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2015 Interactive Features Included Death Row App, Look at Space Race

Whether it was an immersive look at the space industry in Texas, a project on death row inmates or a redesign of one of our most popular databases, The Texas Tribune's news apps team tackled some our most ambitious projects to date in 2015.

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In the last year, The Texas Tribune’s News Apps team has doubled in size, with developers Annie Daniel and Jolie McCullough joining veterans Becca Aaronson and Ryan Murphy. And we've tackled some of our most ambitious projects to date, including our first fully immersive multimedia experience, Starstrucka complete redesign of our popular Texas Public Schools Explorer; and several new interactive site features, including a tool to see the inmates currently on Texas’ death row. Here’s a closer look at our team's best features from 2015.

1. Starstruck: Fights and Flights Behind Texas' Space Race

This year, the Tribune dived into the secretive, burgeoning commercial space industry in Texas. Our presentation included time-lapse video, audio and photography from the South Texas coast, where Elon Musk’s SpaceX is planning to build a rocket launch site, and the remote West Texas desert landscape, where Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin company is sending rockets into space.

2. Texas Public Schools Explorer

Our redesigned Texas Public Schools Explorer — one of the Tribune’s most popular data apps — is better than ever. By incorporating feedback from readers, parents and other interested parties, we made it easier to navigate complicated public school data on graduation rates, test scores, teacher salaries, demographic breakdowns, enrollment numbers and more for all 1,219 school districts and 8,646 public schools in Texas.

3. Faces of Death Row

Although the number of inmates on death row is shrinking, Texas still has the most active execution chamber in the nation. The Tribune’s Faces of Death Row project details who is awaiting the death penalty in Texas — including how many years they’ve been in jail and a summary of their convictions. Since we originally published this project in June, five inmates have been executed, one died of natural causes, two new inmates were given death row sentences and four were removed for new punishment trials.

4. Texas Legislative Guide

Our Texas Legislative Guide was the go-to resource for the 2015 legislative session. You could use it to track which bills became law and to revisit our coverage of the major issues debated by lawmakers. We also used the Texas Legislative Guide to inform our coverage of what happened to House Speaker Joe Straus' and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s priority bills and how the House and Senate budget proposals compared.

5. 31 Days, 31 Ways

Once again, we used the 31 days of August to highlight 31 ways in which new state laws passed during the biennial legislative session would affect Texans. Highlights of this year's installment include an interactive quiz to help college students figure out whether they qualify for Texas grants, a visualization of how many women would be impacted by the state’s decision to oust Planned Parenthood clinics from a cancer-screening program and an interactive map showing how many Texans enrolled in health plans through the marketplace created under the Affordable Care Act. 

6. Texas vs. the Feds: A Look at the Lawsuits

Texas’ Republican leadership has mounted 37 lawsuits against the federal government during President Obama’s administration, the majority of which were filed by former Attorney General and current Gov. Greg Abbott. This interactive allows you to view Texas’ lawsuits against the federal government by category, explaining what each face-off is about, the cost to the state and the standing of each lawsuit.

7. In Texas Jails, Hanging Most Common Suicide Method

The July death of Sandra Bland, who was found hanged in a Texas county jail, sparked a national debate on race relations and jail safety. And we took a closer look at deaths in Texas county jails. We found that suicide was the most common cause of death in county jails after natural death, and it showed which items inmates used to hang themselves while in custody. 

8. See Vaccine Exemptions in Texas by School District

Following a measles outbreak in January that infected more than 100 people, the Tribune built a tool to look up how many students had nonmedical exemptions to immunization laws by school district, according to Texas Department of State Health Services data. Our analysis found that more than 38,000 students — less than 1 percent of the state's overall school-age population — had nonmedical exemptions to school immunization laws statewide in the 2013-14 school year. 

9. Texas Reservoir Levels

As Texas endured the most intense drought in recorded state history in 2011, The Texas Tribune created a map to show the drought levels of reservoirs across the state. This year, we revamped the Texas Reservoir Levels application, which updates daily to visualize the current state of Texas’ reservoirs. 

10. Long Way Home: Census Details Texas Commutes

For more than 1 million Texans living in the suburbs, the daily slog to work takes them out of their home county and into one of the state’s five largest cities, according to the Tribune’s analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. The Tribune’s county-level maps show the percentage of workers who travel from suburban counties into Houston, San Antonio, Dallas, Austin and Fort Worth.

11. At Majority-Minority Schools, Confederate Names Remain

After the June mass shooting at a historic black church in Charleston, S.C., civil rights groups called on government officials to change the names of buildings that were named after Confederate leaders. The Texas Tribune identified 29 public schools named after Confederate leaders and found that all but six of those had a majority-minority student population.

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