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San Antonio Year-In Review: An Inside Look At TPR's 2019 Reporting

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Roberto Martinez/ TPR
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On this year-in-review episode, David Martin Davies talks with Texas Public Radio reporters about the top stories they covered in 2019.

Top Web Stories Of 2019
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Credit Lauren Terrazas | Texas Public Radio

1. Cellist Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach In Shadow Of Laredo Border Crossing 

The most popular TPR story of 2019 was a musical performance by one of the most famous musicians in the world. In mid-April, cellist Yo-Yo Ma played the opening notes of J.S. Bach's "Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello" in a park near the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, one of the crossings that connect Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

Norma Martinez, a cellist and TPR’s “Morning Edition” host, led “Morning Edition” producer Lauren Terrazas and Arts & Culture Reporter Jack Morgan to cover the event. TPR was the only broadcaster to cover the performance. The radio and video stories were picked up by NPR and subsequently by the BBC, Al Jazeera, Time, CNN and the Los Angeles Times.

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Credit Reynaldo Leaños Jr. | Texas Public Radio

2. People Are Trying To Donate To Detained Migrants. Border Patrol Won't Accept It.

TPR’s political reporter Ryan Poppe spoke with volunteers headed to a detention facility in Clint, Texas, in June. The facility was filled with migrant children detained at the Texas-Mexico border, and the volunteers loaded up a van with basic supplies like soap and diapers to help improve the unsanitary living conditions. But federal agents refused to accept the donations.

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Credit Shelley Kofler / University Hospital

3. A Cry For Baby Cuddlers In San Antonio As Opioid Crisis Deepens

TPR’s Bioscience & Medicine Reporter Bonnie Petrie visited San Antonio’s University Hospital in February to watch volunteers hold and cuddle babies born with withdrawal symptoms related to their mothers’ opioid addictions. The touch therapy was meant to help the infants endure their first painful weeks.

She outlined the thinking behind the cuddling program, spoke to volunteers and medical experts and noted that, because of the current opioid crisis, there were too many babies and not enough cuddlers. Once the story was aired and posted on the website, University was flooded with calls from listeners and readers eager to help.

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4. These Students Speak Perfect Spanglish — And Now They're Learning To Own It

TPR Education Reporter Camille Phillips focused on a unique aspect of Texas education: Spanglish. She defined it as “a version of Spanish that’s influenced by English.” The St. Mary’s University professors who teach it base their classes on the intellectual and social validity they accorded to the dialect. The initiative aims to challenge the negative perceptions taught to many Latino children that anything less than “pure” Spanish is unacceptable.

Phillips used the classes as the springboard from which to thoughtfully explore the deeper faultlines in Latino societies and Latino families over heritage, cultural and racial identities in South Texas, the policing and suppression of expressive language and the historical marginalization of Latinos in Anglo-dominated educational systems.

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Credit Veronica G. Cardenas / Texas Public Radio

5. Reality At The Border: The Series

Throughout 2019, TPR was determined to give voice to migrants caught in the labyrinths of the Trump administration’s hostile immigration policies, capture perspectives of Rio Grande Valley residents who supported or criticized those policies and illustrate the complicated beauty of the region’s communities.

Through this series — and particularly through the most viewed entries in the series — TPR’s audience met residents who saw the border wall erected in their backyards. Listeners and readers also met a rancher whose limited understanding of the desperate men and women furtively crossing his ranch property evolved over time (NPR picked up the digital version of this story).

TPR also brought its audience to a colorful drag show, where participants performed songs, walked a fashion-show runway and made speeches condemning anti-migrant rhetoric and celebrating queer and trans migrants. Participants also raised $650 to help LGBTQ asylum seekers.

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Credit Sarah Brooke Lyons / Contributed Photo

6. DreamWeek: Expanding The Vision Of Martin Luther King Jr.

In early January, Morgan sat down with Shokare Nakpodia, a native of Nigeria and 17-year resident of San Antonio, to discuss a week-long celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the ideals he imparted on multiple generations of people. Dozens of events at libraries, churches and museums throughout San Antonio explored “what makes us human.” The web post included a useful list of DreamWeek events.

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Credit Veronica G. Cardenas for Texas Public Radio

7. Laredo, Now No. 1 U.S. Trade Hub, Feels Impact Of Trump's Tariff Threats

In May, Leanos visited Laredo and explored its crucial importance as a border trade hub. Experts explained how the economic ebb and flow of trade and finance all acutely felt the effects of Trump administration’s trade policies.

Leanos approached a complicated economic story through the perspectives of the worried economic officials he met and humanized. He explained to a regular reader how decisions made in Washington immediately resonated in the lives of borderland communities before cascading throughout the interconnected global economy.

