in Austin – rightly – felt targeted by the serial bomber, and yet, the chief of police continually stumbled and outright avoided calling the bomber a domestic terrorist.

Having then-interim Chief Brian Manley finally say that outright didn't put anyone's reservations to bed, but it was a step forward in acknowledging it. It also happened during a live event the entire newsroom helped plan and host after three straight weeks of nonstop coverage. I hasten to say it was a nice bookend to the story because it wasn't a nice story – but it was as close as Austin could get to one.

Jimmy Maas, Reporter

SXSW First-Timers Find Themselves A Long Way From Fuddruckers

Credit Jimmy Maas / KUT
Jim and Regina Maas take in day one of SXSW Interactive.

One of my favorite pieces of 2018 was close to home. My dad and I were sitting at lunch talking about what was happening around Austin and he said, “I’ve never been to South by Southwest.” My parents were longtime Austinites but moved years ago because of work.

Immediately, I knew I had to remedy this and get as much of it on tape as possible; my parents embraced the idea. They opened iPhone apps they had never used and recorded themselves independently as they walked around SXSW – and KUT got a slightly different view of the massive festival.

We’ll see if they’re interested in covering it again in 2019.

Nadia Hamdan, Associate Producer/On-Air Host

Who Are Those People Who Ride Horses Around Downtown Austin?

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
Sam Grey Horse rides a mule through downtown Austin.

I mean, I got to ride a mule through Austin with a man dressed as Santa?

But, of course, that's not the only reason I loved working on this story. I was introduced to a truly remarkable person who embodied so much of what makes this city special. Sam Grey Horse was kind, humble and, obviously, a little weird. In other words, he was a true Austinite. The story of how his animals essentially brought him back to life after a near-death experience was surreal. Even more so is the fact that he now spends his days riding horses and mules through downtown Austin – trying to heal others.

If this story taught me anything it's that it's easy to forget the human behind the spectacle. But if you take the time to get to know the person in the Santa suit, you'll likely be pleasantly surprised by what you learn.

DaLyah Jones, Assistant Producer/On-Air Host

Camp Teaches Children To Embrace Their Stuttering: 'It's A Gift'

Credit Julia Reihs / KUT
Camp Dream. Speak. Live is a weeklong intensive therapy program within UT's Lang Stuttering Institute.

This story holds a special place in my heart. Not only is the Lang Institute doing ground-breaking research, but their holistic approach to speech training was also admirable. Not once were the children in the room made fun of or degraded for what may have made them different from their peers. Instead, they were reaffirmed and encouraged not only by staff but also each other.

In that room, during camp, it wasn’t about how you said it, but what you said. The institute teaches these inspirational kids how to be confident in themselves without degrading others, and I think that’s a life lesson we can all learn from.

Ben Philpott, Senior Editor

 One-Party Rule Has Never Been That Simple In Texas

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT

I wrote this story in February when we really didn't have any idea what kind of an election we'd see in November. All we'd seen were a few special elections across the country – close races in traditionally deep-red areas that resulted mostly in Democratic losses.

In November, Democrats here picked up two state Senate seats, 12 state House seats and had their closest statewide election in decades. Now that we know what kind of wave it was in Texas, it's good to remember how difficult it is to have one-party rule and what kinds of things may have led to the GOP's latest showing.

Matt Largey, Managing Editor

This Tiny Austin Cemetery Has Been Here For 162 Years. Will Construction Force It Out?

Credit Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT
The Davidson-Littlepage Ceremtery sits in the median near the intersection of Highways 183 and 71.

This was definitely my favorite story that I did in 2018. I learned a ton about Austin history, met some Austin icons and found a surprising parallel between the city’s past and present. I also got to run across Highway 183 while holding a microphone – which is incredibly dangerous and I do not recommend.

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