Kim Smith honored by FOI Foundation

AUSTIN Texas news organizations that exposed the truth about law enforcement’s response to the Uvalde school shooting and revealed a district attorney’s high rate of case dismissals have won this year’s Spirit of FOI Awards.

The Odessa American’s Kim Smith received an honorable mention for her work using Freedom of Information requests to report on the City of Odessa’s issues with properly posting public notices and Mayor Javier Joven’s hiring of an outside firm to conduct a search for a new city manager.

The Austin American-Statesman, KVUE-TV of Austin and KRIS-TV of Corpus Christi received the awards at the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas state conference Thursday. The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award honors journalism that upholds First Amendment rights and promotes or uses open government laws.

“When governments don’t readily reveal important information to the public, journalists must step in and do it. Fortunately, the state’s Public Information Act is here for everyone, including journalists, who use the law and their reporting skills to keep Texans informed. We congratulate these news organizations for their diligent work,” said Kelley Shannon, executive director of the FOI Foundation of Texas, in a press release.

A reporting partnership between the Austin American-Statesman and KVUE is the winner in the Class AA category for news markets of 500,000 population and larger. In the aftermath of the Uvalde tragedy of May 2022, as public officials hid information and put forth a narrative that police acted heroically, the news organizations reported the true details about the mass shooting and law enforcement’s response.

The news outlets were the first to obtain an image from inside the school. It showed officers amassed with assault weapons and protective gear 19 minutes after a gunman entered the school, but the officers did not intervene for an hour. Subsequent reporting brought about the final collapse of the story of police heroism, exposing an epic law enforcement failure.

The Spirit of FOI Award wrote: “A transparent government would have fallen on its sword and acknowledged its shortcomings. Yes, the law enforcement response was pitiful, but to openly lie about what happened inside traumatized all of us. It was a hard package of stories to get through, even after having read much of it before. This is why we need journalism.”

KRIS 6 News of Corpus Christi is the winner in the Class A category for news markets under 500,000 population. The station’s investigative team submitted and reviewed multiple requests for public information as it reported on the high rate of case dismissals in the local district attorney’s office.

The KRIS 6 News series of reports compared the dismissal rate to other counties with similar judicial districts and populations. Public documents confirmed the mass dismissals were linked to state reporting requirements. If Nueces County did not become compliant with those requirements, the county would be ineligible for grants from the governor’s office.

The contest judge wrote: “Nueces County residents should be outraged that its local prosecutor’s office is seemingly settling criminal cases in order to qualify for various grants. At the same time, however, they should be pleased that KRIS-TV has exposed this nonsense.”

Selected for honorable mentions were El Paso Matters and The Dallas Morning News in the Class AA category, and the Odessa American and Corpus Christi Caller-Times in the Class A category.

The Nancy Monson Spirit of FOI Award is named for the FOI Foundation’s first executive director. The contest is open to Texas newspaper, broadcast and online journalism outlets. Founded in 1978, the nonprofit FOI Foundation promotes open government and protects the First Amendment rights of free speech and free press.