1st Place Winner
Best Broadcast: In-Depth Reporting
Submission: Save Our Students
Summary: Texas health experts estimate one in six students is significantly affected by mental illness. Many drop out of school, wind through the juvenile justice system, even end their own lives. Away from home, schools are often where these mental health concerns arise. As state leaders aim to tackle this critical campus safety issue, KXAN is exploring potential solutions across Texas and beyond. What’s working in other places? What’s not? And could the ideas we’ve analyzed help Save Our Students?
More than 50 KXAN staff members worked on this project in some way, including the seven reporters and five photographers behind the stories. Our team travelled across the country – including California, Ohio and all over Texas – to report these solutions-oriented stories. This project launched as a partnership with the Solutions Journalism Network, which provided guidance and feedback over the course of the eight months it took to complete.
We created a multi-page digital project, featuring more than 40 stories – most available on Day 1 of the initial two-week rollout. Those stories were also shared with other Nexstar stations in Texas online. We used a custom URL, SaveOurStudentsTX.com, to easily promote with other stations. KXAN utilized Facebook Live and digital chats on kxan.com – some instances included mental health experts – to explain the project and take questions from viewers. We also encouraged viewers to join our special Save Our Students Facebook Group for consistent updates on stories, events and community dialogue.
We also featured extended, exclusive interviews with area superintendents, after soliciting viewer questions on Facebook about the topic prior to the events. In addition to showcased infographics, we utilized several interactive tools – namely Storymap and Infogram – to better illustrate our travels and the data we collected for more context in ways viewers can experience for themselves.
Almost every on-air KXAN newscast during back-to-school week featured this content. A special edition of our weekly political show, State of Texas, also focused on this topic. And our team shot a mission statement video that launched Save Our Students on-air and lives at the top of the special site.
We hosted community events to spark a dialogue about this topic. We created a series of Mobile Newsrooms at public events in the area, giving passersby KXAN memorabilia and a chance to chat with our anchors and reporters. And we held three livestreamed conversations at local venues to screen our stories with a panel of experts and a crowd of parents and educators, fielding questions about the solutions we’ve discovered. The latest panel was a group of area teenagers reflecting on mental health challenges at their schools. Our team continues to follow up with new stories and cultivate engagement on the Facebook group.
1st Place Winner
Best Print: Reporting on Suicide Prevention
Submission: “A few simple questions could help doctors stem the suicide epidemic”
Summary: America is in the midst of an epidemic — one that for has been quietly, politely ignored by society. In the past two decades, the nation’s suicide rate has risen 33 percent. More than 47,000 people now kill themselves every year, and more than a million attempt to do so. Washington Post health reporter William Wan set out over the past year to chronicle the story behind these numbers: The lack of funding, research and policies that have worsened the problem. But also the people who are fighting desperately to change that reality. To write those stories, he worked diligently and sensitively to convince many struggling with suicidal impulses and mental illness to talk to him about the most intimate moments of their lives – when they tried to end it.
It also required wading through thousands of pages and a years-worth of research to trace the still developing field of suicidology to the solutions it is yielding and the frustrating bureaucratic barriers in healthcare preventing such solutions from being implemented. One story, for example, showed how simply asking patients if they are suicidal has been proven by recent research to be one of the most effective interventions and how it has been almost impossible to convince most emergency rooms to adopt such universal screening. Wan’s stories also put a human face on those trying to enact change at the grassroots level. One story chronicled how – as sharply rising youth suicides – a group of teenagers in Oregon successfully overcame opposition from many of their own state lawmakers to pass a law allowing students to take mental health days off from school.
The stories have led to an outpouring of response from readers, suicide prevention advocates and health officials. Many have written to share their own stories and struggles with suicide. The story on suicide questions in emergency rooms sparked discussions among federal health officials and regulators about hospital screening policies. Since story on mental days at high schools ran, students from California to South Carolina have tried to mount efforts of their own, and one group of high students successfully getting a mental health bill of their own passed by the Colorado senate. We are proud to submit these stories for the SAVE National Media Award.
Boyd Huppert and Devin Krinke
1st Place Winner
Best Broadcast: Reporting on Suicide Loss
Submission: “A special honor for a fallen young veteran amid COVID-19 restrictions“
Summary: On March 30, 2020 Mitchell Olson, a 34-year-old Iraq war veteran, died by suicide. Any family would be devastated, but Mitchell’s family was left to grieve the loss of a husband, father, brother and son during COVID-19 restrictions that precluded a traditional funeral and graveside military honors. So, strangers stepped in to fill the gap as best as they could.
We were tipped to this story by a retiree with the Minnesota National Guard. Initially, Mitchell’s family agreed to our presence at their home, but only if we withheld the fact that he’d died by suicide. As politely as possible, in a series of phone conversations with Mitchell’s sister Casey, we asked that the family reconsider. We discussed the roll that we could play together in ending the stigma and raising awareness of the issue of veterans dying by suicide. Casey relayed our perspective to other family members, and, that evening, called to let us know Mitchell’s family had agreed. We would be welcome at their home, with no restrictions on reporting his cause of death. Casey would serve as her family’s spokesperson.
Sylvia Olson, Mitchell’s mother, followed up with a hand-written note a few days after the story aired. “We could not have wished for a more thorough, yet sensitive telling of our experience,” she wrote. “You were part of the cavalry riding over the hill to save us. We needed to connect. We needed to grieve with our family & friends. You gave us the where-with-all to do that. Your writing gives voice to feelings & memories that often are stifled by circumstances. I envy that ability. Please extend our thanks to your cameraman and the KARE 11 team for the balm you poured out on our open wounds. God Bless! Gene & Sylvia Olson”
Please note that along with the story, we posted several suicide prevention resources on our website, kare11.com. Some of those resources are specific to veterans. That was important to Mitchell’s family. It was important to us too.
1st Place Winner
Best Print: Reporting on Suicide Loss
Submission: “Boy’s death puts focus on mental health care“
Summary: The recent death of an Oregon City 9-year-old by suicide had the community asking how and why he took his own life. The school district didn’t want to talk about the case, but readers wanted answers, answers that we eventually shared in a selective and sensitive way.
We talked with the boy’s family and a range of mental health experts before approaching the district again, and then school officials shared their general protocol for preventing suicides among students who mention to a staff member that they might want to take their own lives. District officials wouldn’t say whether their own protocol was followed in the case of this latest suicide, since the victim apparently shared his intention to kill himself with school leaders on the same day that he went home and took his own life. Their protocol turned out generally to have a lot of good lessons for anyone who might suspect someone else has suicidal intentions. However, the district’s protocol called for taking potentially suicidal kids nearly 10 miles outside of the city, when there’s free mental health care from dedicated professionals right in town, dedicated professionals who encouraged any reader of the Oregon City News to consider psychological therapy for their own kids.
The boy who died, Elyejah “Bubba” Hauff, had a story with a range of warning signs for parents to consider in their own kids. Along with sharing his suicidal intentions, Elyejah was reportedly feeling isolated due to the color of his skin, having trouble with schoolwork, regularly playing violent video games and not getting the support he needed from school. When taken together, the warning signs tell a story of a possible factors that increase risk of suicide without laying the blame on any one cause or person.
Despite worries from the school district, this package of in-depth stories provided hope statewide in Oregon, with its higher-than-average death rates, that more can be done to prevent suicides.