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Credit wikicommons

8. How COBOL Still Powers The Global Economy At 60 Years Old

Technology & Entrepreneurship Reporter Paul Flahive explored the 60-year history of common business-oriented language, or COBOL, which remains alive and well in computers used by hospitals and insurance and retail businesses. Even aspects of the Departments of Homeland Security, Justice and Veterans Affairs still use COBOL. Its survival has led to a demand in programmers literate in the language.

Flahive worked with Digital News Producer Bri Kirkham to develop an online presentation that included an interactive timeline, videos and a comprehensive narrative history.

The Walls Unit in Huntsville where death row inmates are executed.
Credit Jack Morgan | Texas Public Radio

9. Texas Death Row Inmate Rodney Reed's Execution Halted

In 1996, a Texas jury convicted Rodney Reed of raping and murdering 19-year-old Stacey Stites in Bastrop County. Reed was condemned to die on Nov. 20 until a parole board — convinced to reconsider the case in light of new evidence — delayed it for 120 days.

TPR’s David Martin Davies followed the story, which received national spotlight and attention from celebrities and both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

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Credit Joey Palacios / TPR File Photo

10. Nirenberg Re-elected As Mayor, Women Take Over City Council

TPR’s news staff reported on June elections that saw a mayor narrowly re-elected after a dramatically acrimonious race and mostly women elected to the city council – a historic moment for San Antonio. The city and county election was also seen by many voters as the last major political event before the 2020 presidential campaign.

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Credit Ildar Sagdejev / WikiCommons | http://bit.ly/2xW20Ub

11. Jury Finds Wells Fargo Owes USAA $200 Million For Patent Infringement Of Mobile Check Depositing

The deceptively straightforward report from Flahive explained an East Texas jury’s decision to order Wells Fargo to pay the United Services Automobile Association (USAA) $200 million for infringing on mobile check deposit patents. In 2017, USAA warned Wells Fargo and more than 100 other banks they were infringing on its technology, which had been originally developed for military clients,. The case may be the first major victory in a long war USAA wages to protect its intellectual property.

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Credit Pondworks Psychiatry http://bit.ly/2tkpk8Z

12. Researchers Try Nicotine To Treat Memory Loss

Petrie spoke with San Antonio researchers exploring how nicotine delivered through a transdermal patch might help people with mild cognitive impairment. Her consistent focus on groundbreaking research offers both hope to relatives and patients and fascinating insight into the unique depth and breadth of the scientific work underway throughout the Alamo City’s world-class medical community.

A restricted area sign at Lake Dunlap.
Credit Courtesy of GBRA

13. River Authority Announces Four Texas Lakes Will Be Drained To Prevent Floodgate Failure

Residents around lakes fed by the Guadalupe and Blanco rivers faced an existential threat in 2019 when an antiquated floodgate collapsed in May, draining a lake and leaving lakeside residences and businesses high and dry. Instead of repairing and upgrading similar floodgates at other four lakes in the region, the Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority decided to “dewater” them, relieving the pressure on the structures and improving public safety.

In August, TPR’s General Assignments Reporter Brian Kirkpatrick toured the region and spoke to skittish residents and business owners who faced plummets in tourism dollars, home values and business activity, along with heartbreaking transformations in natural beauty and regional identity. Kirkpatrick followed the story throughout the rest of the year, including the difficult discussions between the board and opponents of the plan.

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Credit Verónica G. Cárdenas for Texas Public Radio

14. Border Community Remembers Father And Daughter Who Drowned Crossing The Rio Grande

No story better highlighted the deadly seriousness of the migrant crisis along the Texas-Mexico border than the deaths of Oscar Alberto Martinez Ramirez and his 23-month-old daughter, Angie Valeria, in late June. The Salvadoran migrants drowned trying to cross the Rio Grande, and Angie's mother could do nothing more than watch helplessly from the riverbank and scream for help.

A photojournalist snapped a photo of the father and daughter floating face down in the river — an image that went viral around the world and challenged the moral foundations of the Trump administration's immigration policies.

Leaños covered the story for both TPR and NPR. A week after the deaths, Rio Grande Valley residents held candlelit vigils in McAllen and Brownsville, and his report captured the frustration, sadness and anger among the participants. He toured the migrant camp in Matamoros and spoke to migrants who shared memories of the family, particularly the little girl's "luminous" smile.

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Credit Joey Palacios / Texas Public Radio

15. San Antonio City Council Places New Rules On Electric Scooters

2019 saw heated debates as scooter companies poured their vehicles onto San Antonio's streets, parks, campuses and neighborhoods. In mid-February, Local Government Reporter Joey Palacios utilized his sources and deep insight into city affairs to place into context the City Council's approval of rules limiting when scooters can be used on city streets and how it will deal with scooters posing safety risks to pedestrians and drivers.

*This episode orignally aired on Wednesday, January 1.