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Throughout the year, our weekday newsletter, The Brief, tries to highlight great, relevant and crucial Texas stories in our “Best of the Rest” section. Here, from the staff of The Texas Tribune, are stories that we wish we’d had — but that we’re glad got told.
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A Year of “Protecting” Children in Texas by Christopher Hooks, Texas Monthly (July 2022)
“Texas, a friend used to say, is hard on women and little things.” Christopher Hooks recounted the tepid reaction from state officials to calls for help, from the schoolchildren at Robb Elementary in Uvalde to exhausted schoolteachers. Hooks paints a picture of a state government that has normalized the suffering of the most vulnerable Texans. He calls it “a tale as old as time: the pain of one generation turning into the pain of the next.”
The Untold Story of the Insular Texas Family That Invaded the U.S. Capitol by Robert Draper, Texas Monthly (January 2023)
Published on Texas Monthly’s website in late December 2022, Robert Draper’s chronicle tells the story of the Munns, who moved to Texas from Wisconsin in 2017 and ended up at the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
“How had six members of the same family—Tom and his wife, Dawn, along with four of their eight children—become so swept up in Donald Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election that they drove 1,600 miles from a small Texas town to help disrupt the peaceful transfer of power?” Draper asks. “It was, as the federal judge who presided over their case would later say with stoic understatement, ‘a puzzle.’” The story sums up the distortions of fact, responsibility and patriotism that have come to define Jan. 6. Some will see in the family a story of negligence and lies; others, a narrative of persecution and tragedy.
The Rudder Association: A deep dive into the conservative former student group with plans to ‘put the Aggie back in Aggieland’ by Nathan Varnell and Casey Stavenhagen, The Battalion (March 2022)
Our nod to student journalists everywhere — who do excellent and essential work — comes via a story from Texas A&M’s student newspaper, The Battalion, which covers The Rudder Association, a group of influential former students and alumni who look to instill conservative principles at the College Station campus through their connections and influence. Despite innocuous public messaging saying the goal is to “put the Aggie back in Aggieland,” the group plans to take over, compete with or silence A&M institutions, including The Battalion itself, that do not align with its political vision.
A mom’s campaign to ban library books divided a Texas town — and her own family by Mike Hixenbaugh, NBC News (August 2022)
Mike Hixenbaugh tells the story of Weston Brown, who was cut off from his conservative Granbury family after coming out four years ago. His mother, Monica Brown, is an outspoken leader of an effort to ban LGBTQ-themed books in Granbury ISD. This story, co-published by NBC News, ProPublica and The Texas Tribune, examines what is lost as culture wars trump family bonds. The generational divide appears strong here, prodding us to examine what is worth fighting for and what is best left alone, as competing political and religious beliefs about America’s identity and defining characteristics hang over the head of families everywhere.
How Texas Failed To Prevent One of the Nation’s Deadliest Prison Escapes by Keri Blakinger and John Tedesco, The Marshall Project and Houston Chronicle (December 2022)
“‘Some of this is the result of the state trying to do mass incarceration for bottom dollar,’ said Rep. Gene Wu, a Houston Democrat. ‘When your employees are some of the worst paid and worst treated employees in the state, it’s not really surprising that you’re going to have people who aren’t doing their jobs 100% of the time.’”
Whether it’s public health, public education or something else, one of the defining features of Texas is austerity in the face of systemic problems that affect some worse than others. But rarely does that negligence have such direct, terrible implications as for one Mark Collins and his four grandsons, who were killed by an escapee from a Texas Department of Criminal Justice prison bus. A series of errors in judgment, neglected needs and botched preventive measures — not that different from the circumstances at Robb Elementary — contributed to preventable deaths in Texas. That rinse-and-repeat pattern of community trauma serving as an impetus for change leaves one to wonder if that is ever going to be enough: The story culminates in an enraged Texan asking, “What good is changing some of the rules and regulations when they’re not following them to begin with?”
How we pronounce Uvalde says a lot about the power of language in mixed communities by Isabella Gomez Sarmiento, National Public Radio (June 2022)
There are not too many stories that explore the complex set of decisions that lead to a story being published, but NPR’s Isabella Gomez Sarmiento breaks the mold by explaining how language, journalism and local context intersect to answer what seems like a simple question, “How do we pronounce Uvalde?” While we are all probably familiar with the prevailing anglicized pronunciation, it’s a lot more complicated for the Latino residents of Uvalde. Sarmiento’s story is a sign of respect to the nuance that often gets lost when national publications have to parachute into a place where they have little to no connections and shows journalism’s increased conscientiousness about our relationship with communities that don’t usually capture our collective attention unless something terrible has happened.
Texas kids struggling with mental health, self-harm as school starts back by Sarah Self-Walbrick, Texas Tech Public Media (August 2022)
Note: This story contains mentions of self-harm, depression and anxiety that might be triggering to some.
Sarah Self-Walbrick wrote a shorter piece about the tough experiences of Texas students returning to school. It clarifies some potentially misunderstood notions of what contributes to self-harm while highlighting young people and their lived experiences in a caring, cautionary tone that respects their complicated existence during a very tumultuous time for everyone.
Faced with a two-decade wait, these families had to leave Texas to receive disability services by Alex Stuckey, Houston Chronicle (August 2022)
The Houston Chronicle spoke to six families who were forced to leave Texas to get their children the help that the state failed to provide. While they didn’t want to go, they felt like they didn’t have a choice, a sensible decision in light of other Houston Chronicle reporting that indicated that Texas can barely serve one-fifth of the estimated 500,000 residents living with intellectual and developmental disabilities. This story fits into a mosaic of other stories, some from the Tribune or other publications, that show how Texas forces some of its most marginalized citizens to travel to great lengths to get the life they’d like to have in the state.
Disclosure: Texas Monthly has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune's journalism. Find a complete list of them here.